Many parakeet owners start with one bird, and then decide that it would be nice to get their pet a mate, either for companionship, or possibly with the intention of breeding their birds.
The best scenario is a compatible mate of the opposite sex, but firstly you need to know the sex of your bird. So, how do you tell if a budgie is male or female? As budgies are generally sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females have physical characteristics that distinguish one from the other, this is relatively straight forward just by looking at them. Mature male budgies generally have a blue cere (fleshy area above the beak, surrounding the nostrils) like the budgie in the left of the picture above, while mature female budgies have a flesh colored cere (this ranges from white, pink, beige, to brown) as illustrated by the female budgie in the right of the picture above.
However, in some varieties such as albinos, latinos and harlequins, the males and females both have flesh colored ceres and sexing is then less obvious. While some suggest that male budgies have a rounder head, with the females head being flatter, and that the females bite much harder than the males, this is pretty subjective. In these cases, as when sexing lovebirds and other monomorphic parakeets, more scientific methods need to be used to accurately determine the sex of your pet bird.
There are two scientific methods used to accurately determine the sex of your pet bird. The first can be done by surgically sexing, which is a procedure conducted by a veterinarian while the bird is under anesthetic. An endoscope is inserted into a small incision made near the hip of the bird, and the gonads (internal reproductory organs) of the bird are examined to determine if it is male or female.
Another, less intrusive method of scientifically sexing parakeets and other pet birds, is through bird DNA sexing. DNA from the sex chromosomes of your bird are analyzed by DNA sequencing using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) techniques and gel electrophoresis in a scientific laboratory specializing in this service. DNA is collected from either blood or feather samples that are sent to a laboratory for analysis. Collecting samples for DNA analysis is simple and the whole process can be conducted by mail order for around $20-$25 per bird, with bulk discounts usually offered by most genetic labs. Laboratories that offer this service, include DNA Solutions and Zoogen – both will supply DNA kits on request.
How do you tell if a budgie is female or male? The following steps walk you through taking feathers from your bird to determine the sex.
Download an order form to record the details of your bird/s to submit to the laboratory of your choice.
Label a clean new Ziploc bag for each sample, clearly identifying each bird for which you are submitting feather samples to have sexed.
Pull two tail or wing feathers from your bird in one swift motion. The pulled feathers should not be too small, feathers of between 2-4 inches long are ideal. Feathers must be fresh plucked, and not picked up off the ground. Alternatively, a single blood feather (growing feather) can be collected from each bird you want sexed. If blood feathers are collected, allow them to air-dry before placing in the Ziploc bag. Place your feather samples in the Ziploc bag without touching the tips of the feathers as the DNA sample is obtained from the shaft tip of the feather and doing so may contaminate the sample.
Place the Ziploc bag with feather samples, in an envelope together with order form and payment, and submit to the laboratory of your choice for analysis.
DNA collection kit – ordered from laboratory of your choice (optional)
Download an order form from the laboratory of your choice, recording details (species, age, etc) of the bird you want to sex.
Using a new uncontaminated pin, pierce the underside of the foot, or the main vein running down the leg and foot, to draw blood.
Collect a drop of blood and allow to dry on a labeled card, blotting paper, or even on a corner of the order form.
Apply pressure to ensure bleeding has stopped before returning your bird to its cage.
Place dried blood sample in a Ziploc bag to prevent contamination, then mail together with order form and payment to the laboratory of your choice.
While sexing budgies may be a relatively simple process, sexing parakeets is generally rather difficult. With advances in scientific methods, bird DNA testing is now far more accessible to pet owners and can be done by simply mailing a sample to a lab, with results received within a week. DNA samples can be collected from blood or feathers, through a simple procedure requiring little skill (just some attention to detail) that any bird owner can perform at home.
Featured Image: Parkieten from nl/Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
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