When a Muscovy duckling hatches, you can’t say, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” All you can do is look at the cute fluffball and say, “It’s a baby!”

Three months later, it’s no longer a baby, but it still hasn’t said what it is. Why did they have to make it so difficult? Why couldn’t they just hatch with pink and blue bills or something?

They sure do like to keep it a secret–but they do spill the beans eventually. Even though male and female Muscovies may look identical as babies, and may not seem to change much as they mature, there are some subtle differences that reveal their little secret.

Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to determine the gender of a day-old duckling (except by vent sexing). However, differences do start showing up after a few weeks. This article contains a complete list of methods to sex young ducks, in order of the approximate age the duckling will be when these differences become visible. Differences in the bill and feathers show up first, by three or four weeks. Differences in voice and caruncles show up much later, by about sixteen weeks of age. In general, the differences that show up later are more reliable, so the older your Muscovy duck is, the easier it will be to tell if it’s a boy or girl.

Contents


  1. What DOESN’T Work
  2. Vent Sexing
  3. Bill
  4. Feathers
  5. Feet
  6. Body Proportions
  7. Behavior
  8. Tails
  9. Caruncle Growth
  10. Voice
  11. Body Language
  12. How to Sex Adult Ducks
  13. Comparison Photo Gallery (Adult Ducks)
  14. Gallery: Five Ducklings Growing Up

What DOESN’T Work

Most of the standard methods for sexing ducks don’t work on Muscovies.

Whether Muscovies are even true ducks or not is disputed. Some think they’re closer to geese.

For example, male ducks of Mallard-derived breeds (basically, all the domestic duck breeds except the Muscovy) have curly sex feathers,” or drake feathers, on their tail. I’ve seen many people asking on forums whether their Muscovy is a male or female and being told to wait until the sex feathers come or don’t come in. I suppose Muscovies are always girls then.

Nope, Muscovy drakes do not grow these “sex feathers.”

“Sex feathers” on an Aylesbury drake.

You can discern the sex of many other breeds of ducks by their feather or bill color. For example, female and male Mallards have very distinctly different feather coloration, and Abacot Rangers not only have different coloration, but show a different bill color even before they are feathered. However, you can NOT sex Muscovies by their feather or bill color

Some people also think only Muscovy drakes have the tall crests that resemble mohawks. However, both drakes and ducks have crests. It’s just that ducks generally have smaller crests.

Sometimes an owner will see their duck investigating their nest boxes and jump to the conclusion they’ve got a girl. Wonderful, they think! They wanted it to be a girl so badly.

Not so fast there! Ducks of either sex investigate nest boxes out of pure curiosity. It means nothing–unless they are actually laying down in the nest and scratching and scraping. That is nesting behavior, and it usually signifies a female.

And now, here are ten ways that do work to tell whether your Muscovy duck is a male or a female.

Method #1: Vent Sexing

Since there is no sexual dimorphism in ducklings, there’s only one surefire method to know the sex before eight weeks of age: vent sexing. This involves using your hands to invert a duckling’s vent, or cloaca, to reveal the sexual organs. This is easiest on day-old ducklings, but it’s easy to hurt the duckling if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Here’s a video about vent sexing from Metzer Farms:

Beginners may find it hard to get the hang of vent sexing, so until you’re a pro, it’s not entirely reliable, because you’ll either end up with “definitely male” or “maybe female, maybe male.” Just because you don’t see a penis doesn’t always mean it’s a female, because you may not have fully inverted the cloaca.

I don’t recommend this, because it’s so easy for a beginner to injure the duckling, and because beginners have such a high chance of error.

However, you can usually see visual differences in Muscovies by the time they are four to eight weeks old, sometimes even younger, depending on your experience level and how fast they grow.

Method #2: Bill

There is a very subtle difference between the bills of male and female Muscovies. Males will have flatter, wider, straighter “platypus” bills, and females will have pointier, more narrow, curvier bills with more of a ridge in the middle. I don’t trust this method, as it’s such a slight difference and not always reliable, but it does give me an early clue.

This can show up extremely early, even before ducklings start gaining feathers, possibly even as early as two or three weeks of age.

