The Androgynous Duckling

Traditionalists will have it that gender is a straightforward, yes-or-no, he-or-she proposition. I know that’s not the case–witness the rainbow of gender identities that have made their presence known in today’s culture–but it took a Muscovy duckling to really drive the point home for me.

My original intention was to keep two female ducklings because A) they’re smaller than males B) they lay eggs and C) I’d heard some nasty reports of males’ overactive libido and related aggression. So I gave seven of my orphaned ducklings to my neighbor and kept three, figuring that if one turned out to be a male, he’d follow his siblings to the neighbor’s farm at a later date.


Ophelia (left), Brownie, and Veelie enjoy a swim in their kiddie pool.

Everything I’d read about Muscovies said that males don’t become significantly larger than females until they’re about eight weeks old; before that, people who don’t know how to “vent sex” (just the term gives me the shivers–I didn’t explore that option) have to rely on subtle and often unreliable signs to distinguish the genders.

Based on those signs, I was positive that Brownie was a male and Veelie was a female, but Ophelia was androgynous. I was hoping desperately that she was a female; after all, she had the ethereal beauty of her namesake and an often flirty demeanor. Plus she was the friendliest and smartest of the ducklings.


Bathing beauty Ophelia glances from her pool.

Alas, Ophelia had apparently read the articles. She hit a growth spurt at the eighth week and soon was as big as Brownie. She developed other “boy” signs too–giant feet and a large flat beak.

At that point, I found myself saying things like “She’s a boy.” I couldn’t re-write Ophelia to make her a him–I still can’t. Gender’s seemingly strict dichotomy just didn’t apply to my duck.

But Ophelia had to go; I couldn’t have the possibility of two burly males ganging up on little Veelie, and Sage refused to part with Brownie. So Ophelia is now a resident of Jacob’s farm, reunited with her/his other siblings.

But I miss her/him, whatever he/she might be.


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