How to Determine a Pet Bird's Sex

Learn how to determine a pet bird's sex in this Howcast video featuring veterinarian Laurie Hess.

Dr. Laurie: So one of the things that people usually want to know is, is my bird a girl or a boy? What’s frustrating is that for many species you can’t tell. You can’t just tell by looking at them. So when you go into the store or you go to adopt a parrot often you won’t know. Fortunately, these days there is a way to test. We do DNA testing on blood. It’s very simple. It’s just a drop of blood.

Years ago we actually had to do endoscopy, which is a surgery, to actually look inside to see if there was an ovary or a testicle in there, but we don’t have to do that anymore. It’s very, very simple, and quick, and very reliable. There are a few species of birds that actually do look what we call, sexually dimorphic, meaning you can look at them and know obviously, if they’re male or female. Right, Sarah?

Sarah: That’s right. One of the most obvious examples of this is the Eclectus. Stop here is a female that’s bright red and purplish-blue, very bright colors and the black beak.The males are a very bright green with a yellow beak, so it’s almost impossible to actually mix them up.

One of the other birds that’s easier to tell are cockatiels, not cockatoos. In cockatiels females will, after they reach adulthood they’ll retain bands on the inside of their feathers, that you can often see during a physical exam or even if your bird flapped her wings. Males will not have these bands on their feathers, and that’s usually the most obvious way to tell with cockatiels. The only problem is with certain color morphs of cockatiels that won’t necessarily hold true.

Dr. Laurie: Absolutely, I mean cockatiels all when they’re young, if they’re the typical, what we call wild-type cockatiel, which is the gray and yellow type, all of them will have those bands or sort of stripes on their feathers under their tail and inside their wing when you extend their wing. You can look inside and see those spots. After about a year of age when they’re sexually mature the females actually retain those spots and stripes and the males lose them. And actually, the males actually can have brighter orange cheek patches on their face.

But a lot of birds you really can’t tell and we do recommend that you have your bird sexed by a veterinarian. It is very important to know if you have a female bird, because your female bird can lay eggs, and certainly, it shouldn’t change the way you feel or it shouldn’t change the name that you give your bird. You’ll still love your bird.

But it’s important medically, to know if you have a bird that can lay eggs. Because in the future, if the animal develops a problem, like a swelling of its abdomen and you know that it’s a male, you know that it’s not an egg. Conversely, if its a female, reproductive disease is very common. It’s something that we should know is possible, if you have a female bird.