Let’s start by saying this is a family-friendly blog. We eschew expletives, avoid vulgarity and generally stick to topics that, even when rather high-falutin’, should be acceptable at most dinner tables. Well, okay, we do discuss animal waste products from time to time but I hope you agree we do so in a useful manner.* And, yup, we’ve also kind of danced around the inevitable topic of canard canoodling but, heck, this is about the birds (if not the bees).
Which brings me to today’s blushing report: Puff may be a girl after all.
What the ducks?!!!** Can’t you people even figure out what end is up over there? (Or is?) Are you sure you’re fully equipped to handle poultry? I mean, how tough could it be? Well, um, pretty tough, actually.
For those of you just joining this saga (and others who have mercifully forgotten the details!), my daughter and I started this little Water(fowl) World last January by ordering five ducks over the Interwebz. Five females. (I clearly labored under the mistaken notion that our household needed five eggs a day/seven days a week/most months of the year.) Luckily (I think), we may have gotten a male or two in the mix. Lest you hasten to conclude that this is unusual, please know that our hatchery acknowledges that goofs happen—which is why you may qualify for money back if you ordered pink and got blue.
To avoid disappointment despite the discount (we gotta repaint the nursery!) (again!), folks who sell ducks attempt to pin down the correct gender by, well, pinning down ducklings, so to speak. You gotta do something tricky called (close your eyes, Sensitive Readers!) “vent sexing” which is pretty much what it sounds like. Also, some breeds have sexes with distinctive markings (a dot on their tiny bills, for example). Neither method is fully fool-proof (hence the hedging) and the complexity can only be compounded by having to deal with a bunch of squirming just-hatched baby ducks who are then sorted, boxed and shipped to hither and yon. (For example, we got our California babies when they were two-days-old. That’s 2400 air miles—and no flapping required!)
Fast-forward a coupla months. Initially we had doubts about Peep’s femininity when her (his?) young adult plumage came in. Then came the eggs. Then something I will euphemistically refer to as “horseplay”—only they not be horses and this ain’t no playground. Ducks tend to get rather amorous in the presence of water, as it turns out, and when we introduced a kiddie pool to the backyard last summer, the ducks introduced themselves to each other.
Anyways, long story even longer, when Puff went to the vet last month, I asked the doc if we could verify once and for all, whether or not he was a he (or maybe just a tomduck?) Back in the dog days, his/her behavior had been resolutely male—at least in the pool—but once the weather cooled down, so had his/her interest in the other ducks/drakes.
Without going into too much detail, suffice it is to say that evidently it’s very difficult to detect the apparatus that would definitively determine Puff’s masculinity. Even on an x-ray. (Squirming, again, poses an issue in bird-handling.) Apparently, when coloration or curly tail feathers won’t do it, bird people rely on behavioral clues to figure out what they’ve got, er, in hand. Here’s a chart:
Lays an egg in front of you: FEMALE.
Quacks loudly: FEMALE
Refuses to put the toilet seat down: MALE
Gets on top of another duck and bites its neck: MALE….or FEMALE (!)
What? Yes, it’s true. When Puff started to behave differently and we began to have more eggs than could easily be explained by the number of presumed ducks, it occurred to me that I may have misinterpreted said horseplay (or lost track of who did what to which). So, with great trepidation, I entered something like “unusual duck mating behavior” into a search engine and gave it a whirl.*** A quick scan of various message boards and websites revealed that, yup, girls will be girls and girl ducks will be boy ducks from time to time. It’s a hormone thang. Or a pecking order thang. Technically-speaking, that is.
Which leaves only one sure way to find out whether Puff is egg-capable or really Puff Daddy after all. That’s right: DNA testing. (Because I just haven’t spent enough money on these $5 ducks yet.) The results will be back in about a week. Meanwhile, don’t touch that browser! Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of…
“CSI: The Duck Pond”
*The means justify the ends?
**Which is why this site is not called “What the Drakes!”, btw.
***Said search string now to be eternally contained in my digital permanent record card.
Copyright 2013, Lori Fontanes
I’m not sure that ducks know what sex they are, or if they even care. 😉
Wow, the duck life isn’t quite what I expected it to be 😉
But lots of fresh air! Quack!