Duckling bill
This is the head and bill of a young female Muscovy duck. A good example of the “girl bill.”
Duckling bill
This is the head and bill of a young male Muscovy duck. A good example of the “boy bill.” If you don’t see a difference, never mind. Eventually you might, but for now it doesn’t matter.

Method #3: Feathers

The earliest clearly visible difference between male and female Muscovy ducklings is feather growth, which shows up when they are approximately four weeks old. The females’ feathers grow much faster and earlier than the males. The first ducklings with feather sprouts around the wings, tail, and belly are likely females.

Besides showing up early, this difference is quite reliable and, with some practice, fairly easy to spot. It’s by far my favorite method for sexing ducklings.


Method #4: Feet

The feet of young male ducks tend to look out of proportion in comparison to their body. Even before there is much body size difference between males and females, males often have much larger feet than females. Their legs will also be thicker, while females will have very slender legs.

Sometimes this difference is quite noticeable. Other times, it never really is, even in adults.

You’ll usually notice this (if you do at all) around six to seven weeks of age.

Captain and Mocha
The drake’s foot, on the left, is noticeably larger than the duck’s foot on the right.

Method #5: Body Proportions

As adults, drakes are often twice the size of ducks. In ducklings, it won’t be the first difference, but males start outgrowing the females around eight weeks old. Males also tend to have a more pronounced and prominent breast; females’ breasts will be smooth and streamlined. Males will have longer bodies; females will have shorter bodies. Males will also have a slightly bigger and longer head. In general, males will be chunkier and more “boyish,” and the females will be more round and curvy.

Juvenile female Muscovy duck
A young ducklet, showing a smooth chest.
Juvenile male muscovy duck
A young drakelet, showing a prominent breast. I realize his head is down and hers is up, which does exaggerate the difference, but unfortunately I did not have a good side view of a young male with his head up. This example will be updated once I hatch another batch and take new pictures.

Method #6: Behavior

Males will often appear lazier than the females. Their legs grow quicker (as well as the rest of the body), which perhaps makes them sore (remember “growing pain”?). Whatever the cause, males tend to be less active than females in the early stages. Eventually this difference fades, but it is most evident when the ducklings are two to four weeks old.

Various Muscovy keepers, including myself, have observed that males appear to nibble fingers and clothes more than females, but this is not a proven method. This can even be noted in ducklings under a week old.

Males have a wider stance than females. In fact, females step on their own feet frequently. Of course, this doesn’t mean females won’t have their feet wide apart at some point and the males won’t ever have their feet close together. I’m not sure exactly when you might start noticing this, but I believe it would be about when they are eight weeks old.


Mitzi
Mitzi steps on her own foot, the signature female pose.

Method #7: Tail

Males will have wide, U-shaped tails and females will have narrow, tapering, V-shaped tails. However, this isn’t always reliable. Females can fan their tail out, such as when they’re broody, flying, or upset. And males’ tails can look almost as pointy as females’ tails at times. However, most of the time, there is a clear difference. The only problem? This difference is too vague to be reliable until the ducks are nearly fully feathered (about twelve weeks old). By then, you’ll probably know anyway.

Mocha and Captain
The female’s tail, on the left, is noticeably V-shaped in comparison to the male’s U-shaped tail.

Method #8: Caruncle Growth

The males will be the first ones to start growing caruncles (the red warty facial mask on adult Muscovies). The females will grow caruncles as well, only a lot slower, and their caruncles will never grow as large as the males’ will.

This is quite reliable. I’ve never seen a female with more caruncles than a male, or a female that grew her caruncles earlier or even at the same time as a male.

Males start growing caruncles around sixteen weeks of age; females only kick in when they’re about twenty weeks old.

Juvenile Drake Caruncling
This is a juvenile Muscovy drake, Saucy, at about five months old. Notice how he already has red caruncles surrounding his eye and face.
Mitzi
This is a juvenile Muscovy female, Mitzi, lazing in the grass at about five months old. She’s the same age as her brother Saucy, but she doesn’t really have any caruncles yet.

