white and brown wild duck on water

Can Duck Change Gender? (The Answer Will Shock You)

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Ducks are very interesting birds and if you study them you see lots of facts that just leave you speechless.

Like for example, imprinting and how ducks show affection to the first living thing they see. Or how they are very vicious while trying to mate.

Can ducks change their gender? Ducks can change their gender from female to male. This happens when she loses her single ovary to infection and as a result she starts to become a male first hormonal and then physically. When the ovary is removed then she starts to develop male plumage and also functions as a male sexually.

How does a duck change it’s gender

white and brown wild duck on water
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before we talk about how a duck can effectively change it’s gender there are a few things you need to know

First for most birds and other animals what usually defines a male or a female is the presence of a penis, mammary glands or colourful feather

But not for ducks because when it comes to them, the size is everything

During mating season for ducks, reproduction usually happens through the combination of a large cell and a small cell with each containing half the usual genetic information from two individuals of the same species.

A male is the one that provides the smaller cells while the female provides the larger cells.

But the genetic control of which individual provides the larger and the smaller reproductive cells – and the corresponding sexual characteristics – differs enormously between mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects.

Generally among mammals and birds, it is the chromosomes that determine the gender or the sex of the animal.

Humans have 23 pairs of these packages of bunched up DNA in each cell of the body and the gender is determined by the last pair which is known as the X and Y.

In a man, there is the presence of a Y chromosome while a repeated X chromosome (XX) indicates the presence of a woman.

The male sexual characteristics coded for on the Y chromosome cause the production of testosterone, which suppresses the development of breasts and wider hips. 

So it can be said that female is the default sex in humans.

But for ducks this is not the same and this helps in understanding why female ducks can start changing to a male appearance.

Birds have two distinct sex chromosoms known as Z and W and the presence of a W chromosome will lead to the development of a female (ZW)

Without this we have the development of male characteristics (ZZ) and so for birds the default characteristics is male

Now for ducks, the male characteristics are controlled by the Z chromosome and the genes it holds.

But with females also having the Z chromosome, what stops her from having and displaying beautiful plumage like the males

The answer is simple. It is because of her ovaries

All birds have a single functional ovary that pumps out female hormones including oestrogen.

In ducks it is the left ovary that functions while the right one is just a tiny ball of cells.

So with just one functional ovary, female ducks literarily have all their eggs in one basket and when that ovary stops working as a result of infection, disease or injury then what happens

What happens is that this completely halts the production of oestrogen, thereby removing the hormone that suppresses the male genes on the Z chromosome.

As a result of this, you find male plumage and features growing on the female in line with the season.

You can read more about this from this BBC Article

How can I tell the gender of my duck?

This is one common question that I get asked a lot.

And as usually the answer is that it depends on the species of the duck

But the simplest way to tell the gender of a duck is that if you see a flock of them, the ones with brightly coloured feathers are the males while the ones with dull brown feathers are the females.

This is so because in ducks, the females are the ones that get to choose their partners and who they will mate with

So the males tend to come out with their brightly colored feathers and display to impress the females.

And the females are the ones that get to sit and incubate the eggs while hiding from predators.

This is why her feathers are dull and brown so they blend in with her nest and do not attract attention.

Are ducks born male or female?

Basically when a duck is born, the default sex is a male.

This is because for birds have two distinct sex chromosoms known as Z and W and the presence of a W chromosome will lead to the development of a female (ZW)

Without this we have the development of male characteristics (ZZ) and so for birds the default characteristics is male.

Can male ducks lay eggs?

Male ducks cannot lay eggs.

This is carried out by only the female. After mating, the male ducks goes away and leave the female to incubate and lay her eggs

During this period, the male might stick around and try to protect her from predators

He does this by luring the predators away so they do not attack the female

But aside from that, male ducks do not lay eggs.

Do male ducks leave the female?

After mating, male ducks will leave the female to tend for herself

It is just the way it is

So what happens is that the female will incubate her eggs, lay and hatch her eggs without the male.

Most times she also has to fend off other ducks and predators all by herself.


Duck can change their gender

This usually happens when the female changes to the male and it is as a result of her losing her single ovaries to infection or diseases.

When this happens, the production of estrogen is halted and she starts to develop male plumage and physical characteristics.

Photo of author

About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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