Drakes [How They Differ from Female Ducks + Interesting Facts]

Drakes [How They Differ from Female Ducks + Interesting Facts]

Male drake duck

A “drake” is a fully-grown male of any duck species, irrespective of whether they’re found in the wild or kept as domestic pets. Females are typically referred to as “hens”, and young ones of either gender are known as “ducklings”.

Key features of a drake are:

  • Vibrant plumage: Drakes have a colorful array of feathers, setting them apart from their female counterparts.
  • Bright bills and feet: Along with their feathers, their bills and feet also have bright shades.
  • Soft raspy sounds: Their voice is soft and raspy compared to hens.

A peculiar trait of drakes is their “eclipse plumage”. After breeding season, most drakes shed or molt, adopting an eclipse plumage that mimics the more muted tones of hens.

How Do Drakes Differ from Hens?

Drakes are often more eye-catching in their plumage compared to hens (female ducks). You’ll see this glaring difference in breeds like Mallards where the drake has a bright yellow bill, while the hen sports a brown and orange bill. Their plumage can have bold colors, greater contrast, elaborate markings, specialty feathers, and even iridescent patches. In contrast, hens’ plumage tends to be in shades of brown, gray and sometimes, orange.

One unique trait of drakes is the curled feather near the tail. This typically forms when they reach 8 to 12 weeks old as they get their adult plumage. Albeit rare, some drakes might never develop this tail curl.

Another dissimilarity you might pick up while observing ducks is that drakes tend to be larger than the hens. However, this size difference is usually subtle and might not be noticeable at a first glance.

On the behavioral side, the voice of a drake is quieter and this sings volumes for those interested in ducks as pets and not as egg producers. You’ll find hens making louder quacking or honking noises while the drakes are more subdued. Plus, hens tend to be more active than drakes.

Lastly, drakes have a protruding penis while hens have an oviduct opening.

What Is the Behavior of Drakes?

During times other than the mating season, drakes are calm and sociable. Their smart nature harbors complex social ties and in a domestic setup, they’ve been known to form strong bonds with their human handlers.

In contrast, during the mating season, which runs from mid-February through to mid-July in the northern hemisphere, you can see a shift in their behavioral patterns. Drakes in this period show increased aggressiveness. They employ dramatic dances, calls, and vibrant feather displays as part of their plan to get the attention of females. You’d also find a drake bobbing its head up and down in a ritual known as “head pumping”.

Caution must be taken when approaching drakes. Threats to their safety or food source can result in a territorial response. So if you think a drake wants to protect its space or mates, it might go on the offensive.

When it comes to mating, a key feature with drakes is their high sex drive. A word of warning to new duck owners: mating can be tough on females. When there are many males in the mix, it’s much worse. So what may seem to be bullying or meanness is likely only mating behavior.

Also notable is a ritual known as “preening”. Drakes clean and sort their feathers in a bid to appear more appealing for prospective mates.

What Is the Mating Ritual Used by Drakes?

Drakes’ mating isn’t just about physical attraction but also involves complex rituals. Each action plays a key part in attracting a mate. Let’s talk about the series of behaviors drakes exhibit during mating season.


The ritual starts with head-bobbing. Eager to mate, the drake bobs his head up and down. This rhythmic motion tells female ducks that he’s in the mood to mate. It’s more than just nodding; it’s a drake’s way of expressing romantic interest.


Next up in the duck world’s dating scene is preening. Here, the drake tidies up, cleaning and arranging his feathers. Neatness matters to potential mates, you see.

Display of Vibrant Plumage

Drakes splash out on colors for the mating season. They show off their vibrant, colorful plumage to dazzle the females. Especially in the case of Mallards, the males’ bright green head is a memorable sight during mating season.

Vocalizations and Territorial Behavior

Drakes also make noise to attract mates, loud quacking or whistling sounds. As their interest peaks, they become territorial, trying to ward off other males from their chosen space.

Courtship Displays

Courtship displays are unique to duck species. For instance, the Green-winged Teal males use the head-up-tail-up display to woo their female. In this act, both head and tail go up quickly, showcasing a broadside to the female.


Mating happens fast in the duck world, sometimes in less than a second. Unfortunately, such a swift pace may injure the female, especially when there are multiple males. But worry not – it’s typical duck behavior.

What Are Some Interesting Facts About Drakes?

Drakes have colors that are more vibrant than a palette on an artist’s easel. For example, a Mallard drake has a bright green head, bolder color patches, elaborate markings, and even iridescent parts. It truly stands out among the crowd.

Drakes are like tri-athletes, adapted for water, land, and air. Their features such as waterproof feathers, the innovative makeup of their feet’s blood vessels, and their superb diving and flying capabilities make them a class apart.

Amazingly enough, one aspect of drakes that will shock you is their external phallus. They’re one of the few birdie fraternities to wear their manhood on their literal sleeve, only to have it fall off in the autumn and regrow when spring knocks.

Regarding their speed, some drakes fly with the wind and touch speeds of up to 60 mph.

Sadly, the dark side of drakes are their somewhat aggressive mating habits. Often, a female bonded with a male for a season still has to put up with unwanted advances from other males.

Add to this; they’re omnivores, feeding on a variety of food items like seeds, water plants, and insects, making them versatile eaters. Ducks suit both freshwater and ocean habitats. The Mallard Duck reigns supreme, widely found and abundant.

Last but not least is their unique way of communication among ducklings still in the egg. They stick together from the start, coordinating their hatching to help each other stay safe from predators.

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