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A duck's feathers don't last forever. In fact, ducks shed, or molt,their feathers twice each year. New feathers grow in and push out the old ones. Ducks molt very quickly. In just a few weeks, they lose all their feathers and grow a whole new set, or plumage (PLOO-medj).

Ducks go through their first molt of the year in early summer. Male ducks, or drakes, molt first. Females, or hens, molt later, when their ducklings are older. Many times, drakes get together in large groups to molt. They pick a safe place to stay, usually a large wetland. Molting is a dangerous time for ducks. They can't fly while their new wing feathers are growing in. So, molting ducks spend most of their time hiding in tall grass or floating out in deeper waters.

Ducks lose all their feathers during the first molt of the year. For drakes, this means dropping their brightly colored feathers, or breeding plumage. The drakes wear bright colors during fall and winter, when they pair up with hens to mate. The best-looking drakes have the best chance of being picked by hens.

By July, drakes' feathers look pretty shabby. They're about nine months old and have been through two migrations. That's okay, though. Drakes and hens have already mated and nested. In fact, their ducklings have hatched, and the hen and her young are on their own.


During the first part of the molt, a duck's body feathers fall out. New feathers grow in, and they're dull brown and a bit scraggly. The feathers don't look flashy, but blend in with the landscape instead. This is important, because the wing feathers are about to fall out. For the next three to four weeks, ducks will not be able to fly. They must stay hidden.

As new wing feathers grow, they're filled with blood and are actually heavy. They grow fast. In one day, a wing feather may grow about the length of your pinkie nail, or even more! Once feathers stop growing, blood no longer flows to them. They become hollow and light.

Ducks wear their summer feathers for just a few short months. Around September, they molt again. During this molt, only the body feathers fall out. Drakes grow bright breeding feathers again. When it's time for fall migration, ducks will be flying high in their fine new feathers.

Do other animals shed or molt their body coverings?

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