Ducks

11 Amazing Duck Facts!

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Ducks make a wonderful addition to any backyard farm.  They are curious & friendly with such sweet little faces!  You know they are super cute, but did you know these 11 Amazing Facts About Ducks?

They can sleep with one eye open – Ducks can turn off half their brain while keeping the other half alert for predators.  Ducks will usually only fully rest both halves if they are feeling safe & protected either in the middle of a large group of ducks or in a safe location.

Duck Terms – A baby duck is called a duckling, a male is a drake and a female is a hen or duck.  A group of ducks is called a raft, a team or a paddling (how cute is that, a paddling of ducks??).  Generic “bird” terms can also be used like chick, bird or flock.

Waterproofing – Ducks have highly waterproof feathers thanks to an intricate feather pattern and a wax like coating that they spread onto their feathers while preening.  The waxy oil is produced in their preen gland, a small gland at the base of their tail.  Duck feathers are so waterproof that they can dive completely underwater and the downy under-feathers will stay totally dry.

11 Amazing Duck Facts

Ducks of the world – Ducks live in both fresh water and sea water and can be found on every continent except for Antarctica

No cold feet here – Ducks have a special counter current blood vessel system in their feet/legs so their feet will not feel cold.  Their feet have a unique alignment of blood vessels, with veins and arteries lying next to each other & lace like capillaries that weave among themselves.  As warm blood comes down the legs from the body and meets the cooled blood coming back up, heat is exchanged in these special capillaries.  This preserves a core temperature in the feet delivering just enough blood to feed the tissues & keep frostbite at bay. It also means that cooled blood is not making it’s way back into the body, which could lower their core temperature.  This lets them swim in icy water and be undisturbed by walking in snow & chilly puddles

Extreme Molting – Most bird species have a “sequential molt” where they lose their flight feathers one at a time, allowing them to always have the ability to fly.  Most waterfowl have a “simultaneous wing molt” typically in spring or early summer, where they lose all their primary feathers at once.  This means until they grow back (about 20-40 days) the bird can not fly.  Luckily waterfowl are well adapted to flightless life by inhabiting wetlands where they can find food and shelter without the need for flying.

11 Amazing Duck Facts

Drake Molting – Drakes will undergo the wing molt we just discussed above, but they also undergo twice yearly molting of their plumage.  Shortly after the females make their nest and the main breeding season is over, drakes will molt their colorful plumage.  It is replaced with their “eclipse plumage” – drab, brown feathers similar to the female’s coloring.  In fall/winter they will molt again, regaining their bright, colorful feathers known as their “nuptial plumage” in preparation for the next mating season. click here to learn more about duck molting

Mating – Drakes unfortunately have a reputation of very aggressive mating that can sometimes even result in injury or death.  In some species of ducks, a female will bond with a male for one season – but she will still be harassed into mating by other males.  The female can protect herself from insemination from an unwanted male with a long, complicated oviduct full of twists, turns & chambers.  She can sideline sperm & eject it later, so that she only reproduces with the male of her choosing.

Speaking of mating….. Drakes are one of the few bird species that have an external phallus.  It is a long, corkscrew shaped tentacle that retracts into their body when not mating – sometimes they can grow to be as long as their entire body!  The most bizarre fact of all is that in the fall the phallus completely falls off, only to regrow in the spring.  Scientists are unsure why this happens, but think it might be because it is easier to grow a new one rather than keep it healthy.  The length it regrows depends on how many rivals males are in their area during mating season.  The more rivals, the longer it might grow, to better their chances of offspring.

11 Amazing Facts about Ducks

Ducks can change genders – Gender change in ducks is rare, but happens as often as 1 in every 10,000 birds and can happen both from female to male and male to female, although female to male seems much more common.  The cause is undetermined but some think it happens when an imbalance of genders in a flock occurs (a really large all male or all female flock) or due to disease or damage in the reproductive system. When a male bird turns female, it will molt all of it’s colorful plumage, and can develop the louder female quack and display nesting habits.  There are stories about a once male duck laying eggs, but I have seen nothing scientifically conclusive.  The female to male transformation seems to be studied a bit more.  Female ducks that turn male will molt into the colorful male plumage including a drake curl tail feather, and can develop the raspy drake quake & drake mannerisms and could even fertilize eggs!  Without getting too technical, a biology based explanation is that almost all birds have two ovaries, but only the left one functions.  The right ovary never develops beyond a clump of cells.  If the left one becomes damaged, diseased, or for some reason shuts down by an instinct to balance the flock, the female bird is no longer producing oestrogen (the hormone in birds responsible for female characteristics). Sex chromosomes in birds are expressed as Z & W, with all birds “defaulting” to ZZ (male) and the presence of a W chromosome making a female.  With no oestrogen being produced, the rudimentary right ovary actually begins to develop into a functioning testis, producing testosterone, leading to the normal male sex traits.  click here to read about my female duck that has begun to show male traits

Ducks turn white with age. White ducks are white their whole lives, but dark-colored ducks slowly develop white patches in their feathers as they age, just like humans. Eventually, when they are very old, they could become entirely white.


