If you are new to ducks, you will probably need a lot of learning and a lot of questions answered. The question I am asked most often is: how do you sex ducks?
This is actually a rather important thing to do if you’re planning to gather a small flock because males – drakes – can become a problem when it comes to mating if there are not enough females – ducks.
If there are too many drakes, they could seriously harm the ducks by mating too often, fighting each other for access, or they can simply exhaust the females (paracetamol does not exist for these ladies).
The correct ration of drakes to ducks is one drake for every four to six ducks.
But how and when do you sex ducks? There are a couple of methods to sex ducks and the best time to do it is when they are ducklings. Adult ducks can be very uncooperative when handled. There are many ways to sex ducklings, so let’s talk about all of them!
There are a number of identifiers that will clue you in on whether you are looking at a drake vs. a duck when you study their plumage (feathers).
Male ducks tend to be more colorful than females. Males often have greens, purples, chocolate browns, and even white feathers. Their color makes them irresistible to females looking to mate – score one for the girls, it’s the boys who do makeup if they want to win the girls’ affection!
The females have very dull plumage. Their plumage tends to be a mixture of browns and grays, with a splash of orange occasionally. Different breeds have different color spectrums, but in most breeds the female is less vibrant than the male.
Most ducklings look like females – they have the same dull coloring – until they are about 90 days old when the drakes develop their colorful plumage.
When drakes and ducks are three months old, the feathers look different. Males have one or two tail feathers that curl upward. The feather on the tail that curls up is called a drake feather because only drakes have them. The females tails never curls up; they stay completely flat.
In most breeds, females’ feathers grow much quicker than males’. When your ducklings start to grow feathers, you will quickly see the females because they are the first to get feathers, and they get more feathers than males.
Watch the wings and tails for feather sprouts as these are where the first feathers form.
When you feel your duckling’s wings, they all start out feeling the same. The bone structure is fine, and the wings feel paper thin.
The wings of the female will lose this papery feel quicker than the males, and they will feel thicker and more substantial. In most breeds, the females grow feather sprouts on their wings faster than the males.
When ducklings hatch, they all sound the same. When they reach roughly the six-week mark, you will be able to start distinguishing between male and female voices.
To do this, you will have to get up close and personal with each duck. Take one duck at a time and move far away from the rest of the gang. You should not be able to hear any of the other ducklings, only the one duckling you are holding.
Females are much more demanding and vocal than males. They have the distinctive quack from about 2 months old. They are louder, and they vocalize different pitches.
This is just the start of it. When they mature, they honk loudly if they are excited, arguing, looking for someone, or even just getting their nails done – kidding! The honking sound is much more amped up than the male. They are definitely loud mouths!
Males have a softer, even tone. They peep softly in a monotone voice. Males do not get much louder with age. They do not get very excited when they quack, their voice stays monotone.
When the ladies are calm, it can be tricky to identify the males as they will sound the same as the females.
If you want to have a listen to learn the difference, listen here.
Of course, there is always that one exception to the rule. In this case, the exception is the Muscovy duck. The males and females sound the same.
Within a couple of days after hatching, you will see a difference in the size of the ducklings. Regardless of breed, most male ducklings are taller than females.
The males are also heavier than the females. Male Welsh Harlequin, Rouen, and Mallard ducks have larger heads, and their necks are thicker than their female counterparts.
To identify the sex using the bill as your marker, you will have to do some research on the specific breed of your ducklings as different breeds have different bill colors, sizes, and shapes.
Identifying sex by bill can only be done from about 2 months old, when they are younger the bills all look the same.
For most breeds, the females have orange or brownish bills. Occasionally you could find a male with this same color bill. But male’s bills are normally green.
The shape of the bill also varies from one breed to another. If you look at Muscovy ducks, the males bill is wider, flatter, and straighter than the females.
In Welsh Harlequins, the males bill is darker than the females. The females bill has a dark spot on the tip. You really need to know the specifics of your breed to be able to tell sex based on the bill.
The feet are one of the most definitive indicators of sex. If you watch your ducklings waddle, you will see several that literally fall over their own feet. These clumsy ones are the males.
The feet of males are larger than females. The boys have to grow into their extra-large feet. When they waddle, their feet often cross over each other leading to their many stumbles.
The legs of the males are also thicker than the females’, and when they stand, they have a broader stance.
#7. Duck Behavior
Female duck are more active than males. From a very young age you will see ducklings that are constantly on the move, and you will see ducklings behaving like lounge lizards just sitting around watching the world go by.
It may be that the females know they will need to be fit and fast to avoid all those amorous boys, or it may be that the boys just do not want to suffer the humiliation of falling face-first into the dirt in front of all their peers because they have big feet.
#8. Venting (Also Called the Cloaca)
The second most definitive way of checking if your ducklings are male or female is to check their venting – reproductive organs.
Girls have oviducts, boys have penises.
Checking your ducks this way takes a steady hand, and a lot of finesse. It is very easy to injure your ducklings when vent checking. It is always best to get someone skilled to come and help you the first couple of times so that they can guide you through the steps, and explain what to do.
While you can sex them at two days old, I do not recommend this. You should wait at least until they are two weeks old so that they are a bit more robust and can tolerate the cloacal exam.
I am going to explain the steps to you, but I recommend you watch a couple of YouTube clips so that you can recognize what you are looking at and for.
It is very important that you are gentle, and that you do not apply too much pressure to any part of the duckling when you are checking the sex.
The male and female reproductive organs are internal, and are located just under their tails.
Hold the duck on a level surface or in the palm of your hand with its legs facing away from you and its breast up. Placing the duckling on a table will free up both hands, and keep them and the duckling steady.
Sweep the tail away and hold it out of the way so that you can clearly see the vent.
Feel your way under the tail for the vent and try to move the fluff out of the way as best you can. You need to clear the way so that the vent is fully exposed. I find it easier to clear my field of vision by letting the ducklings swim first so that their feathers are wet.
Place your thumbs on the sides of the cloaca opening. Now apply the gentlest amount of pressure on either side below the vent very slowly until the walls of the vent are exposed.
Never press more than ½ an inch in.
Look to see if there is a penis protruding. The penis will be pink, white, or gray. A male’s penis will protrude when pressure is applied.
A female will just have an oviduct. It is a bit trickier to see, look for vaginal lips. If you do not see either, release the pressure and then reapply pressure.
Make sure the penis retracts and the vent – male and female – closes properly before you release the duckling. If it does not retract, gently rub the vent until it retracts.
This whole process should be done within 30 seconds to avert the duckling becoming stressed.
#9 The Definitive Way of Sexing Your Ducklings
If all of this is a bit confusing to you, and you cannot find a pro to help you, there is one foolproof way to tell the sex of your ducklings. The catch is that it is a bit time consuming.
When your babies hatch and you are confused, relax, go read twenty books about ducks, decide what recipes you will attempt to make with duck eggs, learn how to make a down feather quilt, get your nails done 7 times. That’s about how long you will have to wait.
If at 6 – 7 months old you find an egg, you know definitively that your duckling is a girl!
When dealing with a living being, no matter how big or small, always be gentle. Sexing your ducklings should not be stressful to you or your duckling. I recommend checking venting only as a last resort if the sex is critically important.
Venting should always be done with the help of someone who knows what they are doing. The extra set of hands will also help for a smoother process.
But before you rush for the vent, check by using all the other methods first. It is a great game to play with the kids to see who is the most observant before the ducklings are grown.
I hope you have learned a trick or two. Male or female, they are too cute for words.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.