The feathers of a duck including the colour, patterns, and arrangement of these feathers are called the plumage. Some ducks have a very spectacular and colourful plumage such as the Mandarin, American Wood Duck, and Baikal Teal to name just a few. Generally it is the male (drake) that has the colourful plumage while the female (duck) has a more duller and drab appearance. Although it should be said that some Southern hemisphere duck species have a similar plumage between the two sexes.
In the Spring, the male (drake) requires its colourful plumage to attract a mate during the breeding season. In the Summer after the breeding season (or start of the non-breeding season) the male (drake) begins to moult, shedding all their feathers including the flight feathers. The female (duck) tends to moult slightly later when the ducklings are older. During this time for a short period they cannot fly so they find a safe place away from predators until their feathers grow back. This moult results in the eclipse plumage which gives the male (drake) a much duller plumage similar to the female (duck).
The eclipse plumage is worn for a few weeks or months, depending on the species of duck, before another moult occurs when the male (drake) will once again regain its colourful breeding plumage and can begin to attract a mate before the breeding season starts. This second moult is less severe and only involves the body feathers so that the ducks can still take to flight.
It is very important that a duck's feathers are kept in very good condition so that they are waterproof and they remain healthy which is why moulting is necessary. Ducks will often be seen preening their feathers to keep themselves in good condition. If you look closely at a feather you will see small hooks or barbs which lock the feathers together making them waterproof. Also a duck has a gland on its rump that produces oil to coat the feathers further waterproofing them. You will often see a duck reaching its beak over to its rump to obtain some oil when preening itself.Below are many different species of wildfowl (listed alphabetically):
A-B C-F G-L M-R S-Z
or you can find different species on the Wildfowl Identification pages.
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|Male Mallard in breeding season plumage.|
|Male Mallard in eclipse plumage.|