Natural colorings for my poor Ming Mei?


Enslaved by Indoor Ducks
11 Years
Nov 20, 2008
Chicago, IL
Just as a reminder, my ducks are heavily imprinted on people, bonded to me and my fiancee and live a very spoiled comfortable life living in an indoor pen, going outside when they want to. They are super friendly with all of them like being pet, picked up, held, etc by not only us but also with other people, even little kids.

I know all dark colored ducks with the black gene who are female will eventually get white feathers. All of my dark runners have some to a ton of white feathers. My silly Vinny duck is more white now than black (he turned white so fast we barely could keep up)!

But, my Chocolate runner Ming Mei has been suffering a bit since her feathers started changing. She was not happy with her first white feather, pecking at it constantly, so I plucked it from her to keep her from developing a pecking habit. But then with the next molt, tons of white feathers came in and she pecked and got depressed by the white feathers. Eventually she got used to them, as most were around her neck and in her wings, though she still pecked sometimes. Then we added four more ducks to Ming Mei and her sister Victor. There has been many power struggles over who is where in the pecking order, with Victor coming out as number 2, and Ming Mei somewhere on the bottom. Just recently, during her latest molt, she developed a ton more white feathers especially around her head and even more on her body. The back of her neck has been an issue because the other dominant ducks peck at her white feathers since her brown feathers are still very dark (I think they peck because of the contrast).

My poor duck is at the bottom of the pecking order, always getting picked on, especially where her white feathers are. This past molt had been especially bad, with more whites popping up around her face. She has been depressed and unhappy. Her mood has changed greatly with not wanting to be handled or petted when she used to be super loving with me. I think it has to do with her getting picked on all the time (sometimes until she has bald spots). Since separating her isn't really an option (it'd have to be permanent which seems cruel), my big question is-

*Is there any type of natural coloring agents people use on ducks (like for shows or to mark which duck is which?) I know they use dyes (like dots of color) on natural colored baby ducks in hatcheries like Ideal to indicate which duck is which. I'm wondering if there are any natural dyes (like henna, turmeric, etc) or food safe dyes that can be used on a live bird? I don't want to color her pink or anything weird, but rather find something that can make her white feathers brown or less white so the others won't peck her.

She's very good at being fussed over, so I know she'll stand still if I applied something to her. She had bad bumblefoot a year or so ago and had to take epsom salt baths, and hold her foot out to be bandaged. She actually enjoys wearing things that make her pretty, and she even has some costumes she'll wear for a picture or two. (for easter she wore a flower lei necklace for photos, she has a tutu or two). She proudly struts about in her decorations and will hiss and lunge when it's time to take them off. We've used pet safe toe nail polish for her as well as it helps her spirits. she's very patient and doesn't seem to mind one bit being fussed over.

So is there any coloring, dye, or stain that is safe for me to put on her white areas? I figured the best time to do it would be after a bath, but before she started preening heavily (when there is the least amount of oil on her). She will allow herself to be dried by a hair dryer while preening too. I'm just looking for something to make her white feathers less obvious so she doesn't get pecked (or peck herself). I figure nothing will be permanent, but if something could last a week or so, we could make it a ritual for her.

Does anyone have any idea about this? I have read up on natural dyes and dying feathers, but the only info I can seem to find on coloring a live bird is injecting eggs, or it's so scientific (like coloring chests of diving sea birds so they can be easily identified) I can't read it. I know henna and woad will make a brown, but can I use it on her? What about food colorings to stain her feathers? I've read some feather dying with kool aid, but that seems more geared towards craft projects. I've read it can be done on chickens that are older, but they don't bathe as much as ducks do...

As a funny side note, Victor once got accidentally dyed pink in his belly. I made them a diaper harness from the right fabric from a local store that was hot pink and didn't think I needed to wash it first. I didn't have a clean harness so I put the pink one on Vic while his feathers were still wet underneath from playing in the pool and it stained them. It wouldn't go away until he molted. I've learned to only use high quality fabric from reputable wholesalers to fix that problem. But I thought since Vic was fine with the pink for months, there's gotta be something natural I can use on Ming? right?

