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The Indian Runner duck is a breed of domestic duck that is known for its distinctive upright posture and quick speed. They are popular for their high egg production, with females typically laying between 300 to 350 eggs per year.
Due to their upright stance, Indian Runners run rather than waddle, and they are not capable of flying. They have a tendency to drop their eggs wherever they happen to be, rather than incubating them in a nest. As a result, duck owners must either house their birds overnight or collect the eggs regularly to prevent them from being lost or taken by other animals.
They weigh between 3.1 and 5.1 pounds and range in height from 20 inches in small females to about 30 inches in tall males. Their unique upright stance is due to their pelvic girdle, which is positioned closer to the tail than other breeds of domestic ducks. This allows them to "quickstep" rather than waddle like other ducks. Indian Runner ducks have a long, wedge-shaped head, a straight bill that blends into the head, high-set eyes, and a long, slender neck. They have a slim, yet round body, and their feathers are tightly packed. The eggs they produce are usually greenish-white in color. It can be difficult to determine the sex of Indian Runner ducks until they reach maturity, as drakes have a small curl on the tip of their tails and hens have flat tails.
They often swim in ponds and streams, but they are likely to be preoccupied foraging in grassy meadows for worms, slugs, even catching flies. They appreciate open spaces but are happy in gardens from which they cannot fly and where they make much less noise than call ducks. Only females quack and drakes are limited to a hoarse whisper. Compared to big table ducks, they eat less grain and pellet supplements.
The introduction of Indian Runner ducks and Pekins brought in an array of unusual feather color mutations, including the dusky and restricted mallard genes, light phase, harlequin phase, blue and brown dilutions, and the well-known pied varieties named by geneticist F. M. Lancaster as the 'Runner pattern.' The creation of new color varieties in domesticated duck breeds has been greatly influenced by the importation of these oriental ducks. Through original research conducted by R. G. Jaap in the 1930s and F. M. Lancaster breeders have gained a deeper understanding of the impact of genotypes on creating color varieties. This information can be found in works by authors such as Dave Holderread, Mike and Chris Ashton, which provide simplified insights.
They are domesticated waterfowl that live in the archipelago of the East Indies. There is no evidence that they came originally from India itself. Attempts by British breeders at the beginning of the twentieth century to find examples in the subcontinent had very limited success. Like many other breeds of waterfowl imported into Europe and America, the term Indian may well be fanciful, denoting a loading port or the transport by India-men sailing ships of the East India Company. Other misnamed geese and ducks include the African goose, the black East Indian duck and the Muscovy duck.
The popularity of the Indian Runner duck as an egg-laying breed rose towards the end of the 19th century, largely due to the publication of a pamphlet called The India Runner: its History and Description
by John Donald of Wigton. This publication, believed to have been released between 1885 and 1890, briefly advertised in The Feathered World
in 1895, provides a description of the pied variety and the popular tale of its importation into Cumbria, Northwest England, by a sea captain about 50 years prior.
The Cumbrian imports, according to Matthew Smith in 1923, included completely fawn Runners and completely white Runners as well as the pied (fawn-and-white and gray-and-white) varieties. The most successful attempt to import fresh blood lines was by Joseph Walton between 1908 and 1909. Accounts of these ventures can be found in Coutts (1927) and Ashton (2002). Walton shipped in birds from Lombok and Java, revolutionizing the breeding stock which, according to Donald, had become badly mixed with local birds. Further importations by Miss Chisholm and Miss Davidson in 1924 and 1926 continued to revive the breed.
Pure breed enthusiasts, exhibitors and show judges wanted to establish standard descriptions. Standards were drawn up by the Waterfowl Club in England (1897) and America (1898) for the pied color varieties. These were largely the same until 1915 when the two countries diverged. The American Poultry Association chose a variety with blue in the genotype whilst the English Poultry Club Standard kept to the pure form described by Donald in his original pamphlet. Other colors followed making use of black genes brought in by some of Walton's birds. These were to produce black, chocolate and Cumberland blue. Later were developed the mallard, trout, blue trout, and apricot trout versions. Slightly different names and descriptions can be found in American and German standards. An account of the influence of the Indian Runner Duck Club (founded in 1906), particularly the input by John Donald, Joseph Walton, Dr J. A. Coutts and Matthew Smith, can be found in Ashton (2002).
The most profound impact of the Indian Runners was on the development of the modern 'light duck' breeds. Before 1900, most ducks were bred for the table. Aylesbury and Rouen ducks were famous throughout the nineteenth century, and these were supplemented or replaced, after 1873–74, by importation from China of the Pekin duck. As soon as the Indian Runners became fashionable, a demand for egg-layers and general purpose breeds developed.
Using Runners crossed to Rouens, Aylesburys and Cayugas (the large black American breed), William Cook produced his famous Orpington Ducks. Mrs Campbell crossed her fawn-and-white Runner duck to a Rouen drake to create the Campbell ducks introduced in 1898. Later, she introduced wild mallard blood and managed to create the most prolific egg-layer, the Khaki Campbell (announced in 1901). Other breeds followed, some of which emerged as direct mutations of the Khaki Campbell, along with crosses back to Indian Runners, the most famous being the Abacot Ranger (known in Germany as the Streicher) and the Welsh Harlequin.
Currently there are eight varieties of Indian Runner recognized with the American Poultry Association. They are, in order of recognition, Fawn & White, White, Penciled, Black, Buff, Chocolate, Cumberland Blue, and Gray