Raising your own ducklings for your backyard pond or poultry yard can be an exciting endeavor, as your young ducks will bond to you from their first days. However, unless ducks have sex-linked traits, it can be difficult to discern whether the birds you're bringing home are males or females. Subtle clues such as duck behavior and physical traits can help you increase the odds of knowing a duck's gender right from the start.
It's easy to tell male from female ducks when you buy a sex-linked breed. These types of ducklings have distinct markings that are associated with gender, allowing you to identify the duck's sex from the time it hatches. Females are a pastel lavender or chocolate color; males are darkly colored.
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Domestic duck breeds descend from either mallard or Muscovy lineage. For mallards, chocolate and buff coloration can be sex-linked by mating a brown or buff drake to a mallard female with black and gray genes. In Muscovy, chocolate coloration is sex-linked. A chocolate male and black female will result in black drakes and lilac females. A chocolate male and blue female produce black and blue males and chocolate and pastel females.
Sex linkage isn't necessarily just down color but may involve the adult plumage or bill color as well, making them easily identifiable even when swimming in the water. Welsh harlequins, for example, are sex-linked to their bill color, which is yellow in immature females and darker in male ducklings. When they mature, female bills turn dark, and the male bills turn yellow. Other common sex-linked breeds include Abacot ranger, Saxony, tuxedo dux, and ancona.
Clues about female ducklings
If your ducklings aren't sex-linked breeds of ducks, they'll likely be either balls of fluffy yellow down or a combination of yellow and brown. Males and females won't have different coloration, so you'll need to look at other physical clues to pick out the boys and girls.
Female ducklings of all species tend to be louder and more vocal than the males of their species right from the outset. Where all ducklings peep, female ducklings usually insert a strange cough here and there. That's because female ducks are typically the only ones to emit a "quack quack quack" sound.
A female duckling's wings can also provide hints to her sex. When ducklings hatch, their wings are fragile and papery thin. Females are the first to lose this papery quality to their wings as they start to plump up, and wing sprouts begin to emerge along the edges.
Characteristics of male ducklings
Male ducklings are the quieter gender, both as a duckling and as an adult. Ducklings tend to emit a monotone peeping that develops into a whispery grunt as they mature. The exception to this is the Muscovy, whose males make a hissing sound.
In most species of ducks, male ducks begin growing bigger than the females right from the start. Male ducklings are generally taller, with bigger feet, longer legs, and bigger bodies. Males of mallard descent have thicker necks and larger heads than females. Muscovy males will develop abundant caruncles on their face with a large bump between the eyes, while females sport a more demure red bumpy mask.
Keeping track of gender
Once you're pretty sure about the gender of a certain duck — for instance, if you see wing sprouts appearing — band the leg of all ducklings you believe to be of that gender. This can be as easy as placing a zip tie around the leg of ducks who have the earliest wing sprouts and are the noisiest. Clip off the extra length of the zip tie and be sure the tie doesn't cut off circulation as the duckling grows.
Don't be fooled, however. Most species of ducks appear to be juvenile females when they are first feathered out. With the exception of pure white ducks, males will develop shinier feathers around the head and neck. In pure white ducks, such as white Pekin ducks or Indian runners, a curly drake feather on the tail is the easiest way to spot a male, while loud, honking quacks will tip you off to the female.