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33 Comments

  1. This is very interesting, thank you for sharing!.

  2. the ducks changing sex is so interesting! Never knew!

  3. Jenny Archuleta says:

    Thanks very interesting. But I was wondering how do I know if the egg is a baby?

    1. A fertilized egg that is developing a baby duck inside will look exactly the same on the outside as a non fertilized egg. To check for development, you can use a method known as candling. You would take the egg into a dark room and shine a bright light against the egg (like from a flashlight or even your cell phone). This will illuminate shadows inside the egg, if it is in early development you will see veining as the blood supply grows. As the duckling developments more, all you will likely see is a large dark area.

  4. Love our Call Ducks, so many things to learn from them and about them.

  5. Kendra M Robinson says:

    I have a year old saucony drake and he tends to bite me all the time. IT’s just me noone else in the house. Any ideas why?

    1. He is trying to claim you as part of his flock. Kind of cute in a way but you don’t want him thinking he is in charge! When he does that I would firmly grasp his bill and say no or pick him up and carry him around under your arm for a bit

  6. Thea says:

    Hi! I am such a duck fan and this is so cool!!! Wish I could get my own pet ducks… 🙂

    1. I hope you get that wish someday 🙂 they are awfully cute!

  7. Siohban says:

    I have 2 Pekin ducks that are exactly 4 months old. They sound alike and look identical except one has a lighter colored bill with freckles and the other a darker bill no freckles. I have found around 7 eggs in their hutch since August 1st. I assumed they were both female as they have so many similarities and no drake feather. Recently I was telling a woman about them and sharing my disappointment in having 2 females at that time she offered me her drake because she just recently lost her female and she thought he was lonely. I agreed to take him. When I brought him home my duck with the darker beak and no freckles kept biting at him and chasing him. This is so uncharacteristic of her as both of my ducks are super friendly and will jump up on me to snuggle and sit in my lap, they are also super friendly with my dogs and rabbit. Anyways, my question is if you have any tips on how to get them used to each other. And if it’s normal for one of the females to behave in this way towards a male duck. They have never been around any other ducks just each other or do you think she is actually a he with no drake feather yet?

    1. It is definitely possible that duck just hasn’t developed a drake feather yet. But it is also normal for them to not be totally accepting a new drake in the area, especially if he was acting like he was in charge. The females could just be trying to remind him they were there first. Start the introductions slow. Put the drake in an area where they can see & smell each other but not get to each other. I usually section off part of my run for this. Let them live like this for a week or two and then release them together and see how it goes. Sometimes it goes nice and smooth and something everyone just needs some time to ease into the idea

  8. Well holy hell I sure hope none of my girls turn into boys because they already have loud threesomes out in the front yard when they are free ranging and we have to frequently avert our eyes while reminding ourselves we’re glad we’ve got no drakes!! 🙂 And great to read about them turning white as they age as our Cayuga, Betty, on her most recent molting has grown in some white feathers. She’s only 18 months old though, so strange…oh and even though she’s a Cayuga, she’s never laid dark colored eggs 🙂

    1. My Cayuga has never laid dark eggs either! Our flock right now is seriously unbalanced and we will have to do something before mating season hits – both ducklings we added this year turned out to be boys and one of our girls can’t seem to make up her mind what she is. This year (she is nearly 3 years old) she developed a very pronounced drake curl that stuck around right through molting, still has the girl voice and the boys don’t try to mate with her. So we now have 3 drakes, 2 females and 1 that can’t make up its mind! Not great ratios!!

  9. Aleta mcdaniel says:

    I have one female and a male always together, tonite my female disappeared, my male is so lonely
    Please help me what can I do??
    Can I buy another female for him ?
    Will he bond with her the same way?
    Please help !

    1. oh no! Is it possible the female is hiding somewhere, perhaps sitting on a nest? Especially this time of year, females start thinking of hatching babies and will sometimes choose an out of the way spot to build their nest. Male ducks don’t usually have a lot to do with raising ducklings. Try following the male tomorrow and see if he goes to her. Ducks really do like living with other ducks, so if she is indeed gone, he would enjoy having a new duck around. In time, he should develop a bond with the new duck as well.

  10. Pat Fishback says:

    A wild female mallard has come into my yard on at least two occasions. The last time, she nested under my azaleas right in front of the house. She had ten eggs and sat on them night and day. I finally got some food and water for her and waited for the ducklings. One day – she was gone! The eggs were there but eventually disappeared. I saw no sign of struggle when she left the nest.

    Today, I was weeding my big lenten rose bed and she walked out and faced me! (I think it is the same bird!) She extended her head and neck along the ground, facing me. What does this mean? When I moved closer, she calmly walked back under the leaves. Do I need to worry about her? I put out some feed and water.

