It isn’t always easy to tell male and female parrots apart. While certain parrot species show color differences, others don’t. Sizes may be the same, and head shapes may be identical. Since parrots’ genitalia are internal, you can’t physically check for sexual differences.
Physical differences between males and females exist in cockatiels, budgies, and ringneck parrots. These show in their feathers, markings, colors, nares, and head shapes. Macaws, pionus, and conure parrots show no differences between the sexes, so DNA testing or surgical sexing is necessary.
These indicators may not show up until the parrot is fully grown. For example, behavioral signs may not appear until the mating season, and genetic defects may cause a parrot to look like the opposite gender.
How To Tell The Gender Of Parrots
Sexual dimorphism refers to the physical differences between males and females. Parrots can have clear indicators of sex, while others have no indicators, depending on their species.
As stated in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, 75% of all parrot species (the psittacine family) are sexually monomorphic.
This means there’ i’s no identifiable difference between the sexes, excluding their genitalia. So, if your parrot doesn’t show any indicators of its gender, is sexing parrots impossible?
There are three ways to determine the gender of an otherwise sexless parrot. One can be done yourself, while the other two require the expert opinion of an avian veterinarian.
Wait Until The Parrot Matures
You can wait for a parrot to reach sexual maturity. Females may lay eggs, even if not paired with males.
However, many parrots are long-lived and mature at 3-10 years of age. The long wait time makes this option less than ideal, especially if you’re keeping two parrots in a single enclosure.
Aside from egg-laying, you can wait for the mating season to reveal behavioral patterns. Males will grow more vocal and territorial, while females will remain docile.
In species that aren’t sexually dimorphic, you can turn to surgical sexing by a vet.
Parrots have internal genitalia, and surgical sexing is the only procedure that enables visual identification of the organs. This procedure isn’t commonly performed as it risks mentally scarring young parrots.
DNA testing is preferred to surgical sexing, as it places less stress on the parrot and isn’t as risky.
Zoo Biology found DNA testing using feather and blood samples to be highly effective. With it, you can accurately determine the sex of captive and wild specimens.
Difference Between Male And Female Parrots
So, what about parrots that have physical differences? There are around 400 living parrot species, each with unique traits and behaviors. On occasion, these can be used to parse males from females.
Depending on the species, males and females vary in these ways:
- Feather patterns
- Beak shape
- Head shape
Assessing a parrot based on these traits isn’t 100% accurate due to the traits:
- Seen in feathers
- Parrot-to-parrot variations
- That may only appear once the parrot reaches sexual maturity
Even sexually dimorphic parrots can look similar during their juvenile years, as they’ll only show dimorphic colors and patterns after they have molted their juvenile feathers.
Nonetheless, you can make an assessment based on these indicators:
Parakeets (also known as budgies) are kept in multi-bird enclosures, which makes knowing their sex important. Fortunately, once parakeets are 12 months old, it’s easy to tell males apart from females.
Look at the cere at the top of the bird’s beak, which bulges around its nostrils. They’re colored according to the bird’s sex and readiness for mating season. Here’s how:
- Male budgies will have blue ceres
- Female budgies have white or tan ceres
These colors darken during the breeding season, but the cere’s color may also signal illness. Color changes should be monitored, especially if females develop blue or males develop green ceres.
Cockatiels have been bred to create morphs, which are mutations that change the patterns or colors of their feathers. This can make determining the sex of the cockatiel more difficult.
Here’s how to identify females:
- Stripes or dots on the underside of their tails
- Cheek spots are duller
- Yellow face feathering is just around the eyes and inner face
- Body feathers are sometimes a darker grey
In contrast, male cockatiels have:
- Brighter coloring
- Vivid cheek spots
- A bright yellow face and crest
Male cockatiels behave differently from female cockatiels. This can be a determining factor for some people, as males are more vocal with whistles and learned phrases.
African Gray Parrots
Males and females may look identical, but there are small details that allow you to determine the sex of an African grey parrot:
- Males are usually taller and rounder than females.
- Males have shorter necks and flatter heads.
- Females have longer necks and large, round heads.
- Males are usually slightly darker in coloring, with vivid red tail feathers.
There aren’t many breeds of cockatoos with drastic visual differences, which further complicates telling the sexes apart:
- Black male cockatoos have black beaks, while females have white or horn-colored beaks.
- Other cockatoo breeds have different-colored eyes. For example, male Galah cockatoos have black eyes, while females have pink eyes.
- Other cockatoo males have brighter colors in their plumage, while females have duller colors.
It can be difficult to notice the differences without a side-by-side comparison.
Male Senegal parrots can be aggressive during the breeding season, which is why some owners wish to know the sex of their parrots to avoid conflict.
Senegal parrots have slight differences between the sexes:
- Males have yellow undertail feathers; females have green or green-and-yellow undertail feathers.
- Females have slightly narrower beaks and heads, while males have flatter heads and broader bodies.
There are differences between male and female ringneck parrots, so you can more easily tell them apart. Once they reach 2-3 years of age, the differences are as follows:
- At maturity, male ringnecks develop a distinct black ring around their necks—this pigmented line arches across the throat and toward the ears. Females may develop a pale ring, but it won’t be as heavily colored as the males.
- Female ringneck parrots are usually stockier in build, with thicker feet and a rounded face.
- There’s also a slight difference in the beaks of males and females.
Quakers show no outward dimorphism between the sexes. Telling males and females apart requires:
- DNA testing
- Waiting for the parrot to lay eggs
They don’t have differences in their beaks, colors, or habits.
However, Quaker parrots thrive in pairs, no matter the sex of each individual.
Macaws aren’t sexually dimorphic, so there are no outward differences between males and females. The only reliable way to tell the gender of a macaw is through:
- DNA testing
- Surgical sexing
An avian vet can determine the sex of a macaw.
There’s no way to visually determine a conure parrot’s sex, as they have no outward sexual dimorphism, so DNA testing and surgical sexing are the only ways to tell if you have a boy or girl parrot.
You can wait until the conure reaches 1-3 years of age. If female, she may begin laying eggs at this age, even without copulating with a male.
Males and females are identical in appearance. Pionus parrots are calm and easy-going, but males may not enjoy being handled during mating season.
Males show aggressive behavior throughout this time, especially if they’re not paired with a female. Females tend to remain calm throughout.
Can Parrots Change Gender?
Parrots can’t change their sex. The ability to spontaneously change from male to female or female to male is defined in Copeia as protandry, protogyny, or sequential hermaphroditism.
If you think your parrot has changed sex, it hasn’t; you just got its gender wrong. Even vets can make this error without surgical or DNA testing.
As many as 1,500 animal species can change sex in response to environmental or species population changes. Animals that can change sex include reptiles, amphibians, fish, and corals.
Parrots are not capable of sequential hermaphroditism. However, some birds (including parrots) develop traits of the opposite sex, like developing certain colors and plumage.
Unlike sequential hermaphroditism, it’s due to dysfunction with their existing reproductive organs. Typically, this happens in female birds with damaged or malfunctioning ovaries.
The parrot can reproduce based on its original gender. It’s irrelevant that it bears visual and physical traits of the opposite sex, but that can change if the dysfunction or damage is severe.
What’s The Best Way To Sex A Parrot?
The best way to determine the sex of a parrot is DNA testing and surgical sexing. However, that’s only for medium-sized and larger adult parrots. Vets recommend DNA testing as it’s non-invasive.
If knowing your parrot’s sex is important, consult an avian vet. A veterinarian can determine gender without confusion or causing physical harm to a parrot.