Yesterday I paid $50 for two laying female Welsh Harlequins who are approximately one year old. The next day, happily, I was greeted by the arrival of a shiny new egg. The two new comers are quite smitten in my pool, which is great because it’ll rid them of the lice problem they came with. They were splashing about until a few minutes later, one of the females mounted the other. Sometimes females mount one another in displays of dominance.
No biggie, I thought.. until I saw them tail twisting as males do. It was definitely mating. Did I get cheated!? I’m pretty sure male Harlequins have green heads.., I thought. Luckily, I didn’t see any duck penises.. All these questions about duck genders led me to do a little research.
Apparently Hermaphrodites, or sex changing in ducks and other birds can occur as often as 1 in every 10,000 birds. I’ve read about sex change in fish, but never Sex change in poultry. Female ducks contain two ovaries, and in rare cases (especially if the left normally active ovary is damaged), the right ovary begins to excrete testosterone and can cause physical and personality changes shortly after molting. This change has been seen in flocks of male ducks (one suddenly molts and turns female) and female ducks who stop laying and develop low raspy male voices and plumage.
I guess this sounds a little too jurassic park-ish, but amazing nontheless! It’s hypothesized that the lack of the other gender causes this sex change to occur. However, given several examples, I wouldn’t be too sure if it’s a matter of limited resources. The female welshies I recently acquired were kept with male Mallards, so there were plenty of suitable mates around. Perhaps one of their ovaries started producing testosterone, whilst the other is still producing eggs. I’m hoping the presence of my male Cayugas will prevent them from turning into hermaphrodites…
Shortly after my female runner duck lost her male mate, she discovered that she could elicit stand-in mate pettings from me. My female call duck saw her doing this and copied the same behavior. A male was present at the time, but he never showed interested in them (he was a Mottled duck). My runner duck seems to think I’m her mate, and casts many possessive head-bobs in my direction whenever I’m near other ducks, a behavior generally reserved for mate guarding. Read more about duck language here.
It’s confirmed that one of the female Welsh Harlequins is a hermaphrodite… she dropped a penis right next to one of her eggs in the duck house ( the resident male is still in possession of his).