Hideously beautiful

Last weekend I was perched, somewhat uncomfortably, on the rocky banks of Crater Lake in Rawson, Victoria. The sun had just risen, and fourteen bird species made themselves known; all were natives apart from a Common Blackbird and the hideously beautiful Muscovy Ducks.


Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
1/1250, f/8.0, ISO 1600


Muscovy Ducks are native to South America, Central America, and Mexico but have established feral populations in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe. I have seen them frequenting ponds in several regional towns but they aren’t listed in my field guides, not even the brilliant new Australian Bird Guide; maybe they are considered domestic escapees rather than feral.

The silky smooth water looked amazing in the early morning light. I feel as though the duck, above, is watching me with its real and its reflected eye. Some images of waterbirds show amazing reflections which I find myself examining closely as so many have been cleverly created in Photoshop; I often play a kind of spot-the-difference to check that the reflection is not a direct, inverted copy of the bird with some kind of wavy Photoshop overlay. The most obvious differences in this reflection include the angle of the head, and that the underside of the duck’s neck and bill is shown in the reflection.


Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
1/1250, f/8.0, ISO 1600


Their bulbous, featherless faces are unmistakable – I’m trying to think of something flattering to say about these birds and the effort is making me chuckle. They looked particularly ungainly as they waddled among the smaller wood ducks and the graceful White-faced Heron.

I have spent quite a bit of time reading about Muscovy Ducks, and although some people speak of them being aggressive many others speak tenderly about how affectionate they are. They seemed calm and gentle as they paddled close to check whether I had a stash of duck food hidden in my pockets – I didn’t, just my phone, keys, spare memory cards, batteries, fingerless gloves, a packet of mints and my trusty Swiss Army penknife.

Happy birding



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11 comments to Hideously beautiful

  • Gary Gale

    Always love your posts Kim, and will always try to reply. However they come at a bad time for me. I work a very late afternoon shift Friday and go back to work early on Saturday, and quite often miss a chance to review and reply.
    I tried to see what a truely natural Muscovy Duck looked like, to no avail the best I could come up was this page.

    • lirralirra

      Thanks for the link Gary, I hadn’t seen that page and it’s particularly interesting (except the ‘meat’ part). I especially enjoyed the section about their extraordinary meeting behaviours. It sounds like you are working way too hard, I hope that settles down for you soon.

  • I think while that duck was posing, it was thinking how ugly humans are! Having said that, it does look like something a school kid would craftily put together.

    • lirralirra

      That’s a funny thought catmint, maybe it thought I was ‘hideously beautiful’ and a big disappointment too as I didn’t have any food in my pockets.

  • Heather Ferguson

    I can’t really see them as “ugly”Kim……that sort of word I reserve for buildings/schemes etc of humans!! I do admire their survivorship…..if there is such a word. I often see calls to kill or cull domestic wild fowl gone feral on the Victorian Birders page. I am thinking myself they are they because they are fitted to the environment. I am not a keen believer in race (a folly) or segregation in people…..or maybe in ducks….a bit of hybrid vigor improves the race I think.

    • lirralirra

      Hi Heather, I don’t think they’re ugly either and am sorry if I gave that impression. I guess ‘hideously beautiful’ could be taken either way! Someone on fb mentioned that they probably aren’t considered feral as they don’t establish breeding colonies, which sounds reasonable. I also admire survivors and am often surprised by the derogatory way ibis and gulls are spoken about.

  • My mother would say that they had a face that only a mother could love…
    She would be wrong in this case. Unique? With a raffish charm is how I would describe them.

  • Neil Mansfield

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Kim. Here we have beautiful photos of beautiful birds.

    • lirralirra

      You say the nicest things Neil. I thought the water looked pretty amazing too, so smooth except where the busy paddling was making waves.

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