Welsh Harlequins, Week 3: Real Men Don’t Quack

Welsh Harlequin Ladies - You can really see the differences in coloration coming out - Tyrant Farms
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Sexing our Welsh Harlequin ducks

Our beloved Welsh Harlequin ladies eyeing the large, scary monsters (us) that are trying to feed, coddle and protect them. - Tyrant Farms

Our beloved Welsh Harlequin ducklings eyeing the large, scary monsters (us) that are trying to feed, coddle and protect them.

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.

Welsh Harlequin Duck ladies taking a swim - Tyrant Farms

Welsh Harlequin ducklings taking a swim

One of the Welshes enjoying her pool-side view from the Quacker Box - Tyrant Farms

One of the Welsh Harlequin ladies taking in the view from the Quacker Box

Welsh Lady (center) laying on her belly with her legs splayed behind her. - Tyrant Farms

A Welsh Harlequin duckling laying on her belly with her legs splayed behind her.

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.

One of the ducklings eating organic zucchini out of Aaron's hand - Tyrant Farms

A duckling eating one of her favorite treats, fresh zucchini, out of Aaron’s hand.

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!

Ducklings foraging in the corn for insects - Tyrant Farms

Ducklings foraging in the corn for insects

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.

Duck Ladies forage under the careful supervision of their brother, Bob von Kitten. - Tyrant Farms

Duck Ladies forage under the careful supervision of their brother, Bob von Kitten. Yes, Bob is sporting a mohawk in this picture. 

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:

  1. Story’s Guide to Raising Ducks by David Holderread
  2. The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook: All the things you need to know before and after bringing home your feathered friend by Kimberly Link


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  • Reply
    May 23, 2021 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for your posts, they are always my go to!!! We have just raised three welsh harlequins from the incubator, now 6 weeks old and have one girl quacking but the other two who are slightly darker on their heads aren’t, which is making us wander whether we have two boys! In your experience do the darker heads always end up being boys?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 23, 2021 at 10:47 am

      Hi Cher! Thanks for your kind words. At 6 weeks old, if your ducklings aren’t making some distinctive quack sounds, it’s likely they’re male. In our experience, vocalizations are a more accurate indicator of sex than head coloration at that age. Hate to say it, but if you do definitely end up with 2 drakes: 1 female, that’s going to be a very difficult ratio to maintain since your female is going to end up being over-mated with potential injuries on the back of her neck and head since that’s where ducks hold on with their bills during mating. That’s one of the risks/downsides of starting from eggs vs getting a sexed run from a breeder.

  • Reply
    Michelle Guillory Vilamaa
    July 6, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    We hatched 3 Welsh Harlequin ducklings and are trying to determine their gender. We know we will have to get some more females and possibly re-home a male based on everything we have read about their libido, but I am curious to know at what age we should be able to tell from vocalization or plummage. Any ideas?

  • Reply
    February 16, 2018 at 1:47 am

    How difficult is it to feed the boys and girls different feed?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 28, 2018 at 7:48 pm

      Sorry I’m just replying to your question, Stephen. We currently have one drake and six hens. We keep the drake separated in his own run in our back yard where the hens are and let him out to be with them at morning and night. So, it’s not too difficult to keep them on different feed in that situation. If he was out all day, he’d end up eating layer feed during the 300 days per year they’re laying, which could cause some health problems since he’d be getting more protein and calcium than he needs.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Where did you get their pond? I have four WH the same age (can’t wait to find out if we have boys or girls) and I have been looking into buying them a pond. The one in the video is perfect!!! Did you put a drain in the bottom?

    • Reply
      susan von frank
      July 27, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Cherrie. Awww… I miss having ducklings; they grow up so fast! With some exceptions, most WH have a sex-linked gene that allows them to be sexed by the color of their bill for the first few days of their life.

      The pond in this post was a pre-form 75 gallon pond that we bought from Lowe’s. When we needed to empty it for cleaning we used a small sump pump hooked up to a garden hose. We used to laugh about using “duck tea” to irrigate our garden. 🙂 We’ve since installed an 1100 gallon pond and used the 75 gallon pre-form to make a bio-filter. I’m planning to do a post on how we built our duck pond soon, so keep checking back if you’re interested and not already on our mailing list!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Hi. Cute ducks. Just wanted to give you a heads up. In case you don’t already know. We got three Peking ducks a couple of years ago to keep pests down in the garden. Turns out the ducks prefer the produce more than the bugs. They ate our little tomatoes, lettuce and even hot peppers. Sadly they are now shut out of the garden and spend their time in the pasture with our two pot bellied pigs. Also not sure if this applies to all ducks but with Pekings after they get their real feathers the males tail feathers curl up.
    I enjoy your site very much.

    • Reply
      June 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you for the heads up, Pam! So far, the only veggie casualties have been a few seedlings in our newly planted bed of Lacinato Kale (due to trampling, not eating), half of a Hyssop plant near their pond, and they will occasionally nibble on spent squash blossoms as they walk around the yard. Hopefully as they get older they’ll continue to be more interested in what’s crawling on the ground than what’s growing from it. They must eat hundreds of roly-polys/day, and one of the ladies took down a whole Tomato Hornworm yesterday morning. It was pretty impressive — and gratifying! 🙂

      Glad you’re enjoying reading our blog!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2013 at 4:15 am

    I am getting Khaki Campbell ducklings next week. (Super excited!!!) While doing research I found that the Harlequins can be sexed by the color of their beak when they are little like yours. Not sure what color is what sex though…Maybe ask the people where you got them?

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