Dr. Rainer R.
"Well, there is help on
the horizon and
anyone seriously
interested in color
genetics should take a
look at Linda Rubin's
Though this book is
primarily directed to
breeders of cockatiel
mutations, there is
enough information in
this volume to teach
anyone the secrets of
dealing with
recessive, sex-linked,
and dominant
ACBM, Vol. 65, No.12
112 pages, 15 chapters,
glossary & more!
Copyright 2006 Linda S. Rubin
Multiple Bird
Linda S. Rubin
Parrot Guide
Linda S. Rubin
click for descriptions, chapter excerpts, & reviews!
Series by
Linda S. Rubin
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Monthly Genetics Articles
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Cockatiel Color Mutations Genome
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Copyright © 2007 LINDA S. RUBIN
CF Genetics Consultant/Panel Judge   
Selected Q&A's "From My Mailbox"

Q.  Could you please provide some indicators to help tell the sexes of my
birds? I have been told the behavior between males and females are
very different. I have a 10-month old hen, which has laid eggs in the
past. I did think that she was a male because she kept hanging upside
down and showing me her full wingspan, which is very beautiful. It wasn’t
until she laid eggs and I spoke to a breeder that I was told wingspan
behavior was what the hens did.

The reason I would like to know her sex is that I have purchased a 9-
week-old cock bird, (which is what I had been told) only he spread his
wings in front of the hen. He didn’t hang upside down, he just lowered his
head and spread out his wings, it was only for a couple of seconds. I
have tried to tell myself that he lost his footing on the cage top and the
wing spreading was an accident. The older bird has been showing her
wings off to the new bird quite a lot, I took that as a sign that the new
cockatiel must be male, but when he did it today, I was hoping he was
just copying because he doesn’t know what else to do. They some times
have beak fights, not bad ones, just “I'm the boss,” kind of squabbling
and spend a good deal of time flying madly after one another. Is there
any behavior that will tell what sex my birds are?

A.  Cockatiels open up their wings for a variety of reasons and that can
include loosing their footing and regaining balance. It can also include
guarding their eggs or nesting site from intruders and predators,
requesting a bath, shifting a recalcitrant feather back into alignment, or
any number of behavioral reactions. It is normal behavior for cockatiels
(and many parrots) to hang upside down spreading out their wings in
hope of catching raindrops during a downpour or an attempt to cover the
nest entrance hole from potential intruders.  

However, your young cockatiel may be spreading its wings open for a
different reason. The behavior you describe may be seen when a
cockatiel is:

1.  Threatened, such as when the behavior is accompanied by a loud

2. Unsure of itself, an avian equivalent to being shy as to its place in
relationship to the pecking order

3. Exercising, e.g., getting ready to take off in flight, or literally taking off
as a defense as known in the “fight or flight syndrome,” where escape is
easier than confrontation

4. Illustrating submissive behavior to a more dominant bird in order to
avoid a fight

5. Competing in the dominance hierarchy - part of a mock battle to
become the "alpha" bird within the flock.  

Here, the latter sounds more plausible and your new bird may be
attempting to become the "alpha bird" within your two-bird flock. This
type of behavior, with attacks, battles, and "feistiness," can be either an
aggressive or a defensive posturing designed to intimidate or exert
dominance toward you or another bird. The behavior can also be used
by the "beta" bird (second in the hierarchy), as an entreaty, with the goal
of escaping you or another bird. If your young cockatiel is a male, you
can expect it to continue to fight for the top position in the hierarchy as it

Because your older cockatiel laid eggs, we know she is a hen. However,
you did not state the color of your young bird, so sexing according to
color might vary depending upon the color mutations.

In colors that are sexually dimorphic where we can see the visual
differences, such as in
Normal Grey, Cinnamon, Pearl, Recessive
Silver, Whiteface, Fallow, Dominant Silver, etc., males will begin
their baby and juvenile molts at 4 to 6 months of age, where they will
start to acquire their full yellow facemask (or white facemask in Whiteface
mutations). The facemask should be complete by their first adult molt at
12 months of age. Males will also lose the yellow or white under-wing
spots on flight feathers and under-tail barrings beneath the tail, which all
young and immature cockatiels carry. Additionally, young males
demonstrate more aggressive behavior (e.g., biting, nipping, hissing,
attacking, etc.) as they reach maturity where hormone levels rise. This is
usually a temporary period lasting some months or until they breed
and/or hormone levels return to normal.

In monomorphic color mutations where we typically cannot sex cockatiels
visually through their appearance - such as in
Lutinos, Pieds,
Whiteface Lutino (Albino), etc. - we must go by behavioral cues.

As a young male cockatiel matures, it begins to exhibit male behaviors
such as singling (warbling a series of notes) and courtship displays
including hopping, strutting, opening the shoulders at the wing joint while
bowing, and tapping objects rapidly with the beak. Females are more
sedate compared to males and voice a two-syllable call note (e.g., "eek-
eek"). As females mature, they become broody and may show interest in
nesting activities such as looking for a place (any place!) to lay a clutch
of eggs and tearing up paper at the bottom of their cage. They will also
solicit breeding by squatting on a perch or flat surface while trembling
their wings, pointing their tails up in the air and emitting a piteous
“crying” sound to invite a male (or bonded human partner) to breed with

If you have further questions on behavior and sexing, you may want to
read the articles contained on:

Determining Age and Gender in Young Normal Greys,”

Gender Identification of Pieds,"

Description and Gender Identification of Cinnamons," and

Sex-linked inheritance on Gender Identification.”
Copyright © 2007  Linda S. Rubin
All Rights Reserved  
c.2005 Linda S. Rubin
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