Mary or Bob? What is your cockatiel’s name? Is it a boy or a girl? Unless you are another parrot, with that amazing eyesight allowing them to see colors and signs that we cannot, it is impossible, in almost all cases, to see the difference between a male and female of any given species.
Lucky you! It just so happens that cockatiels are one of the very few parrot species that are “dimorphic”, meaning that they can be sexed visually by we mere humans. And it’s pretty easy to do!
As is the case with the majority of the animal kingdom, the males are typically more vibrant in coloration. This also holds true in the avian world. The male standard cockatiel can be identified sexually by observing the head and the tail.
The head of the standard gray male is entirely yellow, with bright orange cheek patches. The head of the female is duller (though no less cute!), with less defined cheek patches. The tail of the standard male is consistently gray on the top and bottom while the underside of the female’s tail has barring. It’s simple and fairly accurate.
Sexing Cockatiels with Avian veterinarian
However, DNA testing is the most certain way of determining the sex of your bird. It’s accuracy is 99.9%. Avian Biotech is the lab most often used for DNA testing within the avian community. Their cost is very reasonable and they will send you sample collection kits upon request.
There are three ways to collect DNA for testing:
1) Feathers – This is the safest and least invasive way to go. A few feathers are simply plucked and sent off to the lab. Molted feathers do not contain enough DNA for testing. It is reasonable to understand that some may be squeamish about the idea of pulling out your bird’s feathers, but it is quick and only hurts for a moment. Your bird will forgive you.
2) Blood – Your vet would have to take the blood draw for you. This is not a preferred method because the process of drawing blood on a bird is invasive and stressful to the bird. It also adds to the overall cost of the testing.
3) Egg shells – The substance that is left behind in the egg shell after a chick has hatched contains enough DNA to use to sex your bird. This is the kindest method where your bird might be concerned. However, it is a rare occasion where we hatch our own birds. I know I don’t have my bird’s egg shells. I doubt you do either.
There are several good reason to know the sex of your parrot and the knowledge can be particularly helpful for cockatiel caregivers. If you are a breeder, the reasons for knowing the sex of your bird are obvious. But male and female behaviors differ in many parrot species – especially around the time of sexual maturity and during breeding season.
Female cockatiels are prone to the over-laying of eggs, creating special dietary needs and posing potential health risks. Knowing the sex of your parrot can help you plan for these times and help you keep the environment appropriate for the sex of your bird.
It can also save you some embarrassment. If you know the sex of your cockatiel, you will not have to do any explaining to your friends and family when “Bob” lays his first clutch of eggs.
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