Gender differences

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Male (left) and female (right), Photos: George Steinz

 

Cockatiels have two different genders, males, and females. Female is the sex that carries eggs; the male is the one to fertilize the eggs. At times you can also hear the words cocka and hen to be used of the cockatiel male and female.

The male is the more colorful one. The primary color of the plumage is grey, tone differing only very slightly individually. The upper side of the tail feathers is silvery pale grey, and the lower side is dark grey, almost black. There are altogether 12 tail feathers, and the middle ones are the lightest ones. The upper rump is a bit lighter than the rest of the body, whereas the wings and back are darker. The head is the brightest part. Male has a yellow face mask reaching the root of the crest that turns greyish towards the tips of the crest feathers. Precisely on the ear whole, there’s an orange-red cheek patch.

The female cockatiel has clearly more greyish face than the male does. The yellow mask and red cheek patch are softly covered with a thin layer of grey. The clearest difference to males besides the covered face mask is a striped pale yellow pattern of the female’s tail. Taking a closer look, these stripes are not really clearly formed. More likely, there are tiny teardrop-shaped black areas on the pale grey surface. The yellow parts are widest and clearest in the edge tail feathers. Opened wing of the female also shows spot markings: there are 3 to 6 light spots on the primaries and secondaries.

Both sexes have grey beak and legs, black nails and brown eyes.

They are around 28-33 cm tall; the tail is around half of this measure. Wing length of the cockatiel is about 16-18cm. Wild cockatiels would have a crest size of 4 to 6 cm, but captively bred cockatiels have at times even more than 10 cm. Wings have a long white patch that looks like a triangle as the wing is opened. This patch serves a purpose of helping keeping contact to the other flock when the cockatiels are flying together.

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On the left, you can see that the male cockatiels have rather simple wing feathers. On the right, you can note that females, on the other hand, have spotted wing flights. The white wing patch helps to communicate with the other flock members.

 

When young, all the cockatiels resemble females. When they reach the puberty, the males start to produce more melanin – dark color pigments – reaching a colder tone to their plumage. They will also drop the grey facial feathers and striped tail feathers that are replaced with the yellow face mask and dark, simple feathers. This normal wild-type color reaches the final coloration at about the age of nine months, but many color mutations might affect the time that these changes take.

Males are known to be the singers of this species. They have several voices to whistle, and often the whistles are individualistic. On the other hand, males can also easily mimic other cockatiel sounds, and this way learn the even wider scale of sounds. The greatest meaning of singing is to charm females, but sometimes it seems that the males are singing just for fun or practice. Males can also click their beaks, keep this harsh growling sound and do many other sounds. At the age of 11-13 weeks, the cockatiel males will start to practice their singing skills. Each male seems to mix their own tones to the song even if they took some parts from their fellow cockatiel cocks. Also, improvisation seems to be common with enthusiastic singers. When the male is proposing the female, it chirps and does these whistles. It puts the wings into a position that reminds of a heart. It may jump, beat with its beak and do everything it takes to charm the female

Females are seen as much more silent and peaceful than cocks. Of course, there are always exceptions, but mostly this is the case. Females are the ones that carry the eggs and need to do the larger job, so they are the ones to be charmed: they don’t need to learn how to whistle fancy melodies. This is also why they are not as good learning words than cocks are. It’s not that they would be less intelligent – they just don’t need to. Even if the hens don’t usually sing they can still scream, squall and keep other random sounds like soft “whil-whil.” Some females actually do learn to sing but are more like something between whistling and muttering.

A female who wants to mate seems at first a bit nervous. Then she stops, lowers its back offering it for the male to step up on it, and starts to squeek silently. Hens are often wings spread, hanging upside down like bats when protecting the surroundings of their nests.

If you can’t determinate the sex of your cockatiel based on color or behavior, there is also the pelvis test. Male cockatiels have almost closed pelvis bones whereas females have more open pelvis bones. If the female has laid eggs, one could gently fit a thumb to the opening of the pelvis. This test still isn’t 100% sure. Sometimes a DNA test is needes to determinate the true gender of the cockatiel.

Picture examples

Whiteface female and grey male
 

Cockatiels have several color mutations. Excluding a couple of cases, also these mutation colors carry the typical gender signs. On the left, there’s a whiteface colored female next to a normal grey (split to pied and pearl). Whiteface vanishes all the yellow and red pigments, resulting in a rather monochrome version of the cockatiel. Still, you can easily pick the typical female signs: the tail stripes and grey face.

 

Grey cockatiel babies
 

At first, you might think that these birds are both females. But, they are actually one-month-old babies, and the one on the right is male. As this male chick molts for the first time during the puberty, it will reach the yellow face mask but loses the tail stripes and wing spots.

 

dominant silver
 

You can probably already tell the genders of the cockatiels that are in the background of this picture. …But what’s the sex of the cockatiel standing in front? Some color varieties will make the sexual dimorphism a bit more foggy, especially those that vanish all the melanin, causing the tail striping to vanish and that both sexes have the yellow face mask. Usually, the stripes and wings spots are there – they just need some good light to become visible. Sometimes you can also know the gender from the colors of the parents, but not always. Because the babies also behave very much alike, DNA test might be needed to figure the sex of the bird unless one wants to wait for the first singing lessons or first molt. The bird in front is a double factor dominant silver pied male.

 

Grey hen grey female
 

Here you can see two grey females. The one on the right has much more spotted chest than the one on the left. It is not yet fully known what causes these spots. Previously they were thought to be a leftover from the juvenile times, but nowadays people are talking about the “spot gene” that would be a genetical trait. It has also been discussed that the spots seem to be carried in whiteface lines.

 

Cinnamon pearl cockatiel
 

Some colors can change the sexual dimorphic signs a bit. This bird is a cinnamon pearl. It is easy to recognize as female since the males will lose their pearling when reaching their first molt. Cinnamon and pearl together may enlight the tail striping almost fully unseen – but you can still see the female wing spots from the open wings. Pearl causes them to spread.

 

Male cockatiel losing the pearl markings
 

This bird is also a pearl but as you can see the pearl markings are weird and somewhat loose. This is because the bird is actually an 8-months-old male and going through the first molt. The pearling has started to vanish. As this bird grows up, it will look like a normal grey male.