Ducks grow up very fast! I saw a video the other day about a cat at a farmyard who adopted a few ducklings on the same day she gave birth to kittens. A few weeks later, the cat was walking around in the yard with her (still very small) kittens and several already rather large ducks waddling after her – it’s hilarious!
Even though our ducks are already almost 6 weeks old, we still do not know their gender for sure – it has been hard enough to tell them apart, since their differences are so subtle when they are young. However we are starting to see changes in colouring in their bills and feathers, as well as in their vocalisations, which may give us clues. Four of the ducks have dark grey faces and a greenish tinge on the black band running over the tops of their heads, while one is much lighter coloured and has orange/peach colouring on her eyebrows and cheeks. She also has started quacking, which pretty much establishes her as a female and also why we call her Quakie. The other ducks are still making peeping sounds!
Drakes will develop bright yellow bills while females develop a dark brown/ orange bill. However as all our ducks’ bills are still a uniform greyish brown – that doesn’t help at the moment. Another excellent way to differentiate them is by personality – however this doesn’t become apparent till you have spent a lot of time observing the individuals and the group dynamics between members of the brood.
Our injured duck Baby has always been easy to identify as he is the runt of the litter; he was hatched from the smallest egg, and his largest sibling, whom we nicknamed Zorro for his thick eye stripe, is almost half again as big, and often pushes Baby out of the way. Baby is also the darkest, and has a thin eye stripe that reaches all the way across the cheek to the back of the head just like Zorro’s, while the other three have eye stripes that reach only part way.
Quakie is currently the most dominant duck, and the most hostile towards Baby, frequently biting or chasing him since he was injured. He has learned to stay at a safe distance from her! During feeding sessions in the pond, he stops eating the moment she even looks at him, and usually tries to forage or eat out of bill-reach of Quakie.
The other 2 ducks (whom we think may also be males) don’t seem to mind Baby at all and never chase him. We have nicknamed them Watschel (Waddle) and Schnabel (Duck bill) but we still have trouble telling them apart as they are like twins!
The 4 bigger ducks seem much more grown up and independent than they were just a week or two ago – they don’t run to me that much any more, and generally ignore me when I call to them. They also go off on their little expeditions alone, without expecting me to accompany them. Baby seems to be at least a week behind in his development both physically and in other ways – he chatters a bit too much, takes a little too long to finish preening before their sleep sessions. Also his legs are still dark while the others all have orange legs.
Quakie seems to be in charge these days. She bosses the rest around by loudly quacking to tell them what to do, for instance if they stray too far away from the group or don’t return to the pond after their excursion quickly enough. They sometimes ignore her – it’s hilarious, because then she will start sounding like an enraged Donald Duck.
Since ducks instinctively attack sick or injured ducks to drive them away, as they are bait for predators and will endanger the whole flock, what Quakie is doing to Baby is natural, and we have to stop ourselves from wanting to punish her. We just try to minimise these incidences and watch to see Baby isn’t hurt. We sometimes use the pond net to fish Quakie out of the pond when she chases Baby, so she has learned to fear the net and not bully him when we are around – although the moment we turn our backs, it’s a different story! Baby is a real tough duckie and seems to be taking the bullying in his stride and doesn’t let it discourage him from trying to rejoin his family and resume normal duck activities.
As you can see from the photos, Baby is looking much better and hanging out again with his siblings.