If you are new to ducks and geese, you will probably need a lot of learning and a lot of questions answered. One most frequently asked question is how to sex ducks or how to tell if a duckling or gosling is male or female.
The good news is that it’s not difficult to tell the gender of a duck or a goose! There are five main clues which are venting, voice or quack sound, size, bill colour and plumage colour. Although we will primarily focus on ducks and ducklings, however, most of these methods will also work on geese and goslings.
Sexing your ducklings or knowing whether your ducks or ducklings are male or female is actually a crucial thing to do if you’re planning to gather a small flock because male ducks, technically known as drakes, can become a problem when it comes to mating if there are not enough female ducks, also known as hens, or if you want to sell ducklings to other poultry farmers who want a specific amount of male and female ducklings.
If there are too many drakes, they could seriously harm the ducks by mating too often, fighting each other for access to the poor girls, or they can simply exhaust the 'short-supply' females. The correct ration of drakes to ducks is one drake for every four to six ducks.
But how and when do you sex ducks or geese? Well, there are a couple of methods to determine the gender of your ducks or geese 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!
The best way to determine the gender of waterfowl hatchlings is by vent sexing. The good thing is that it is much easier to tell whether your duck or geese is male or female as compared to performing a similar task for chickens and other land fowl. This is my most preferred method and it is the most reliable method you can use once you acquire the necessary experience required to perform this task. There are four other methods that we will look at so that you can choose one that you are comfortable with. Without wasting much time, let's get into serious business of today's tutorial.
1. VENT SEXING
The only 100% definitive way to sex ducklings or baby geese of any breed is vent sexing, also called vent checking. Other than waiting to see if the duck or goose will lay an egg, vent sexing or venting is the most accurate method of identifying the sex of your waterfowl. It involves manipulation and observation of the cloaca. If done improperly, vent sexing can result in serious injury to the waterfowl. Keep in mind the younger fowl are especially delicate and susceptible to injury. Adult waterfowl also have powerful wings, sharp nails, and nippy beaks, which can cause you injury. As such it is recommended to learn from an experienced handler before attempting on your own.
Having an experienced person show you how to do it is the best way to learn. Barring that, practice on ducklings or goslings that are a couple of weeks old. That way you can learn with less chance of injuring the older birds and a better chance of seeing what you’re looking for. The purpose of vent sexing is to detect the presence or absence of a penis in the cloaca just inside a bird’s vent. Because the organ is so tiny, you need a strong light and good eyesight.
Recently hatched ducklings are usually harder for the beginner to hold for sexing, and the sex organs are so small that they can be tough to identify until a person knows what to look for. Hold the bird upside down with its head pointed toward you. If the duck is large, its neck and head can be held between your legs.
Gently pick up one duck or duckling and turn it upside down so you can see the vent easily. Bend the tail toward the duck’s back, out of the way. Don’t be surprised if a little bit of poop squirts out. With your thumbs, smooth the down away from the vent so you can get a better view. Use your thumbs and one index finger to spread the vent to expose the cloaca. Do not squeeze the vent as if it were a pimple, just apply pressure down and slightly out.
If it’s a male, a worm-like male reproductive organ will corkscrew out. A female has, instead, a rosette of pink tissue known as the genital eminence. If you can’t tell for sure after about 30 seconds of manipulation, release the bird to give it a rest, and try again later. Only slight pressure is needed to expose the vent just barely to see the internally housed reproductive organs of the duck. You can safely and successfully sex a duckling when it is a day or a few days old, but it is recommended to hold off completely on a vent check until the duckling is close to two weeks old. The younger the duckling, the more fragile and susceptible it will be to injury during a cloacal exam.
In drakes only a few days old, the penis is extremely small and can appear almost translucent. By the time males are a couple of weeks of age, their sex organs are easier to see because of their larger size and deeper white or yellowish color. Should you have a female, no penis will be visible when the cloaca is inverted.
As with most skills, your speed and accuracy in sexing will improve with practice. If you get discouraged on your initial attempts, wait a few days until you have regained your confidence and then try again.
