Any sexually mature male duck, whether wild or domestic, are called drake ducks. A male can be considered a drake regardless of whether or not he has ever attracted a mate or fathered ducklings. While “duck” can refer to either sexes, “drake” (which rhymes with “lake” or “bake”) only applies to males.
Chickens are only referred to as “hens” when they are female. Ducklings, not drakes or hens, are the common name for young ducks. The tails, colors, and calls of drakes and hens are the most reliable ways to tell them apart.
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How to recognise drake ducks?
Many species of ducks native to the Northern Hemisphere have distinct differences between male (or “drake”) and female (or “hen”) members of the species. Males can be distinguished from females by their more vivid plumage, which may feature iridescent patches, larger areas of a single color, higher contrast, and more elaborate markings and specialty feathers. It’s possible that males’ bills are more vividly colored than those of females. These distinctions provide striking contrast and make it simple to identify the sex of a duck, especially a drake who has been dabbling. Here are some drakes that exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism:
- An extravagantly marked and brightly colored harlequin duck
- Colorful and alert, the northern shoveler’s eye is a striking feature of its design.
- Male ruddy ducks have bright blue bills and a chestnut brown body.
- The King Eider, with its vibrant plumage and oversized bill, is a familiar sight at sea.
- The tiny bufflehead’s colors are pie and iridescent.
The females of these and many other species are much better at hiding in their environments, even if they still have distinctive markings. Females are typically more subdued and have more subdued plumage in more camouflaging colors like brown, black, buff, gray, and similar earth tones. In addition to having less pronounced markings, female birds often have less vividly colored bills, eyes, legs, and feet than their male counterparts. Although males of closely related duck species can usually be identified at a glance, females of those species can be a real challenge to tell apart.
The unusual shapes of the feathers on many male ducks’ wings and tails are another distinguishing feature. Notable instances of this type include:
- The mallard’s tail is curled up very tightly.
- Tail feathers of the mandarin duck that spread out like a sail
- The long, shimmering headdress of a wood duck.
- The Northern Pintail has a long, slender, and pointed tail.
- The hood of a hooded merganser is thick and arches.
To attract mates and demonstrate strength and health when defending a territory, these peculiar feather shapes are essential. Courtship displays frequently feature the use of bright colors and distinctive feathers. To impress attractive females, males will strike poses and perform movements that highlight the unique coloration and shape of their feathers.
Male ducks of all species—including mergansers, stifftails, and whistling-ducks—are collectively referred to as drake ducks, even though the sex differences between sexes in dabbling ducks tend to be the most striking. In contrast, drakes ducks are never used to refer to male swans, geese, coots, or other similar waterfowl.
When do drake ducks and female ducks look like eachother?
After the breeding season, many male ducks molt into eclipse plumage, which more closely resembles the camouflaged colors of the females. During that brief time, they are unable to fly and are at a higher risk of being killed by predators, hunters, and poachers. Males of the species Eclipse may congregate in all-male flocks or choose to reside in a more densely vegetated, isolated habitat where they are more easily concealed for reasons of safety. Fortunately, drake ducks quickly regain their full, colorful plumage and flying abilities after this period of molting. Feathers and plumes that are particularly elaborate may take longer to regrow and may not return until the next breeding season.
Male juveniles do not develop their brighter colors and specialized feathers until their first breeding season, when they are actively courting potential mates. Young male ducklings all look the same, but as they get older, they gradually develop the camouflaged coloring of adult females. The young birds benefit from this camouflage as they mature and develop. The young male ducks eventually molt into the more vivid colors and distinctive markings of their gender, just in time for them to begin courting potential mates.
In the Southern Hemisphere, sexual dimorphism is less pronounced among ducks, but most drakes can still be distinguished from females.
Like other birds, ducks benefit from social interaction when living in a group. Ducks, or drakes, are the male of the species, and they can coexist peacefully even if there are no hens present. However, if you want to breed them, you should have only one drake and several hens.