Male vs. Female Duck

Written by Gabrielle Monia
Published: November 15, 2022
© Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK / CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original
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Ducks are called drakes when they are male and females are referred to as hens. If raising backyard ducks, an ideal flock makeup might be three hens on their own, or a drake with four to five hens. Hens will lay eggs without a drake around but if you’d like some baby ducklings you’ll need a male in the flock. Ducks are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females exhibit different traits. Let’s dive into the differences between male vs. female ducks and discover what sets these waterfowl apart!

Comparing a Male and Female Duck

Male DuckFemale Duck
SizeAverage 20 – 26 inches long, up to 31 inches. Average 1.6 – 3.5 pounds, up to 15 poundsAverage 20 – 23 inches long. Average 1.6 – 3.5 pounds, up to 7 pounds
MorphologyStraight, flat and wide bill. Grow feathers later. Grow curly tail feathers. Brighter, flashier plumage.Curvy, pointy and narrow bill with a ridge. Grow feathers earlier. Duller plumage.
BehaviorTend to be more relaxed, except for breeding season when they become territorial.Tend to be more active. Lay eggs, average clutch of 12 eggs.
VocalizationSofter tone and more even, whispery quackLoud “Quack-Quack!” or “Uht-Uht!” sometimes honking

Key Differences Between a Male and Female Duck

Knowing whether day-old ducklings are male or female is exceptionally difficult without the expertise of a trained veterinarian. Conducting a vent check is a reliable method of determining the sex of a duckling but can be dangerous for the bird if attempted by a novice. However, within a couple weeks characteristics will start to emerge that will help you to decide whether you have a drake or a hen on your hands. So, what are the signs to pay attention to in order to determine the sex of these aquatic birds?

Male vs female duck key differences include size, morphological traits, behavior and vocalizations.

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Female and male Steller's eiders swimming
Within a couple weeks characteristics will start to emerge that will help you to decide whether you have a drake or a hen on your hands.


Male vs. Female Duck: Size

Ducks vary in weight depending on the species. They usually range from 20 to 26 inches long and weigh between 1.6 and 3.5 pounds, however Muscovy ducks can grow to be an impressive 15 pounds in weight! Male ducks tend to grow taller and to weigh more than female ducks. They also have a larger head and a thicker neck most of the time.

Male vs. Female Duck: Vent Sexing

The only method to safely determine sex before about eight weeks of age is through a process called vent sexing. This procedure should only be performed by a trained professional because performing this test incorrectly can seriously injure the duckling and has a high chance of error. This test is easiest on day-old ducklings and involves inverting the ducklings vent or cloaca to show their sexual organs.

Male vs. Female Duck: Bill

Bill shape can provide morphological clues as to whether a duck is male or female. Bill differences begin to emerge as early as two to three weeks. Male ducks will often have a straight, flat and wide bill while those of females are typically curvy, pointy and narrow, and have a ridge down the middle. This difference is subtle but can be helpful when determining sex. Some duck breeds, such as the Muscovy duck will exhibit significant differences in bill size, shape and color between the sexes.

Females at egg-laying age will often develop color changes to their bills that have the appearance of freckles. These changes occur due to hormones that develop as they mature. If you spot a freckled bill it’s sure to belong to a female duck, males maintain bare beaks throughout their lives.

Brown female duck close up of bill
Female ducks at egg-laying age will often develop color changes to their bills that can look like freckles due to hormonal changes.


Male vs. Female Duck: Coloration

Once mature, drakes will display vibrant colors and flashier plumage patterns, designed to attract the attention of potential mates. Depending on the duck’s breed colors of green, purple, browns and white may occur. Females will usually be less ostentatious, displaying plumage that is duller and often variations of just brown, gray and sometimes orange.

Male vs. Female Duck: Feathers

Young ducklings will have similar fuzzy plumage until roughly 90 days old. At this point they will begin to diverge and the male ducklings will develop drake feathers with one or two curly tail feathers. Although the tail feathers are a fairly accurate way to identify sex, females will occasionally sprout a curly tail feather or two, especially when in an all-female flock. Also, since drakes molt their tail feathers once per year you may observe them before the growth of the new one and mistakenly believe it to be a female. Female ducks will begin to show signs of true feather sprouts earlier than males. Females’ wings will also mature more quickly, losing their thin and papery feel.

Bufflehead duck male with vibrant colors
Once mature, male ducks will display vibrant colors and flashier plumage patterns, designed to attract the attention of potential mates.


Male vs. Female Duck: Behavior

Female ducks tend to be more active than their male counterparts who are more likely to spend the day lounging around. This is true most of the year, however, during mating season drakes tend to get rowdy. They become territorial and may fight other males for the attention of females. They can get very aggressive at this time and may hurt other ducks, including young offspring that get in their way! 

Drakes looking to get attention may shake their heads and tails, flick water or nip at females. They’ll also swim about with their necks outstretched. Both males and females will often bob their heads to flirt during mating season and females will assume a flattened body position while swimming to show interest in a male.

Female ducks begin laying eggs at about 6 to 7 months of age. Depending on the breed, nesting ducks can produce an egg every 24 to 48 hours. If a female has mated, her egg will be fertilized as it travels through her reproductive tract. A clutch is a full set of eggs laid to be nurtured to hatching by a female. A female duck will lay a clutch of 3 to 12 eggs.

Vocalizations of Male vs Female Duck

If looking to determine the sex of your ducks by vocalizations it can be helpful to remove one at a time from the rest and listen closely to the sounds they are making. Female ducklings will develop a louder and more varied voice as they mature. They tend to make a sound that is more like a honk than a quack, especially when they get excited or agitated in some way. Hens make a loud “Quack-Quack!” or “Uht-Uht!” Males usually have a softer tone and more even, whispery quack that often has a slight whistle to it until they are fully mature.

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About the Author

Gabrielle is a freelance writer with a focus on animals, nature and travel. A Pacific Northwest native, she now resides in the high desert beneath towering ponderosa pines with her beloved dog by her side. She often writes with a coyote call or owl hoot backdrop and is visited by the local deer, squirrels, robins and crows. A committee of turkey vultures convenes nightly in the trees where she resides. Here, the flock and their ancestors have roosted for over 100 years. Her devotion to the natural world has led her to the lifelong study of plants, fungi, wildlife and the interactions between them all.

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