Bird gender test

We asked Tony about bird gender test for parrots.

“What method is best to determine gender?” – by Tony Silva 

What method is best to determine gender? The answer to this question is based more on personal choice and belief than science. DNA sexing of parrots is simple, quick, and non-invasive. You can sex the birds from the eggshell, where blood and tissue can be used to determine gender. Feathers or blood is submitted from feathering, immature, and fully mature birds for similar analysis. The result is not infallible. More than one breeder will recall having DNA-sexed males than laid eggs or vice versa.

Bird gender test – the collection of the genetic material

The collection of the genetic material, its freshness, and other factors can affect the outcome. To avoid contamination of the genetic material, it is best to collect the sample using latex gloves and then placing the sample in a paper (not plastic) bag, especially when collecting blood, which can deteriorate in quality when not properly dried before being placed in a sealed plastic bag. With each subsequent sample, a new glove should be used. The intention is to prevent DNA material from one bird from contaminating the sample of another bird.

DNA sexing for small birds and chicks

I always prefer genetic sexing of parrots when it comes to small birds and also youngsters. My opinion is that small birds can be affected by the intrusion of the body with an instrument. Some veterinarians will disagree but I know of many cases where small birds like Pyrrhura conures have not bred after being surgically sexed. Their siblings were DNA-sexed and bred with no problem.

Surgical sexing for adult birds

Surgical sexing of parrots is best when determining the gender or adult birds whose history is unknown. During the procedure, the veterinarian can determine the reproductive potential of the bird involved. Its general state of health can also be assessed. Cloudy air sacs, deformed sexual organs, spent or scarred ovaries and more can be detected by an experienced clinician.

Surgical sexing of parrots is not infallible in the hands of an inexperienced person, who may not necessarily know where to look or what the organs of an immature bird look like.

Bird gender test – the rate of failure

With both methods, the rate of failure is significantly small. I can recall the days before sexing techniques were available–the advent of surgical sexing dates to about 1975, when Dr. Raymond Kray and others began experimenting with a process that directly visualizes the gonads–when everyone relied on visual, behavior or the “witching” process to determine the sex of their birds.

I learned that many of the birds that I perceived were pairs were in actuality two males or two females and that witching–the process of placing a pendulum above the head, with the pendulum allegedly swinging back and forth or in a circular fashion to differentiate the sexes–was terribly flawed. I still get messages from people who swear that witching works.

On a few occasions, I have had the possibility to prove to these people that the process is ineffective. With dimorphic species like Eclectus Eclectus roratus, the witching suggested on a few occasions that the easily distinguished males were females! This showed that witching was totally erring.

When one takes into account the ready availability of DNA sexing of parrots, it is not worth guessing what sex a particular bird is. Just in economic terms, time spend on feeding birds of the same gender will eventually have made the money spent on sexing a worthwhile investment.

Tony’s book Psittaculture, is available from:

Psittaculture A Manual for the Care and Breeding of Parrots
Psittaculture A Manual for the Care and Breeding of Parrots

DNA sexing in South Africa can be done by MDS:

Molecular Diagnostic Services

ALL TONY’S ARTICLES ARE AVAILABLE IN THIS eBook, available to subscribers only.

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free parrot ebook

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