History of the Indian Runner Duck
Indian Runners came from the East Indies and, as one would
expect, they run rather than waddle. The name is fairly explicit,
but it does not do justice to one of the most extraordinary of
domestic ducks. They are unique in the extreme body shape and
posture, looking to the inexperienced eye more like hock bottles
than normal ducks. Yet it was their utility value as egg layers that
brought them and their fame to the UK country, where they were
exhibited in Dumfries in 1876 and Kendal in 1896.
Records of stone carvings in Java seem to suggest an origin of a thousand years or more. The Europeans noted them in the mid 19th century, in Malaya (1851) and Lombok, Indonesia, where Alfred Wallace observed in 1856 that they ‘walk erect, like penguins’(1). However, circumstantial evidence would suggest that oriental ducks reached Western Europe much earlier than the nineteenth century. Kenneth Broekman has alerted us to Dutch records of a sailing ship carrying a cargo of hundreds of salted ‘pingouins' - possibly ducks. There were also duck eggs in this cargo transported back to the Cape of Good Hope.
In addition, ducks resembling Indian Runners in colour pattern and shape can be seen in paintings by the Dutch masters of the 1600s. Articles in the IRDA newsletters illustrate the evidence from Holland.
Also a number of Lowland breeds, such as the Huttegem, carry colour
genes very similar to the Indian Runners. Examples of these colour
mutations can be seen in seventeenth century Dutch paintings like
those of the d’Hondecoeter family.
‘Speckled Drake’ by Gijsbert d’Hondecoeter
‘One thing certain is that the Indian Runner is not a breed made by the fancier’(2). Appleyard was asserting that this duck was no mere aesthetic creation nor one of the designer breeds that were deliberately produced from it in the early 20th century. Indian Runners are likely to have evolved in parts of the Far East over an extensive period of time. They were to become agile and hardy foragers, prolific egg-layers and surprisingly meaty table birds. ‘The flesh is abundant for the size of body, fine in quality and well flavoured.’(3).They also have the reputation of being non-fliers and non-sitters, though there are numerous exceptions to the latter.
Zollinger (4)(1851) explains how they were used in the
nineteenth century: ‘They are principally reared on account of the
eggs, which are immediately salted, and form an article of food much
prized by the inhabitants. They are very cheap. Many are sold to
sailors of ships who store them for their voyages.’ Wallace also
notes that the birds themselves (known as ‘Baly Soldiers’) were also
consumed by crews of rice ships. The birds were then referred to as
Colour Breeding in Domestic Waterfowl
Perhaps the biggest impact of the Indian Runner Duck has been on the creation of twentieth century ‘Designer Ducks’. Birds like the Khaki Campbell and the Buff Orpington are the direct result of crossing Indian Runners to other domestic breeds. The egg-laying potential, allied to some remarkable chromotypes, liberated duck breeding in both commercial and exhibition stocks.
The original Asian birds carried some exciting plumage colour mutations. In the language of genetics, they had alternative genes (alleles) of the mallard pattern, namely the recessive dusky variant. There were sex-linked colour dilutions, like the recessive brown and buff variants. Also there was an alternative light phase gene, which is in most Runners, other than the Fawn-and-whites, and further in breeds like the Saxony, Rouen Clair and Silver Appleyard.
When the black, blue and pied genes (the latter referred to by F M Lancaster as the ‘runner gene’) are also brought into the picture, a veritable palette of colour ‘factors’ is available. Like the Call Ducks, Indian Runners are now more than ever obtainable in a wide range of stable colour forms without crossing to other waterfowl breeds. Care, however, should always be taken with certain colour forms, such as the blue where incomplete dominance in the heterozygotes produces chromotypes like Cumberland Blue, Blue Dusky, Blue Trout, etc.) These only breed a proportion of offspring like the parents
1 Coutts (1929) ‘The Feathered World’
2 Appleyard, Reginald. Ducks (‘The Feathered World’ 1926)
3 Brown, E. Poultry Breeding and Production (1929)
4 Zollinger. Journal of the Indian Archipelago (1851)
5 Donald. The India Runner Duck: its History and Description (c.1890)
6 Rudolph. Notes on the History of the Indian Runner (Newsletter of the Indian Runner Association, Autumn 2000)