2. VOICE OR QUACK SOUND
Wait 2 weeks for the ducklings to mature if you can't tell the difference. When they're just babies it's quite difficult to figure out the gender by voice simply because the calls are so similar. 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. Female ducklings can start quacking as soon as they're 2 weeks old, but it may take them as long as 8 weeks for them to quack properly.
Hens are the loud ones – they make loud quacking, honking, or ‘buckbuckbuck’ noises. Drakes, on the other hand, make quiet raspy sounds, like they’re talking around a mouthful of cotton balls, have a bad case of laryngitis, or are imitating a frog.
At six months or older a female duckling will have a demanding tone to her voice. Female ducklings and ducks also often make a louder sound that can rattle the ear in pitch. Male ducklings usually create a more soft quack in an even tone.
To use this method, 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. Male Muscovy ducks may hiss instead so also be on the look out for this particular variation.
By 4 to 6 weeks, male ducklings look significantly larger than female ducklings. Their legs are thicker and they appear to stand taller than females due to their size, especially in breeds with upright body carriage such as magpie and runner ducks. In some species such as mallards and Pekin, a curled tail feather easily differentiate the boys. Pekins also have a single black feather on their white bodies, which you can find on their back under their wings. Male ducklings regardless of breed, are almost always taller than female and weigh more. In the case of Rouen, Welsh Harlequin, and Mallard duck breeds, males tend to have both a larger head and a thicker neck than females.
4. BILL IDENTIFICATION
It is possible to sex purebred ducklings of some varieties by their bill color at an early age. Day-olds of Snowy and Harlequin colored varieties can often be sexed by bill color with at least 75 to 95 percent accuracy.
Duck breeds that develop bills that are easiest to notice differences in include: Khaki Campbells, Muscovy, Fawn Runners, Rouens, Abacot Rangers, Appleyards, Black Runners, Welsh Harlequins and Indian Runners.
With Muscovy ducks, for example, the male has a bill that is straighter, wider, and noticeably flatter than those on females of the same breed. A hen of this breed typically produces a platypus style bill that is curvy, narrow, and has a distinct ridge in the middle.
Drakelets typically have a fairly uniformly colored grayish or greenish bill, while the bills of ducklets are yellowish with a dark tip. In wild-colored varieties such as Gray calls, Mallards, and Rouens, the bill of a drake normally turns dull green by the age of five to eight weeks, while the female’s turns dark brown with varying amounts of orange shading.
Females in most other colored varieties have a darker bill than the drake by five to eight weeks of age. Determining gender by bill color is unreliable with some crossbred ducklings as variation in bill color can simply be a sign of genetic differences.
5. PLUMAGE OR COLOUR
In a few breeds, you can sex your ducks by color. The Welsh Harlequin and some other breeds will present clear differences between adult male and female plumage. Usually, if a breed does have any difference in coloring due to sex, the male will have a darker head and, or more obvious iridescence on his head and tail. It depends on the duck breed, as there are many kinds. In some ducks, like mallards, the male duck is brightly colored, while the female is dull and brown.
Many breeds, however, will show little to no difference at all in their coloring. Cayugas, Magpies, Anconas, Swedish, and Pekins have very similar markings, whatever their sex.
Sometimes you can even use coloring to tell a male from a female when they’re still babies. Many ducklings go through a developmental phase where they all look like females. It isn't until they are 3 months old or more that you will begin to see signs of adult feathering.
One sign is the "drake feather". On male ducks, one or two of their tail feathers will curl up while the feathers on a female's tail will remain flat. The drake feather may not appear for 2-3 months. If the duck is molting, it is also possible to not see a drake feather until new feathers grow in.
So, there you have it fellow poultry farmers, or duck and goose farmers to be specific.
The majority of the methods we have just discussed will be applicable to most breeds of duck or goose, but there will be some variation when it comes to physical properties. Being able to sex a duck or goose properly aids breeders and small scale keepers plan flock increases with a healthy male to female ratio – and expand the coop and run, if necessary.