Determining the Sex of Your Bird

parrots

For many owners, it is important to know the sex of their bird, whether they are simply trying to choose an appropriate name, or they are planning to breed their bird. Unfortunately, in many birds, especially those in the parrot family (“psittacines”), it is difficult to reliably determine the sex of a bird just by physical appearance.

If you are uncertain of your bird’s sex, there are a number of methods that a veterinarian can employ to confirm its sex.

The following are physical characteristics and behaviors that will help identify the sex of some of the common species of pet birds:

Budgerigars

• Males have a dark blue to lavender cere (featherless area around the nostrils)

• Females have a light blue, pink or tan cere

Canaries

• Males tend to be better singers

• Males may have a more prominent “pseudo-penis” on their vent

Zebra Finch

• Adult males tend to have a red bill, orange cheek patches, a black band on the chest, and chestnut-coloured sides

• Adult females have an orange bill, and the body is solid light grey

• Only the male sings

Cockatiels

• Immature birds are very similar

• Mature males have brighter yellow faces with a bright orange cheek patch

• Mature females tend to have paler yellow or grey faces with a duller orange patch

• Males tend to have solid colouration on the underside of their wing feathers and tail feathers

• Females tend to have barring or spots on the underside of their feathers

Cockatoos

• Mature males tend to have dark brown or black eyes

• Mature females tend to have reddish brown eyes

Eclectus Parrot

• Males are green in colour with red and blue patches under the wings

• Females have a red head and neck, with a blue/purple breast

While the characteristics listed above are frequently used to determine the sex of a bird, none of them are 100% reliable – there is always some variation within every species of bird.

How does a veterinarian determine the sex of a bird?

There are a number of methods available for establishing the sex of a bird, and your vet may use any of the following:

1. Endoscopy: while the bird is under anaesthesia, a small incision is made in the bird’s side, and an endoscope is introduced which allows visualization of the reproductive organs.

• Pros: allows the vet to assess the overall internal health of the bird and its condition for breeding; gives an immediate result

• Cons: invasive, and there is an anaesthetic risk

2. DNA typing: blood or feather samples are sent off to a laboratory for DNA testing

• Pros: less invasive than endoscopy

• Cons: takes longer to get results back from lab (as opposed to immediate results from endoscopy)

3. Faecal steroid analysis: tests for sex-specific hormones in a bird’s faeces

• Pros: less invasive than endoscopy

• Cons: less accurate than endoscopy, takes longer to get results back than endoscopy

What are the benefits of knowing my bird’s gender?

While some people like to know a bird’s sex merely for “peace of mind”, there are also practical reasons for being aware of your pet’s sex. Some diseases are specific to only one sex (e.g. egg-binding in female birds). Also, certain behaviors are only demonstrated in a particular sex (e.g. singing in some male birds). Lastly, if you plan to breed your bird, it is of course essential to correctly identify the sex of the bird.

(photo: riza)

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