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Breed: Welsh Harlequin Ducks
Origin: Welsh Harlequin ducks were developed in Wales, UK, from the Khaki Campbell, which itself descended from a Rouen drake, originating in France, crossed with a Fawn and White Runner duck, originating in the islands of Southeast Asia, whose offspring were later crossed with a Mallard drake.
History: Group Captain Leslie Bonnet was a well-known commercial duck breeder specializing in utility breeds in Hertfordshire, UK. In 1949, his purebred Khaki Campbells gave rise to two pale-colored ducklings that he named “Honey Campbells”, which he selected to develop a new line. The new color derived from two recessive genes. On moving to a new farm near Criccieth, Wales, in 1950, he renamed them “Welsh Harlequin” ducks.
Welsh Harlequin Ducks: A Heritage Duck Breed
The original color was the Gold variety now prevalent in the UK. By 1968, a color variant had arisen, although Bonnet does not make mention of it, and it is not recognized in the UK. However, when John Fugate imported fertile eggs from Bonnet to Tennessee, most of the hatchlings bore this new coloration, named “Silver” by Dave Holderread, a duck breeder and authority on how to raise ducks in your backyard.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a fox ravaged Bonnet’s flock, destroying his breeding stock. Fortunately, Edward Grayson, a keen amateur breeder, had kept stock from Bonnet’s original strain. Grayson was able to revive the breed by crossing with Khaki Campbells and stabilizing the color. He lay down a standard and set up a national club. Welsh Harlequin ducks were admitted to British Standards in 1997.
In the States, by 1981, Fugate’s stock had dwindled to two small flocks. He imported live birds to increase genetic diversity, and collaborated with Holderread to set up matings and build up stock. At this time, Holderread noted that non-Campbell genes had probably entered the gene pool at some point, changing body shape. The breeders refined conformation to the current standard, while recognizing the two color variations. By 1984, they were able to supply ducklings in the United States. In 2001, the Silver variety was admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.
Conservation Status: Welsh Harlequin ducks are a heritage poultry breed on the watch list of The Livestock Conservancy.
Welsh Harlequin Ducks: Small But Productive
Description: The bird has similar conformation to the Campbell, namely streamlined in shape with a relatively long body, a medium-width back, a rounded chest, wide-spaced legs with a moderately full abdomen, and an oval head with a medium-long straight, or slightly concave, bill. The medium-length neck is held nearly vertically. The body is held 20–35 degrees from horizontal as befits a good forager.
The male has Mallard-like plumage: a dark head with a green sheen, a white collar, and chestnut shoulders breaking into a white frosted pattern over the back, wings, and down to a cream-white breast. The tail is black and bronze. The female has a cream head with fawn stipples, lacking eye-stripes. Her body, wings and tail are creamy-white with frosted brown and fawn markings.
Both sexes have orange legs when young, but females’ become brown as they mature. Adult females have olive-black bills, whereas drakes’ are yellow/green. However, at one day old, female chicks’ bills are paler than males’ with a dark spot at the tip. This autosexing color distinction is at least 75% accurate, but lasts only two to three days after hatching.
Varieties: Gold and Silver. The Silver coloration has a higher contrast and brilliance than the Gold, which has soft colors and no black pigment. The speculum of the Silver is iridescent blue, rather than the bronze of the Gold.
Egg Color: Pearly white; some ducks lay tinted eggs.
Laying Habits: Good layers, producing 100–350 eggs per year. Females will brood and raise their own chicks.
Weight: 4.5–5.5 pounds (2–2.5 kg).
Welsh Harlequin Ducks Make Docile Backyard Pets
Temperament: Curious, active forager, but also calm and not readily alarmed. Poor flier. Males have high libido and couples breed readily. Take care not to keep a high ratio of drakes to ducks as males may damage females.
Popular Use: Dual-purpose for eggs and meat. Lean carcass. Pale feathers on the breast enable clean plucking. They are popular as pets and backyard ducks due to their placid nature. Drakes from egg-laying lines are used as sires for hybrid layers.
Adaptability: Highly adaptable, efficient foragers. Pale coloring makes ducks vulnerable to predation.
Quote: “Its supporters claim that the breed is a better egg producer than the Khaki Campbell. If this is so, it would be due to the docile and placid nature of the breed, which reduces chances of interruption of egg-laying through shocks or scares … A flock averages over 300 eggs per year.” Leslie Bonnet in Practical Duck-keeping.
Sources: British Poultry Standards, 7th Edition. 2018. Eds: J. Ian H. Allonby, Philippe B. Wilson/British Poultry Standards, 6th Edition. 2009. Ed: Victoria Roberts.
Choosing and Keeping Ducks and Geese. 2008. Liz Wright.
Holderread Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center
Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, 2nd Edition. 2011. Dave Holderread.
Lead photo © Moose Manor Farms
Originally published in the April/May 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.