Any constructive thoughts or ideas would be appreciated (and please no "just separate her" or "just leave her alone" comments as we've tried this and it has not helped).

thanks guys....
Walnut paste will die them black, and it cannot be washed out. It will be hard to find it. Best is to find someone who has a walnut tree and get the green nuts down. At that time the nut itself is not hard and you can puree this in the blender. The green hulls will also work fine. This is the stuff any walnut farmer discards during harvest. It can be stored in the freezer and then used when needed. Walnuts have been used for centuries to die hair and clothing. The modern gypsies of Hungaria still use this method.
Wow! what a great idea! I didn't even think of black walnuts! Ming Mei's brown feathers are so dark that adding some black to her should work out great! I already found a place online I can buy whole shelled black walnuts. Does it matter if they are fully ripened (is that what you call it for nuts?lol) I have one of those "will it blend" blenders so I am certain I can make a paste. I guess we'll have to experiment a little to see how long it will have to be applied for, but she's a good duck. She'll hold still. And if she eats a little, it won't hurt her. What a great idea!!!!
another question-

Would it be better to get raw in shell black walnuts and crush them myself, or to buy walnut husks that come in vitamin form like this (and open the capsules to make a paste?)

ETA- I found out these are crushed green hulls from unsprayed wild trees... so no problems with pesticides, and it's from when they are still green

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I have no ideas for you, just wanted to tell you that I find your story fascinating. A vain duck! I'm awfully sorry for your troubles but... I can't help it... it's just too funny!!

Sorry. Ahem.

I do hope you're able to figure something out for her. Your ducks are very spoiled and very very lucky.
I hope the walnut thing works for you.
you Should see this duck! Vain is only the start of it! she's basically a Diva Ducky... If she see's me painting my toes nails, she insists I do hers. She'll hold her foot out and everything. She loves anything we make for her to wear and prefers to "dress up" if we take her out (she has some pretty collars and tutus we made her for our pet store trips). She knows when she's being talked about and knows the word "pretty". She'll puff up her chest and strut about. Taking off any collars or skirts is always a chore since she gets all mad and lunges (but doesn't peck, she knows better, lol). She always gets upset over a molt and will refuse to "go out" until her feathers are done coming in. She gets very upset when the ducks peck her bald and usually requires extra attention and care. She knows I'm her slave. lol. She's usually a big baby and wants nothing but love and attention but this current white feather issue has been upsetting her. She knows what a mirror is and knows it is her in the mirror and loves to look at herself. Lately she's been avoiding the mirror, hence my feeling that she is unhappy about the white feathers and being pecked. I'm going to try the vitamin paste first and see how it works. If it doesn't we'll try getting ahold of raw black walnuts. Finding them with the hulls still on is a bit tricky, so i'll have to search to see where's the closest walnut farm to us. We're hoping it'll just stain them a bit darker, not a complete black, just so they don't stand out so much. I'll have to take pictures of the process for here
All walnuts stain black, so you do not need to look for Black or English walnuts. Any kind will do. You either want green unripe walnuts from the tree, and some growers actually sell this because the British people make some kind of nasty turpentine tasting liquor out of it. Our you just want the green hulls when they do the harvest in late summer. You basically freeze the stuff until you use it. Their juices will turn black once they start to oxidize, so you do not want to make the paste ahead of time. Make sure to wear old clothing and plastic gloves, because the stains will not go away and you don't want to have to run a round with black hands for 3 weeks. It is a safe product for sure. BTW many growers do not spray their trees at all. They are very bug resistant. A friend of mine had a walnut farm in CA, but they went out of business. They could not compete with the big boys, plus more and more housing communities started taking over the area, and their equipment got to old too. It was time for them to move on.
I like this idea, and know that a few people around our town have them as ornamental trees. So I would think if you start asking around you could find them. But I would also caution you on finding out of they are at all poisonous, there is a compound in black walnut that can kill horses if they eat even a little bit of shavings. The nut part may be absolutely safe for dye on a duck but please try and find out what the compound is, if it is also in the nuts/husks and if it could be bad for ducks first. It sounds like you really love her and I just thought I would let you know!
This discussion got me interested in the black walnut dye thing so, being curious as I am, I researched a bit. Here are a couple potentially useful things I turned up:

Recipes and instructions for making black walnut dye:

It's not cheap, but if you can't find or don't want to be bothered collecting the black walnut hulls yourself, you can apparently buy it in powdered form from several locations, including Amazon--go figure. Here are a couple links to purchase:

Hope that helps!
I know pecans have the same dark color in their hulls as well. I wonder if you could re-hydrate old hulls that have dryied out. If so I could mail you some. We have a lot of native pecans around here.

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