Method #9: Voice

The males will lose their voices as they transition from adolescents to adults (about when they are twelve to sixteen weeks old) and will appear dumb for a while. Eventually, the males will gain the adult male’s hiss, or huff, an obvious difference from the females’ musical murmuring.

This is a SUREFIRE method to tell the sexes apart. Drakes can make no other sound, apart from their hissing or huffing. If you have adult Muscovies, listen to what sounds it makes, and you will immediately know if it’s a male or female.

Both the males and females are talking simultaneously here, but you can still clearly hear the difference between the drake and his girls:

Method #10: Body Language

There is one final difference that is not easily apparent to a first-timer, but with some time and experience, it will become the first visible difference. Simply, the males will just act masculine and the females will just act feminine. Once you learn duck body language, you will start noticing the little indescribable quirks that differ between males and females, things such as the duckling’s posture and walk, etc. They’re impossible to explain and only visible through experience.

Male and Female
In the foreground is a male, and in the background is a female. (The third duckling visible is two weeks younger, which is why no feathers are visible at all.) Note how the male’s feathers are less developed than the female’s, especially in the tail. However, being experienced with Muscovy ducks, I can also see several other differences, such as the head shape, body shape, and posture. (That funky sit/stand thing the young male in front is doing is something I mostly see boys do. But girls do it too, occasionally, so it isn’t reliable.)

How to Sex Adult Ducks

As adults, males are easily identifiable. Their caruncles are much fuller and more prominent, and they are approximately double the size of the females. The females are small, petite, and have minimal caruncling. Males also still have larger feet, U-shaped tails, and a wide stance.

Even if you only have one individual and don’t have others to compare with, the voice will tell you. Drakes have a hoarse hiss, while ducks utter a pleasant, quiet sound something like a musical whimper. Again: listen to the voice, and you’ll know.

BB and Skylar
This is the comparison between two Muscovy siblings, a drake (BB) and a duck (Skylar.)
Here’s BB courting Moon. Look how huge he is in comparison to her!

It’s good to look at ALL the features when trying to sex ducklings, because sometimes boys and girls will be approximately the same size, have feathers come in at about the same rate, or be identical in other factors. One factor isn’t necessarily enough.

In 2015, we had one duckling we had no gender consensus on. Its feathers came in slow, its caruncles came in fast, and its feet were huge, as big as our boys’ feet. And…she turned out to be a girl.

Another time, we were buying two drakes to add genetic diversity to our flock. The seller’s Muscovies were all small, and in adults, size is one of the first things I go by because it’s the most obvious. I asked her which ones were males, and she pointed at a puny white Muscovy that I was positive was smaller than my girls. I didn’t believe her until he hissed (which is a dead giveaway).

Take heart, even if you have boyish girls or girlish boys. You can always wait until they’re adults. And with practice, it gets easy.


One day, you may show a visitor your duck flock and tell them, “This baby is a girl, and this is a boy,” and they may reply, “How do you know? They look identical!” And then you will know that you’ve mastered it.

If you have Muscovy ducklings or even adult ducks and aren’t confident with your “diagnosis” after reading this article, don’t worry! We’re happy to help. E-mail us here:

Please include pictures of your ducks. A view directly from the side is best, but other angles are helpful as well.

Comparison Photo Gallery

All of these Muscovies are adults. Drakes are on the right, and ducks are on the left. Click any image to enlarge it.

Gallery: Five Ducklings Growing Up

Bugs, Zing, Cricket, Paper, and Pop are five Muscovy ducklings we hatched in early 2018.

  • Bugs is a black female. She’s the one on the far right, below.
  • Zing is a blue barred female (she had yellow down, and grew up to look gray). She’s in the middle in the picture below.
  • Cricket is a black female, second from the right. She was definitely a “boyish girl”: we actually thought she was a boy for quite a long time. She’s a good example of why no method is perfectly reliable, and of how subtle the differences can sometimes be.
  • Paper is a silver male, on the far left.
  • Pop is a silver male, second from the left.
All five ducklings: Paper, Pop, Zing, Cricket, and Bugs, at 18 days old.

