The Welsh Harlequin Duck

by
Erin Traverse
Castleton, VT

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2000, 5(1):3-4

Pragmatical people, the Welsh. Witness the multi-purpose Welsh Cob -- pleasure horse, hunter, carriage horse, Polo pony, plow horse and more, all rolled into one magnificent steed.

It is practical, time saving, economical and simpler for small holders, crofters and homesteaders to keep a single dual purpose breed rather than two or three different breeds, regardless of the species. It is not at all surprising that the Welsh created a breed of duck that would rival the practicality of their Cob.

All breeds have their champions, of course. That is how it should be, since no single breed can be all things to all people. We have kept a number of duck breeds through the years, and the Welsh Harlequin has proven its worth year in and year out.

The Welsh Harlequin is not an old breed, developed by Leslie Bonnet around 1949 from a color mutation in a flock of Khaki Campbells. John Fugate of Tennesse imported hatching eggs from the Bonnet flock around 1968 and adult stock from Europe in 1982. The vast majority of stock in the United States at this time descended from the 1982 importation. Welsh Harlequins therefore are a "new" and relatively unknown breed.

Being a Khaki Campbell derivative, the basic body type of the Welsh Harlequin is that of the Khaki Campbell. Closer observation will show that the Welsh Harlequin has a somewhat courser outline, and that they average a pound to a pound and a half heavier. Campbells, strictly speaking, are maintained for egg production. The Welsh Harlequin is also generally classified as an egg breed, but because of its greater size, it does make a nice three to five pound roaster, not at much meat as a Pekin, but nowhere near as much fat either. Their larger size, I feel, puts them in a "dual purpose" class (with Buff Orpington, Swedish and Magpie ducks).

Even the earliest literature on the breed indicated egg yields equal to, and in some lines, greater than the Campbell. This depends nearly as much on environment and management as it does on genetics, but Harlequins should yield an annual production of 275-350 white eggs averaging 32 ounces per dozen. The eggs are of excellent quality.

Harlequins are noticeably calmer than Campbells, one of the points attracting me to the breed. Another feature homesteaders will find invaluable is that the Harlequin females will incubate their own eggs and they make excellent mothers. Welsh Harlequin ducklings are yellow or buff colored with a slight trace of darker shading at tail tip and behind the eyes.

Welsh Harlequins are, genetically speaking, either gold factored or silver factored. In either phase, the initial impression is that of a mallard that has walked through a blizzard. Mature males of the Gold phase have greenish black heads with an iridescent green sheen. A white neck ring fully encircles the lower neck. The breast, sides, shoulders and flanks are an off-white with a chestnut or burgundy color giving a frosted or laced effect. The upper back is spotted in an almost tortoise shell pattern with white, cream, brown and chestnut shadings. These colors blend to silver grey at mid back, and brown at the tail, which has white edging. The wing primaries are a brownish grey edged in white, while the forewing is a mix of white and chestnut. The wing speculum is green or greenish bronze. The bill is greenish yellow with a black “bean” at the tip. Feet are orange with a brownish cast. Males of the Silver phase have heads that show an even more intense green sheen. Their wing speculum is blue, and they display more grey about the back and wings.

The coloring of the female Welsh Harlequin can and very often does vary. The variation in coloring occurs not only from flock to flock but also from duck to duck. Part of the reason for this is that Gold factored ducklings and Silver factored ducklings are often found in the same hatch. The adult female has a base color of off-white or cream that is stippled with brown, grey, rust, light orange, dark orange and buff. They display the tortoise shell pattern of the male on the back, but lack the male’s burgundy color on the breast, which is a cream color, as is the underside. The wing speculum is green or greenish bronze. The feet are orange in a young female, but becomes dark brown in older females.

Silver factored ducks differ from the gold in that the silver ducks have more grey tones and their wing speculum is blue.

The Welsh Harlequin is rather rare in the United States, very stylish, a winner at exhibitions, a layer of more eggs that you can eat, a producer of lean meat, an excellent setter and mother, and a calm, quiet addition to the farm. Perhaps the Welsh Harlequin is the duck for you.


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