Welsh Harlequin ducks may be considered a relatively new breed, but they are gaining popularity across the United States and Great Britain. With their calm, sweet natures and high egg production, these ducks offer poultry enthusiasts so much bang for their buck.
The Welsh Harlequin breed originated in Wales in 1949 and was bred by Leslie Bonnet, a British Royal Air Officer. Mr. Bonnet developed the Welsh Harlequin when he hatched two mutual light-colored purebred Khaki Campbell ducklings. Mr. Bonnet used these two ducklings to breed what is now called the Gold variety of the Welsh Harlequin breed.
For the next 30 years, Mr. Bonnet distributed Welsh Harlequins worldwide, including selling some ducks to Eddie Grayson of Lancashire in 1963 and hatching eggs to John Fugate from Tennessee in 1968. These gentlemen would play a crucial part in the Welsh Harlequin breed’s existence and development in breeding today’s Welsh Harlequin.
In 1968, Leslie Bonnet lost his Welsh Harlequin flock to a fox attack. Mr. Bonnet contacted Eddie Grayson, who still had some of the original ducks that Leslie Bonnet had sold him in 1963. Mr. Grayson agreed to breed Bonnet’s original ducks, and the Welsh Harlequin was saved from extinction. Mr. Grayson later wrote a Standard for the breed.
The same year, John Fugate imported some hatching eggs from Leslie Bonnet to the U.S. By 1980, Fugate’s original imports were confined to two small flocks. Mr. Fugate imported eggs in 1982 to broaden the breeds’ gene pool and enlisted the help of Dave and Millie Holderead (Holderead’s Waterfowl Farm and author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks). Some of Mr. Fugate’s imported eggs hatched a new color, which Dave Holderead named Silver.
Silver was accepted into the American Poultry Standard of Perfection in 2001 and is the most popular color in the U.S.
Gold is the breed’s original color and the only color recognized in Great Britain. Gold Welsh Harlequins have no black pigment and sport bronze wing speculums in their feathering. Drakes have a green and bronze head with a white ring at the base of their neck.
Breast and shoulders are covered in showy mahogany feathers laced in white with a creamy white underbody. Legs and feet are orange, and bills vary from yellow to olive green. Gold females are considered fawn color, with a mid-brown rump. Like the drakes, females also have orange legs and feet, as well as an orange bill with brown spots. The lacing pattern on the wings gives the drakes and hens a lovely tortoiseshell look.
The most popular color in the U.S., silver drakes look like their wild mallard cousins. These drakes are true beauties, with shimmering green heads, silver bodies and blue wing speculums. Silver females are creamy white with black markings on their backs. Females also sport blue-wing speculums. Unlike their gold cousins, silver females’ bills and feet are black and fade to dark olive green during the non-laying season.
Khaki is the least popular of the three color variations and occurs rarely when an individual duckling hatches with the Khaki gene. These ducks look like their closely related cousins, the Khaki Campbell. While Khaki Welsh Harlequins may not sport the dazzling feather patterns of the gold and silver varieties, these ducks are a beautiful brown and have a beauty all their own.
A Welsh Harlequin’s temperament may be one of the leading causes for these ducks’ growing popularity. When handled daily as ducklings and throughout their adult years, Welsh Harlequins are calm, not easily frightened, and considered one of the calmest duck breeds.
Unlike other lightweight duck breeds, this breed is ideal for family pets and good with children. Both drakes and ducks (females) have happy-go-lucky personalities, are easily tamed, and are affectionate with their families. Welsh Harlequins are entertaining ducks who love being with their favorite human. While they don’t always like being picked up as adults, they love to follow you around the yard. They have a reserved and quiet nature around strangers.
If you’re raising ducks for family pets, choosing to raise Welsh Harlequin ducklings versus purchasing adult birds is advised.
Welsh Harlequin females were bred to be excellent layers, just like their Khaki Campbell cousins. But the egg production has declined over the years. Today, Welsh Harlequins lay an average of 100 to 200 eggs annually.
While most females lay pearly white eggs, a few occasionally lay eggs tinted in blue or green.
Welsh Harlequins are considered one of the most broody duck breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA).
Ducklings can be sexed by the color of their bills when hatched with a 90 percent accuracy, with drakes sporting a dark bill and females a lighter color bill with a dark tip.
Drakes have a high libido, so avoid housing multiple drakes with the females.
There are many reasons for the Welsh Harlequins’ growing popularity, from excellent egg production to mothering skills. But their award-winning personalities might make them one of the most popular duck breeds today.