4 weeks old


5 weeks

6 weeks

7 weeks

8 weeks

9 weeks

20 weeks

In line: Paper, Zing, Pop, Cricket, and Bugs. At this point, Cricket is definitely noticeably smaller than the two boys.

For more information on Muscovy ducks, see our Muscovy Duck page in the Duck Breed Guide.

Liked this article? Comment below and tell us what you thought!

28 Comments

  1. I liked your article as it gave clear definitions of the gender difference. Also, I have a couple of ladies from last years hatch with very little caruncles and was concerned that they didn’t look true to breed – but reading you notes it would appear its not that unusual.

    1. Glad you liked it! Some Muscovies have so little caruncles that the patch around their eyes doesn’t even connect to their bill. Personally, I like it that way, but it’s possible that show birds are “supposed” to have more.

      This duck has the most minimal caruncles of my flock:

      Closeup of Fly the Muscovy duck's head, showing minimal caruncling.

  2. Quite impressive and will be put in practice as it really helps a lot in contributing to my Muscovy Duck backyard farming. Can you email me more about?
    Big thanks

    Joe Keniratoa
  3. This page is EXCELLENT! We have 4 ducks and one drake. Two clutches from two hens (who ended up sharing the nest and lings) with the other two now sitting on eggs. Yikes! I have a world of questions, but your explanations are so clear and beautifully illustrated, that I will wait to ask them until after I have finished reading all of your articles. Good work, girl, and thanks so much!

    Kathy Lambert
    1. No, the drake doesn’t assist. Most drakes ignore them, or peck them if they get too close. But I’ve heard of some Muscovy drakes killing ducklings. You can keep ducklings in the same area as a drake, but you have to be careful and very observant at first to be sure they are not being bullied or worse.

  4. Interesting, my wife and I made our living for over 40 years, vent sexing millions of day old chicks and turkeys and also ducks, geese, pheasants and one type of quail.

    Vent sexing is a highly skilled job, requiring at least a year of practice nearly every day to learn chick sexing. Turkeys are also difficult, ducks are easier but still require skill to avoid having some die. We didn’t sex too many Muscovy but did do some for Ridgway Hatchery in La Rue, Ohio. They are still in business, selling back yard chicks, turkeys and ducks. They do sell some Muscovy if anyone is interested in buying some day old ducklings.
    Chick sexing was the main part of our business, working at commercial egg layer hatcheries that may hatch 50,00 to 100,00 leghorn egg type chicks in a day four days a week. Later they developed a feather sexed strain that didn’t require as much skill. So we worked for years at a turkey hatchery that hatched over 10 million turkeys a year. We were always self employed and traveled all over Ohio, Indiana and neighboring states to do our trade.

    What is interesting is I also raised Muscovy ducks when I was a kid, raising them for showing at fairs and for meat. Loved the breed.

    Jim Wakefield
  5. I have 4 ducklings, unsure of their sex.
    I believe I may have 3 boys and 1 girl. I do not intend to breed. They are simply pets. My question is this…… will we have problems because there are more boys than girls?

    Cindy
    1. Yes, unfortunately, you will almost certainly have problems. They are likely to kill her. You would need about fifteen girls to be safe, with that many boys. I think the best option would be to rehome the female, if they’re only pets. You could also rehome all three boys and get more girls, although that would be more difficult. Or you could only rehome two of them, although sometimes there can be problems with overmating even with only one drake. Or you could even get a whole bunch more girls.

      I hope you find a good solution!

      1. I started with a chocolate drake and two ducks, a black and blue all as ducklings. Another much older drake that was abandoned near our home has become buddies with our drake and than last year we had two stakes that survived out of the litter the girls shared =4 drake+ 2 ducks. We haven’t had a problem so much with the girls as they have a pen they can fly into to eat//nest in peace and my boys are not as eger to fly. But my younger boys are often bullied by the stray. I have to feed and water in separate areas. The The younger ones sometimes stay with the girls , as they still are small enough to fly some, we now have 14 babies that no one bothers. Both my brothers get along fine. I will add that in the spring I will be more protective of my girls by putting a screen on the shared wall as my boys will walk the fence and stress my girls. All mine are pets and fair winners so we didn’t want to get rid of any of them. I plan on keeping most of the girls we have and maybe one boy who looks very promising. I am always watching and have noticed most of the differences you shared but its so nice to have the about ages they show up, etc. I have found a new way that has so far (only 3 litters) been 100% accurate with 1-2 old muscovy ducklings. I’m so excited! Now if I could know what they were going to look like prior to being fully feathered!

