Battle of the Sexing

When I started breeding birds, I began with the perfect bird for first time bird owners and breeders: zebra finches. Normal gray zeebs are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell the boys from the girls by looking at them. Of course the birds have to be mature and have molted, otherwise they look totally different. I thought about breeding for a finch that always looks like a juvenile zebra, but that would defeat the natural intention of the colorations. ( But I digress. What I mean to say is, when you put a male with a female, you are sure of what you are doing. Once the pair bonds and starts pulling its grass out of a holder on the outside of the cage, stuffing it in a seed cup, and making goo-goo eyes at each other, you can give them a nest and await the hatching of eggs. Almost guaranteed.

One day I bought an all white zebra finch, because I really like the look of these birds, and wanted to breed something close to an Isabelle mutation. ( I was told you could sex the white zeebs by the color of the beak. If the bird’s beak is bright orange, it’s male. I thought the beak on my new bird was the same shade of orange as the normal gray males I had. So I paired “him” with a female. I got lots of infertile eggs. So next season, I paired “her” with a male. No eggs at all. My white bird was either sterile or some oddity best left to science to discover.

Breeding budgies, or parakeets if you prefer, is equally easy. The clue only shows up, as with zebra finches, when the birds reach sexual maturity. Until then, they are all males with pink through violet ceres. ( As this link will explain, the cere is the bridge of skin at the top of the beak, where the nostrils can be found. But as they also explain, very pale mutations such as white, yellow, or pied, lace wing, or fallow, the color can be difficult to pinpoint. I had a pair of yellow budgies, there was no visual difference between them, but they were one of each sex. I only knew this because of the mates they chose.

Love birds, well, I don’t have a lot of luck sexing lovebirds. There are only a few species of love birds that are dimorphic. None of which I have attempted to breed. You can invade your bird’s personal space and push a finger upward under the pelvic bone. You will likely get bit unless the bird is tame. The male pelvis will be pointy and thin, the female’s wide and rounded. Not 100% sure, and I have birds which the experts assured me were one sex, who then turned out to be the other. Egg laying is a pretty good indicator. If you pair up two lovies, give them a nest box, you should get 4 to 6 eggs, on average. If you get 10 plus, you most likely have two girls in there, both laying eggs. And the birds give me looks of exasperation when I pull their eggs and switch partners. They can tell who’s male and who’s female, why can’t I? (

Cockatiels have a fool-proof clue to their sex, but again you have to wait for the birds to become mature. The females will keep a gray striping across their backs just at the base of the tail. Unless they are lutino or albino. Or pearl. And cockatiels have a tendency to pair up regardless of sex. I have had two sets of male/male bonded pairs. They made great fosters and are very devoted to each other. The odd thing is that it’s not a permanent condition, it’s just a matter of convenience. When one of the males passed away, the remaining bird, Tweety (see earlier rants on stupid things people name birds), took up with one of the bonded pairs and has been trying to convince the female to leave her mate and come away with him to the other side of the cage. So far, Tweety just annoys the pair. But he hasn’t given up yet. (

African Gray parrots are totally monomorphic, you really have to know what you are looking for to tell the boys from the girls. Males are usually larger than females, but females have longer necks and more slender heads. The male parrot has a rounder body, the female is more slender. Males have tail feathers of undisputed red. Females will have a slight silver hue to their tails. Wing pits will be dark gray on the male, silvery gray on the female. And then there’s the eyes. Look at the patch of silvery feathers around the eyes. This patch is pointed at the ends in the male, and rounded overall in the female. Still not sure? Yeah, it’s complicated. (

Canaries are among the most difficult and the most easy to sex of all birds. Difficult if you believe that only males sing. I have had females who like to warble along with their brothers. Easy, if you have the knowledge of what to look for. During the breeding season, early spring here, the vents are of different shapes. The male’s has a bump, kind of a pseudo-penis, like the eraser end of a pencil, but a touch longer. The female’s vent will be flat and oval. The toes are a clue as well. Males have a longer middle toe, the female’s toes are all fashionably even. (

Sexing birds for breeding is not easy, with many mutations and types of birds. There is a wonderful company that will take a few feathers from the chest of your bird and do a DNA test. The cost is minimal, but if you are testing a dozen or more birds, it can be very expensive. Surgical sexing is the most completely positive way to sex birds, but also the most expensive. So I think I will go back to school, learn more about biology, and open a clinic just to DNA or surgically sex birds. I’ll let you know when I open the clinic.

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