Why your ducks are turning white

There’s little question color plays a large role in¬†selecting a breed of poultry to own. Ducks are no exception, and come in a wide array of beautiful colors. So, some people are taken by surprise when their duck grows new feathers for the year, horrified to find their lovely dark-feathered duck now has white spots. What happened?

There are two reasons for pigment loss in feathers: injury and bleaching.

When the delicate feather shaft and underlying follicles are damaged, it is very common for feathers to grow in white. This is why even breeds of ducks not prone to bleaching commonly wind up with white spots, particularly female ducks that routinely suffer minor feather damage from mating.

Chocolate Runner duck turning white

But some breeds of ducks–particularly Cayugas, and solid blue, black, and chocolate varieties of other breeds–are extremely prone to feather bleaching or “snow”. This means with each molt, they lose pigment in an increasing number of feathers. If you have a duck that bleaches, it will eventually turn pure white with age.

While some can find this disappointing (which is understandable, since solid black, chocolate, and blue ducks are so beautiful) I personally love the “snow” effect. I think it adds variety and interest to have a random assortment of white speckles covering my ducks. What is also interesting is no two are the same. Of runners the exact same age, some are nearly pure white while others only have a few speckles on their wings.

Black Runner duck turning white

Whether or not you enjoy the visual effect, it pays to be aware of the bleaching phenomenon–both for making a breed choice and being assured your ducks are perfectly healthy and just showing their age!

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