    1. She is defending her nest. When they chase off intruders they run at them with their neck lowered (kind of like a bull charging but much less intimidating lol). I would just give her some space. It’s normal for the moms to take little breaks from sitting now and then to find food, relieve themselves and stretch their legs a bit. Mallards tend to return every year to the same spot to lay their nests, and sometimes their female offspring will also return to the spot where they were raised to raise their babies. So you might have lots of years of ducklings ahead!

  11. Hi so I got three welsh harlequin ducklings. I’m worried two may be boys and only one is a girl. What do I do in that kind of situation? We are so attached I can’t imagine having to get rid of any of them. I don’t suppose you can neuter a duck can you? I know it’s a risk when you buy them unsexed but no one was shipping ducklings due to all the covid stuff any help or advice would be great.

    1. Hi Bobbie, that is definitely the gamble with unsexed ducklings. I have never heard of a duck being neutered, but you could always ask your vet. With two boys and one girl the odds are definitely not good for the little girl. The first spring (so next year when they are fully mature) will be the worst and they should get a little better from there. They will mate all year round, but during the spring mating season is when it will be the most frequent. You will probably have to regularly separate the girl for her own sake. Ducks can be really rough during mating, pulling out feathers along her neck & head to the point of making her skin raw and bleeding. If you do end up with the 2 boys and 1 girl and you don’t want to rehome anyone, the best course of action if you have the space is to get some more female ducks. Bare minimum would be 2 females per male, but 3-4 females per male is really better. Summer/fall you will have an easier time finding sexed ducklings for shipping because most people get them in the spring and *hopefully* covid restrictions will be lifted. But wait and see what happens, around 10-11 weeks their voices should start changing from the baby “peep” to a clear “quack” for females and a muted, raspy “wap wap wap” for the males. Fingers crossed you don’t have 2 boys!

      1. Thank you so much for the help it’s funny you talked about the voice changes they are 4 weeks and already they are changing. The girl has started doing a bit of a quack and it sounds deeper. The other two not to much different yet. If the other two are boys are they ok together or will they fight as they get older?

        1. It really depends on their personalities. I have three boys and they all get along very well. But some males are aggressive and protective of their space. Only time will tell on that one

  12. Nancy says:

    Thanks for all the information. Hope I can ask you and your readers if they’ve ever heard of a duck suddenly growing drake feathers? I lost one of my two drakes over winter and the remaining drake (older of the two) has turned into a major bully, harassing and attacking 4 of the seven ducks. One in particular who has since grown a drake feather. I am also 90% certain she stopped laying eggs. They are Indian Runner ducks but I’m not convinced they are pure. Thank you for any comments.

    1. Hi Nancy! I have actually had a duck grow a drake curl – I wrote a blog post on it if you would like to read it https://thecapecoop.com/angelica-the-bi-gender-duck/

  13. Morgan ross says:

    Drake’s phallus falls off in the fall does that mean they can’t reproduce in the fall and winter? I’m gettin ducklings soon un sexed so I will only be keeping one male but I don’t want ducklings in the winter. Do I need to seperate the male in the winter to keep from having winter ducklings?

    1. It falls off and regrows within the span of about a month so it will definitely not last you through the winter. As long as you are collecting eggs every single day, even if the eggs are fertilized they will not have a chance to start developing. Even if they somehow hide their nest from you, most birds instinctively will not go broody (sit on a nest of eggs trying to hatch them) in the winter months. They know it’s hard to keep babies warm in the snow 🙂

  14. Deborah Laughlin says:

    For those of you wanting to buy sexed ducklings you can get as few as two right now from Metzer Farms in California. I live in Ohio and got my two perfectly healthy mallard girls this morning. I got them pinioned so that they will not fly away and I simply love them. Just FYI for you folks stuck with all of those Drakes.

  15. Uma Sur says:

    One month ago my female duck quackes and layed eggs but now a days she is not quackig but hissees like male what happened to her plz answer me

    1. Is she broody and protecting a nest? That is the only time I hear any of my ducks (males or females) hiss

  16. tammy says:

    Do you happen to know if geese can change gender as well? Google search is not helping. Nor do my books on ducks and geese…thanks!!! (Since I cant find info I’m ASSUMING no)

    1. Most birds have the same type of reproductive system so the gender change should be able to happen in geese too. I’ve read a lot about songbirds and ducks changing, but like you I haven’t specifically seen something on geese changing

  17. Tammy says:

    Thanks!!! And some frogs and fish etc….but of course NO mention of what I was looking for!!! Thanks again for the input!!!

  18. Ova Magnum says:

    My male duck, that I bought when he was a few days old, has been changing into a female. His face is changing to look like a females face ( He is a blue swedish duck) and laid an egg this morning. I believe that he has changed because he is in a house with only 6 other drakes. Has anyone had this happen before?

    1. Females that change to males are more likely, but it definitely can happen the other way too. I have a female duck that I think may have changed to male, you can read about their story here and a bit more about how it can happen: https://thecapecoop.com/angelica-the-bi-gender-duck/

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