Is it Male or Female?
It has happened among almost every pet bird owner. They buy a bird, start calling it “Charlie”, and much to their surprise they awake one morning to realize that Charlie laid an egg. What happened? The dilemma is not one that is easily solved. Birds in general do not show external sexual characteristics. The males favor the females and vice versa. So how do you tell a male bird from a female bird? Unless you are trying to breed your bird it doesn’t matter what the bird’s sex is.
If you were breeding your bird, there are several options to determine the sex. One is by observation. There are no such things as male behaviors or female behaviors, but if the bird lays an egg than you know you have a female. The female’s ability to do this is independent of having a male nearby. Sometimes females will lay infertile eggs spontaneously. If you prefer and want a more concise way of identifying the sex there is the technique of DNA sexing. This technique analyzes the bird’s red blood cells to determine the presence of male or female chromosomes. Any age bird can undergo this testing and it only takes one drop of blood. For the most part this technique is reliable and relatively inexpensive. The blood sample taken from the bird is sent out to a lab for identification. Results can take up to three weeks to come back from the lab. DNA fingerprinting is also available for birds, but it is less common.
Feather sexing is conclusive in determining sex if you retrieve the feather pulp from a growing feather. The feather is analyzed for the presence of male or female chromosomes. The sample needs to be sent to the lab in an ice pack by overnight mail.
For most pet birds, there are general guidelines to determine the sex of the bird. These guidelines are based on the physical characteristics of the bird and should only be used as a guideline, because there are exceptions to every rule. For most people, however, they are enough to satisfy their need to know.
In parakeets there are ceres, which are small dots on the bird’s beak. In mature male parakeets the ceres are bright-bluish; the female ceres are reddish-brown. When the birds are young, it is difficult to tell because the ceres of both sexes are pale blue.
In the cockatiel, males are generally great singers. Female cockatiels have been known to talk but are generally quiet. The male cockatiel has bright orange cheek patches. The females also have orange cheek patches but they are dull in color. These again are only guidelines. In other birds it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between a male and female. The only reliable method for these birds is to take it to an avian veterinarian and have it done diagnostically.