The Musk Duck (Biziura lobatus) is an endemic Australian bird species currently listed as vulnerable. The Musk Duck is carnivorous and often very aggressive. The name comes from the musk odour given off by a gland on the rump.
Musk Ducks are found throughout Southern Australia, from the coast to somewhat inland, ranging from north-west Western Australia to southern Queensland. They inhabit permanent deep bodies of fresh water, and are occasionally found on saline estuaries and wetlands.
The male Musk Duck grows to about 70 cm long, the female to around 60 cm. The male is Australia’s largest duck. The male and female are similar in appearance, both having dark brown to black plumage with a lighter underside, however the male has a pendulous lobe of skin beneath the beak. The tail is often fan shaped. Both the male and the female sit characteristically low in the water – their shoulders are often submerged, with only the neck, head and rump being visible. Their legs are set back somewhat on the body, an advantage for diving – however this makes them rather clumsy walkers. They seldom fly, and are far more likely to dive than to fly away when danger threatens.
The species is mainly carnivorous – feeding on small crustaceans; snails; fish; frogs; and ducklings – in captive breeding programs the male is kept away from his offspring, and the species is generally kept separate from other waterfowl species, for fear of predation by the Musk Duck. The ducks are rather aggressive, and will attack humans and other threatening animals (I could find no data on Musk Duck aggression in my research – this is from personal observation and hearsay).
The male Musk Duck’s mating display involves fanning the tail feathers, inflating the lobe of skin at the throat, giving a whistling call and splashing water around. Nests are cups of trampled vegetation; and clutches are usually two or three eggs, occasionally up to ten.
Various captive breeding programs are in place for the Musk Duck. They breed fairly well when kept captive in dams or wetland areas, though as mentioned, it is advisable to keep the male away from his offspring. The breeding program at Tidbinbilla nature reserve recently suffered a setback when bushfires killed most of the Musk Duck population.