Sexing our Welsh Harlequin ducks
We call our Welsh Harlequin ducklings “the ladies,” “the girls” or “the women,” even though we’re unsure about the sex of 3 out of 4 of them. I think deep down we’re hoping that the cosmic forces in charge of waterfowl sex assignment will, if necessary, swap out the proper fiddly-bits before they hit puberty to spare
us the ladies the trauma of actually being “the fellas.”
As you may have guessed, lady ducks lay eggs, gentleman ducks do not. Aaron and I make daily unsubstantiated guesses and squabble about the gender of each of our ducklings. We are, however, in agreement about how we hope they’ll turn out when they mature: 3 girls (to lay eggs) and 1 boy (to protect and herd the ladies).
From everything we’ve read, it’s virtually impossible to sex them at this age using visual cues—the only way to do it accurately is to have an up-close-and-personal inspection of their nether regions, which is an experience that nobody on Tyrant Farms is interested in partaking in.
So, our only option is to wait it out and see if my initial guesses when we picked them out were accurate or not. If not, Aaron is threatening to add any extra male “ladies” to the menu for a Tyrant Farms duck BBQ night. The horror!
The Life of a Tyrant Farms Welsh Harlequin Duckling
The ladies keep quite the busy daily schedule. Their hobbies include:
- swimming in their pool;
- resting in the shade;
- foraging for bugs, grubs, worms, and greens;
- swimming in their pool;
- waddling around looking at things;
- fastidiously preening themselves; and
- swimming in their pool (again).
Did we mention that they love to swim? They also do this really cute stretch-thing (which technically isn’t a hobby) when they’re laying down… They’ll stretch their tiny little wings out as far as they can over their backs and push their knobby orange legs out behind their bodies until they’ve executed the full stretch position. Then in one motion (and just as quickly as they extended all their wings and legs) they’ll contract into a small heap of puffy, duckling wonderfulness, resting atop their tummies with their gangly little legs still outstretched behind them.
It’s completely adorable.
The Welsh Harlequin Ladies’ View of Humans
Because they hadn’t been handled much by humans prior to life on Tyrant Farms, the ladies weren’t thrilled when we initially tried to hold and play with them. By “not super thrilled,” what I actually mean is they’d run away from us in utter terror as if their tail feathers were set afire, cheeping their little beaks off.
Our interpretation of their cheeps is something like, “Oh, no! The huge scary monsters that feed us fresh organic food are back! They’re going to kill us this time! Run ladies!”
After two weeks on Tyrant Farms, we’ve made considerable headway with them. They’ve slowed to a brisk waddle of apprehension amidst a chorus of semi-interested chirps—unless we have a favorite treat. All doubts as to our benevolence or malevolence are cast aside when we produce fresh summer squash or zucchini from the garden (cut into tiny duck-sized bites); roly polys, slugs and snails are a close second favorite. At that point, we’re no longer “the monsters,” we’re just a relatively harmless vending machine.
And, what kind of parents would we be if we didn’t include a video of us manipulating our children to like us?
New adventures for the ducklings
Big strides are being made on an almost daily basis as they are slowly settling into their new digs at Tyrant Farms. Last night was the first time that they ventured outside the duck pen by their own accord and went foraging for insects, slugs, and snails. They’re starting to do one of their jobs – helping with pest control!
Duck ladies’ siblings: the von Kittens
One of our main fears has been how Oscar and Bob von Kitten will react to the duck ladies. The *kittens are fantastic hunters (*they’ll always be “kittens” to us even though they’re substantial adult cats now – much like your children are always your kids even when they’re 50).
When the von Kittens first unexpectedly arrived on our doorstep, we’d planned to leave them outside to help deal with Tyrant Farms’ vole infestation and to help ward off any smaller animals like raccoons, hawks, possums, etc. that could be potential predators to the ducks. We’d actually planned to get the ducklings over a year ago while the kittens were still tiny so that they could grow up together and learn that they should be friends… but time flew by and the kittens became large cats before we could get the ducklings. Such is life.
Things have worked out well so far. For the first week, the duck ladies were kept fully in their safe, new enclosure where the kittens could see them but not get to them. They were very interested in duck sushi for the first few days, but with proper scolding and time, they soon lost interest.
We can now let the ladies out of their enclosure with adult supervision. There is still a bit of a learning curve with the kittens… for instance, they’re still not 100% sure how to deal with the ladies when they’re wandering around the yard and not in their duck run or the Quacker Box. They are smart, eager to please felines and they mostly know that the ladies are completely off limits as a food or entertainment source, so it’s only a matter of time before it’s permanently ingrained in their little kitten brains that those rules apply anywhere & everywhere on our property.
Thankfully all the organic duck food, fresh produce, and even fresher insects are working and the ducklings are quickly getting to where they are too large to be considered von Kitten food anyway. We look forward to the day that we can say Bob and Oscar have fully transitioned away from a predator role into the role of protective older brothers.
And it’s true what they say… Real men don’t quack.
We hit a major duckling growth milestone! As of last Thursday (6/13/13), our oldest duck lady started to quack! This is really significant if you’re raising ducks for eggs because boy ducks (drakes) don’t quack… they make other raspy vocalizations, but a quack is not one of them.
So, if you have a duck that quacks, you have a female. We now know we have at least one female. Yay! Let the countdown ‘til duck eggs begin!
It’s really neat watching them grow and change. Each day they have more clearly defined coloration in their fluff and they get closer to fully developing their first real feathers – not that super fuzzy baby fluff they’ve had since birth.
Our eldest already has her belly feathers and some of her tail feathers! They’ve also outgrown their small round pool (as you’ll see below, they love to dive and they’re just too big to dive in their old pool). So to celebrate their second full week at Tyrant Farms, we bought them a pond that is deep enough for them to dive and be all duck-like in (thanks Aunt Betsy for Aaron’s great birthday present for the ducklings).
Here’s a video of the ladies taking it for a spin…
A few helpful links/resources for other duck parents:
What do you feed ducklings?
We had a really hard time finding something to feed our growing ducklings. For instance, you shouldn’t feed ducks medicated chicken starter feed and that’s all we were able to find at our local feed n’seed stores. We also had a hard time finding something that was certified organic.
- After much searching, we finally discovered a company that we are very pleased with. We ordered a duck starter feed as well as a duck maintainer feed from McGeary Organics.
- Update: For more info on what we feed our ducks, when, and why, read our article: What to feed ducks and ducklings.
Recommended reading about raising ducks:
Here are two great books to keep on hand if you plan to or are currently raising ducks:
- Story’s Guide to Raising Ducks by David Holderread
- The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook: All the things you need to know before and after bringing home your feathered friend by Kimberly Link