Cockatiel Sex Symbols


Those of us that breed Cockatiels are fortunate in dealing with a species that defines in most specimens the adult male and female. In the Normal; and the Cinnamon, Pearl, Fallow and Silver mutations, these sexually dimorphic markings are quite visible in a bird that is eight months or older. The same "tell-tale" colorations exist also in the Lutino (Albino) mutation, although so diluted that individual birds may need to be caught up to be examined under ideal lighting. Pieds unfortunately are the elusive exception to all "rules".

However, a perspective pet owner wishing specifically a cock or hen does not want to wait until the bird becomes visually sexable, and by that time more difficult to tame. Likewise, perspective breeders most often must buy future stock at a young age, or be disappointed by waiting and finding no adult age breeders available (or possibly another breeder's "problem" birds). Conversely, the original breeder usually does not have the available space to house all fledglings until birds reach breeding age - not to mention the additional time involved to care for and feed this burgeoning crop.

Therefore, it is expedient to sex Cockatiels at as young an age as possible. And yes, there are methods - some 100% accurate, some far more questionable, and some even hovering on the "occult".

The latter "psycho" methods I will mention and dismiss quickly, as my "deja vu", e.s.p., etc., is in its infancy of development. (If I drop a brick and my foot is in the immediate line of trajectory: I get a "premonition" that said foot is going to hurt in a second.)

Some Houdinies can resort to dangling threaded needles over chicks to judge the appropriate sexually defining swing. And granted, my God-given eyesight is auxiliary powered by made-in-Hong Kong lenses, but I cannot detect the pointed


"male" eggs from the more rounded "female" eggs. My only experience has been with an occasional "pointed" first egg from a virgin hen, or other infrequent notable deviations. (And yes, often these mildly deformed eggs are viable and do hatch.) But if I had to depend on such rarities for my total production of males, then I owe an awful lot of people an apology for all their hen x hen pairings.

Going from the asinine to the astute, the only 100% accurate method I personally will depend on is in using certain genetic crosses. In some instances, the chicks can be sexed at birth. For instance, using a Lutino male with a Normal hen: all hatchings with "grey" eyes are automatically Normal males split to Lutino. All pink eyed chicks are positively Lutino hens. In other instances, using various planned arrangements with dark eyed sex-linked mutations or splits, the resulting mutational feather color on some chicks will specify the young birds' sex positively. However, this is not a commentary on genetics. But may I suggest that such an article, listing specifically the crosses that will result in either, all, or some of the young being able to be sexed in the nest, would be of interest to readers and breeders.

Next: the Pelvic Test. This is probably one of the oldest methods in sexing, human skeletons included. Simply, it is the physiological feature that the pelvic frontal protrusions are spaced further apart in the female to accommodate passage of the progeny - in this case, the bird's egg. The male's pelvic bones are closer together. In the adult of any bird, this is quite an accurate indicator of sex. Check a laying hen's pelvic spread. In a Cockatiel, the separation is a generous 1/2 inch. The male's measurement would be approximately l/s inch. The difference between the two is quite obvious at this stage, but so most probably is the dimorphic coloration


and fertile eggs, so who needs to check?!

Sexing young birds solely according to the pelvic test is in my mind like tossing a coin: 50% odds. Young birds' bones are very pliable. What seemed a "she" yesterday, could appear more a "he" today. Yes, some young hens have and retain a wide space. Some males fledge with pelvic bones almost touching and remain so. But at best, I use the pelvic test only to confirm my hunches through other sexing methods.

In Cockatiels, there apparently is yet another sexing method that depends on markings, or the lack thereof, under the wing. Let us call it the "wing pit" method. Linda Buttstead (FL.) mentioned this recently to me and had been using it with apparently 100% accuracy on the Normals and Lutinos she had raised. Her original reference came from an article by George J. Schweiger "Sexing Your Cockatiel" in the American Cockatiel Society's March I April 1978 bulletin.

The gist is that on chicks nine weeks or older, the feathering on the underside of the wing has filled in sufficiently to enable one to observe the markings (or lack of) on those "wing pit" feathers within the immediate 1-1 V2 inch radial areas of where the bird's wing joins the body. Any yellow on these feathers denotes a hen. Linda describes these markings as "fringing". Mr. Schweiger refers to yellow "flecking" of the feathers. Regardless of semantics, any yellow is apparently the key to females. Mr. Schweiger mentions that the amount of yellow will vary on individual hens, but again, if any yellow is visible, "it" is a "she". Solid coloration of feathers in this small defined area indicates cocks.

This method is mentioned here as a more recent observation of sexing young, and I urge other Cockatiel breeders to further substantiate its accuracy. At the time of this writing, my oldest chick was only one week of age. But upon catching up


some adult cocks and hens of various mutations, I was delighted to find 100% agreement with Mr. Schweiger.

As for me, I have previously placed my bets on the "behavioral" method of sexing, with no wrong guesses that I have been notified of to date. This method is not to the liking of an eager pet owner, as it requires a bird to be 2V2-4 months of age. Specifically it means waiting for the young males to start "singing". Some will hesitantly start before being weaned. That's helpful. But it becomes more a matter of finding the hens for lack of vocalization - a process of elimination. And then, of course, there is always the exception. A hen that sings! But in time, such a rare hen will dwindle in her exuberance, while her brothers will increase in theirs, and it may depend more finally on incoming adult plumage to define "her" from "hims".

By "singing", I refer to the "twiddlings" of the young male that will, with practice, evolve into the Whippoorwill-type call of an adult male. Cocks also have a second "song", but verbal definition has so far escaped me. Regardless, any young male will sound like a beginner flutist experimenting.

Other male mannerisms to watch for are "strummings": rapid beak action on the wires, perch, or other immediate objects. "Strutting" is performed by to and fro movements along the perch with wings held slightly away from the body. But usually the first vocal exercises precede the initial physical displays.

Assuming that a breeder bands his birds (hopefully with American Cockatiel Society bands), the procedure is to identify each bird with some individual easily visible marking when the weaned clutch is separated from the parents. I use a Magic Marker - a different color for different clutches. I make notes on paper of the band numbers and the corresponding visual markings I have made on the underside of the outermost lateral tail flights (these being most easily seen from a distance as the bird perches). I will put one dash on one lateral flight, a dash on both lateral flights of the next bird, and continue through the clutch with dots and multiples of dashes and dots. But no two birds will sport the same markings in the same clutch. Be careful not to mark clutches of the same mutation with the same color, as this could cause confusion.