Above are my breeding stock all
golds pictured in February 2013.
The one younger hen (just a year
of age) has not come into her full adult plumage yet where
as the 2 yr old hen is getting some lovely color. As you can
see both hens are heavy with eggs and have been laying up a
storm. My hen does not have a line down her chest, she was
out preening herself in the puddles all day long. All three
have lovely streamline smooth bodies.
Few duck breeds possess as many exceptional qualities as the
Welsh Harlequin for the small farmstead. They are a lightweight,
non-flying (and non-migratory) duck that produces an average of
280-330 eggs a year, easily out-doing many dual-purpose chicken
breeds. Unlike most ducks and chickens that lay well, Harlequin
hens still have relatively strong mothering instincts and, if
allowed, will naturally incubate and raise a clutch of
ducklings, especially when they are three years or older. This
trait is perfect for anyone who prefers natural sustainability
without the hassle of using incubators or without purchasing a
new flock every couple of years to keep egg production at a
They are excellent foragers that are less high strung than
Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners, and spend a lot of their day
seeking out insects, seeds, and small reptiles and amphibians to
eat. Banana slugs, grasshoppers, and Japanese beetles are all
sought after with equal relish. This makes them more economical
to keep around than some of the heavier breeds in addition to
keeping your yard free of ticks, mosquito larvae, and other
Even though Harlequins are a lightweight breed, they still
make a great meat duck and produce a 3-5lb lean carcass that
plucks almost as cleanly as a snow white Pekin. Their light down
can be harvested for quilts and pillows throughout the year and
the beautifully marked feathers can be collected for various
In addition to all of these great traits, Welsh Harlequins
are the only known breed that carries autosexing traits at
birth. For the first two to three days the male ducklings have a
dark colored bill, while the females have an orange bill with a
dark tip. At adulthood, the drake's bill becomes an olive yellow
while the female's is nearly black.
Surprisingly, even with all of the benefits to owning
Harlequins, they are still listed as Critical by the American
Livestock Breed Conservancy, and acquiring nicely marked hens
is, at best, a challenge. Hatchery hens are extremely washed
out, with little of the fawn coloring they are supposed to have,
while some hens don't even have an olive-colored bill and are
almost completely white. These poorly marked birds have made it
difficult to autosex many strains of Harlequins.
The Welsh Harlequin was developed in 1949 by Group Captain
Leslie Bonnet, a commercial duck breeder who lived near
Criccieth, Wales in Herefordshire, when his pure Khaki Campbells
produced two oddly colored ducklings. Over the years Bonnet kept
breeding for a hardy, high-egg yeild breed with enough weight to
it to double as a good meat duck.
The original flock that sprang from the unusual babies were
dubbed "Honey Campbells," and were the Golden Phase, which is
the color Bonnet described in his book, Practical
Duck-keeping that was published in 1960. Within the Golden
flock came the Silver Harlequins. There are no records of Bonnet
keeping the colors separated.
In 1968 catastrophe struck when the birds were not shut in
properly and a fox decimated Bonnet's Harlequin flock to such a
degree that he was forced to merge his remaining ducks with his
Whalesbury Hybrids and seek out other breeders who had purchased
Welsh Harlequins from him in the past.
He discovered a small flock of his originals living with
Edward Grayson from Lancashire, who had bought the birds five
years prior and fallen in love with them. With his originals to
work with again, Bonnet got to work and reintroduced new Khaki
Campbell blood. Initially being a Campbell sport, the Harlequin
was almost genetically identical to the Campbell and helped
dilute the Whalesbury Hybrid genes, and in doing this, he was
able to avoid the risk of too much inbreeding. This second flock
was dubbed "Harlequin Campbells." The name would change again to
its final current form when Bonnet and his family moved to North
Whales sometime later.
It was Grayson, not Bonnet, who sat down and wrote up a
complete standard and formed the Welsh Harlequin Duck Club. When
an inaccurate version was published by the Poultry Club in 1982
he sat down and worked on it again, getting it submitted to the
British Waterfowl Association in 1986-87. In 1997 it was finally
included in the British Poultry Standards.
