Q & A: “What method is best to determine gender: DNA or surgical sexing?”

December 17th, 2015 | by LubosTomiska
Q & A: “What method is best to determine gender: DNA or surgical sexing?”
Tony Silva NEWS

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.

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 contaminating the sample of another bird.



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 have bred with no problem.

Surgical sexing of parrots is best when determining 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 necessary know where to look or what the organs of an immature bird looks like.


A pair of Red-flanked Lorikeet (Charmosyna placentis). In this species is the sex dichromatism very distinct. (c) Peter Tan. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


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 that swear 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 in feeding birds of the same gender will eventually have made the money spent on sexing a worthwhile investment.


Would you like to ask Tony any question about parrots? Don’t hesitate and send us your questions on this e-mail: info@parrotsdailynews.com


author: Tony Silva

Title photo: Male Eclectus parrot in Birdworld Kuranda. Males and females are so different in this species that many authors believe that they are distinct species (c) Lubomir Tomiska


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