        S
  6. We have a variety of ducks, if the females Muscovy gets breed with say a khaki Campbell will her off springs be sterile? I read where the Muscovy drakes breed a different breed they will be sterile. Just wondering if its the same for females.

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Yes. The offspring of a Muscovy drake to a duck of a different breed is called a mule or mulard, while a Muscovy female to a drake of a different breed is called a hinny. Both are sterile. However, female hinnies do lay eggs (although they cannot hatch), while female mules don’t.

      Sincerely,
      Hannah Miller

      1. How noisy are the Hinnies? Maybe they are the ducks I’ve been dreaming of. I’d love the quiet muscovys with the snail eating capacity of a mallard type duck. Eggs would be a sweet bonus.

        I’m currently raising my first four Muscovy and hoping they are not all boys….
        Thanks for the sexing help!

        Ruth
        1. Hi Ruth,

          I think they would make sounds similar to a Muscovy and be fairly quiet. Normal Muscovies will eat snails too, by the way. It’s not specific to Mallard-type ducks. Good luck with your four!

          Hope that helps!
          Hannah

  7. Is there a way of determining the difference between a muscovy duckling and a mallard strain of duckling? We were given three ducklings that are about 6 weeks old now and they act so different from the mallard strain back yard ducks we keep. Apologies if this is a daft question.

    Trev
    1. Hi Trev,

      Oh yes, there are plenty of differences, most of them subtle. The two easiest ways to tell a young Muscovy duckling from a Mallard-type duckling are the stripe on the eye and the bean on the tip of the bill. Mallards or other types of ducks will have a black stripe that goes from their bill to the back of their head, going through the eye. Muscovies will only have half of this stripe, from the eye to the back of the head. Muscovies will also often (although it’s not guaranteed) have a light-colored “bean” on the tip of their bill, which Mallard-derived ducklings will not have.

      I’m not sure if the eye stripe will still be visible by 6 weeks, but maybe you have pictures of when they were younger. By six weeks, there will be other differences that should actually be quite noticeable, but are kind of hard to explain. To an experienced eye, there are differences everywhere–their feet, their tail, their body, their head shape, the very beginnings of caruncles, the feather color–basically everything will be different. But it’s not necessarily going to be apparent if you don’t have experience, and I’m not sure how to describe the differences.

      If you’d like, you can go to my Contact page and send me pictures, and I can try to tell you what breed they are.

      Hope that helps!

      Sincerely,
      Hannah Miller

  8. Hi Hannah, your article was excellent. A couple of months ago we took in 6 Muscovy ducklings as a favor for a friend who lives in the city.. We have a hobby farm and thought well we can probably take them.. They are now 4 months old and we realised 5 out of the 6 are males!! We thought we noticed Jenny getting increasingly nervous so we rehomed her with the drake we thought she hung out with the most. Re the remaining drakes..we only want them as pets and so far they have been quite lovely to interact with.. Do you think though that when they reach sexual maturity we will start to have problems?? Just want to think ahead as we don’t want to get too attached if we’ll need to part with them down the track.. Thanks in advance for your time and reply, Cathy

    Cathy Tonkin
    1. Hi Cathy,

      5 out of 6? That’s unlucky! However, with the female gone, I think everything will be fine. Many people keep “bachelor flocks” of only drakes. They don’t fight as much if there are no females to fight over. There will probably be some fighting, but in general, groups of only males tend to do quite well and maintain peace.

      If they’re living with chickens, however, that could pose a problem. Without any female ducks, they could be tempted to go after the chickens, and that would be deadly, because chickens and ducks have drastically different reproductive systems, and the drake could kill the chicken if he tries to mate her. Thus, if you have chickens, be sure the drakes are housed separately.

      Hope that helps!

      Sincerely,
      Hannah Miller

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.