In America, the Welsh Harlequin wasn't available until the
year of the fox attacks when John Fugate, a breeder from
Tennessee, imported eggs from Bonnet's current flock, bringing
the breed to the US for the first time. While there were a few
Goldens in the hatch most of the ducklings turned out to be
By 1980 all of the original birds were isolated in two small
flocks in America, and the inbreeding was becoming a problem.
Fugate then imported birds, this time as adults from breeders in
Europe that arrived in America in 1982. By 1984 the flocks had
rebounded enough for him to offer birds for sale to the public.
In October, 2001, the American Poultry Association officially
recognized the Silver Welsh Harlequin as an official breed, but
did not pass the Golden Welsh Harlequin.
Today, America is able to boast utility lines that surpass
many of those found in the UK, with egg production averaging 200
per bird in the UK and 300 per bird in the United States.
Unfortunately, Harlequin numbers here are sparse at best and are
being marred by poor quality birds with vaguely similar markings
cropping up on the marketplace. More breeders are needed to keep
the bloodlines strong.
Due to the inability to import any new bloodlines to America,
breeders should be selected carefully from a number of different
breeders to help keep the genetics as diverse as possible. This
is especially true for anyone who wants to keep a flock of
The Harlequin color is already a challenge to acquire without
the influx of hatchery stock during the past few years. With the
wide array of coloring found in the few flocks of hatchery birds
out there, it can be next to impossible to acquire well marked
hens and, to a lesser degree, well marked drakes.
Part of the problem is that Golden and Silver phase Welsh
Harlequins will hatch out of almost any flock, regardless of
whether the owner focuses on having strictly Goldens or strictly
Silvers. Breeders can continue focus on a single color and, over
the generations, successfully reduce the number of off colors
the flock produces (Silver seems to be more dominant, producing
more problems in a Golden flock than vice-versa).
In addition to this, hens do not get their full color and
pattern until they are two years old. This makes it difficult to
select high quality Harlequin hens before they are a minimum of
a year old. During the first year, hens will go through many
color changes and are oftentimes lighter than they will be when
Most hatcheries only keep their birds for a single hatching
season, phasing out the year-old birds in fall and having their
new breeders ready to produce eggs in early spring. This doesn't
give the hens in hatchery flocks time to express their full
color and pattern before being replaced.
The color standard can be difficult to explain without seeing
pictures of high quality birds. The following description is
quoted from Dave Holderread, the author of Storey's Guide to
"The color and patterning of the Harlequin is complicated.
The drake's head is greenish black, shoulders reddish
chestnut frosted with white, and breast creamy with
reddish-chestnut. The upper back has a tortoise effect in
cream, white, brown, and chestnut while forewings are
cream-white and reddish brown, with a shiny green and bronze
cross-band. The tail is blackish/bronze edged in white, the
legs and feet are orange, and toenails are brownish-black.
The duck has a creamy white head with brown stippling. Often
there is a delicate light rust or burnt orange blush to her
head, neck, and breast. The crown of the head typically has
more brown stippling than the rest of the head. Her body is
creamy white with buff and brown-green or bronze bands on
her wings. Her tail is a mixture of creamy white and brown.
Her legs are orange when young, and brown when older.
Toenails are brownish-black."
In the United Kingdom, this color is referred to as "Brown
The difference in Golden and Silver phase Harlequins is
subtle in drakes. Male Silvers have a jet black tail and black
on the wings, while Golds have a deep chocolate tail and
matching wings. Female Silvers have black on their wings and
black speckles while in Goldens all of the black is replaced
with a rich chocolate. It is not uncommon to have both colors
showing up in the same flock.
Avoid birds of either color phase with distinct Mallard-like
facial stripes and the wrong bill color (especially light
colored bills in females), both of which have a tendency to crop
This is considered a lightweight breed, with drakes at 5-5
1/2lbs and hens at 4 1/2-5lbs when full grown. Size is also
becoming an issue and breeders are encouraged to keep birds that
are within a pound of its desired weight.
Breeders should have a sleek, streamlined body that is
relatively long and carried at a 30-40 degree angle, with a
medium-width back, rounded chest, full abdomen, and wide-spaced
legs. They have an oval head with a medium-long, slightly
concave bill. Avoid "roman noses" such as those found in Indian
Runners and Dutch Hookbills.