How To Sex Your Cockatiel

Although the differences between a normal grey adult female and an adult male cockatiel are very obvious, it can be difficult to know how to sex your cockatiel if they are very young and have not yet molted into their adult plumage.

It is also very difficult to know how to sex your cockatiel if it is a mutation.

If you want to breed and are uncertain, you can try pairing two cockatiels together with perfect breeding conditions surrounding them. If they fail to breed then it is usually obvious that you have paired two of the same sex together.

Luckily cockatiels are peace-loving birds, so you can house two cockatiels of the same sex together with no problems.

How To Sex Your Cockatiel

how to sex your cockatielThere are voice and behavioral differences between the cockatiel sexes but you will need some time and attention to notice these.

Let us look at the visual differences.

With the ‘normal’ cockatiel, the adult male won’t be difficult at all to distinguish. He will have a bright yellow head and bright pink cheeks, as you can see in the picture on the left.

If you look at the males primary wing feathers and his tail feathers, he will have no yellow marks. The feathers will be completely dark grey or black.

Adult female cockatiels will have grey heads with very little yellow and dull red cheeks.

Both sexes when immature will have a chain of yellow blotches on the primary feathers and a broad reticular network of yellow in the tail.

The male will only lose the yellow after his first molt, and unfortunately, some cockatiels don’t molt until they are nine months old. This is the reason I have often bought the wrong sex of cockatiel from the pet shop.

Birds hatched in spring and summer normally molt much sooner than birds hatched in autumn or winter.

The pattern differences in the feathers between the sexes depend on how much testosterone is circulating in the blood of the male cockatiel. If there is little or no testosterone, then the male will look much like the young females.

Fortunately, there are ways on how to sex your cockatiel before the first molt if you are not in a rush.

Once the chicks are about three months old and out of the nest, they are mature. They can be caught and a single flight feather is pulled from the wing. An outer tail feather may also be needed. Normaly the fourth primary feather from the tip of the left wing and the outer left tail feather is taken and kept.

Before pulling, the feathers must be examined to make certain that the quill is fully hardened. If the quill is hard enough the feathers needed are given a short, sharp tug and they will come out easily. A month later the same cockatiel is caught again and the wings and tail feathers are re examined.

Except in the case of a Lutino, the fourth primary and the lateral tail feather will have been replaced by a much darker feather than the other feathers of the body. If it is a male then yellow spots will be lacking on these feathers. With a female, they will be present. The loss of spots applies equally to the Lutino.

However, this method won’t be 100 percent accurate if the chicks are stunted with malnutrition or if they have been ill. Also if they have been reared in winter this test could also prove unreliable.

If doubt still exists, the next adjacent feather should be plucked out at this time. In another month when the replacement for this one has grown the characteristics that are shown should be 100 percent reliable.

What About A Pied Cockatiel?

how to sex your cockatielWith the pied cockatiel, this method of sexing isn’t always possible because their feathers usually lack the black pigments. A careful examination of even the most well-marked pied should show that there are still a few normal grey primaries or some naturally colored tail feathers.

Even if there is only one of either this should be enough to sex the bird. In rare cases, you would not be able to find these sexing feathers, so then it would be difficult to sex them.

The only absolute method that will leave no doubts whatsoever as to the sex of the chick, even before it is mature, is to use as a male parent as a sex-linked color mutation.

A cinnamon, lutino or laced male pared to a hen of any color other than that of the male will always give hen chicks that are the same color as the father while the male chicks are of normal grey appearance.

For example, a Lutino male male mated to either a normal, pied, cinamon, laced, or red-eyed silver hen will have Lutino daughters and sons that are normally colored.

A bright light can also be shone through a partially incubated egg and the males will have a black eye, whereas the females will have a pink one that cannot be differentiated from the rest of the tissue.

If the male and female are split for other colors how to sex your cockatiel becomes complicated once again.

4 Comments

  1. I had a cockatiel as a teenager (one of the best pets I ever owned). We thought it was a boy . . . and then she laid eggs. So, not a boy, then.

    My apparently female cockatiel had a bright yellow head which I think is what made us think she was male. But now I think of it, I think her cheeks were duller than the one in your picture, and she also had yellow feathers in her wings and tail!

    Very interesting post that brought back a lot of memories for me.

    1. So Shannah, now it’s time to get another cockatiel.

      You probably had a Lutino cockatiel, and these are difficult to sex. My female Lutino also has yellow feathers in her tail, but her face is bright like the male. The male Lutino’s tend to have pure white tails, in most cases.

  2. I have not paid much attention to birds, even though I have a fake one in my study, I only know of parrots, are these Cockatiel same as parrots?

    I never knew you have to take away some feathers for them to molt, I don’t think I would be able to do that but it is definitely worth knowing just in case an occasion comes, I would love to buy one. What advise would you give on how to maintain them?

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