Difference in sexes

Males and females of all cockatoo species are very much alike. In some species you can spot a difference in body size or structure of the head, but usually this difference is too small and too variable to accurately determine the sex of the cockatoo. Luckily, many cockatoo species have actually a very easy and subtle way to show the sex of the bird: the eye color. Male cockatoos of these species have black eyes, while females of these species have brown eyes. This difference can only be spotted when the cockatoos have reached adulthood, because young cockatoos all have brown eyes.

The difference between male and female cockatoos. The female (right) has light eyes (brown-ish eyes), the male has dark eyes. The species pictured here is a Galah Cockatoo, where females have pink eyes and males black eyes.

DNA test for cockatoos

In some cockatoo species the eye color trick does not work. The eye color is the same in both sexes. The only way to know the sex of your cockatoo, is by doing a DNA test. In the past an endoscopy could also be performed to check the sex of a cockatoo, but because of the need of an anesthetic and the danger of complications this is not often done anymore.

A DNA test is a really easy, reliable and safe way to determine the sex of a cockatoo. For the DNA test, you need some fresh cells of the cockatoo so DNA can be extracted from them. The easiest way to get some cells of a cockatoo is by carefully plucking 2 to 5 feathers off the chest of the bird. This is a bit painful for the bird, but does not have any long term effects. Feathers that are shed naturally are not suitable for extracting DNA, because they lack live cells and blood. The pulled-out feathers can be send to a laboratory that offers sexing of birds. The scientist at the laboratory will look at the cells and will determine the sex very accurately using DNA techniques like PCR or chromosome counting. The age of the cockatoo is not important for determining the sex in this way, which makes it possible to determine the sex even when the cockatoo chick is still in the nest.

Behavioral differences between male and female cockatoos

If you keep a cockatoo as a pet, it generally does not matter if you have a male or a female. The general behavior is pretty much the same for both genders. They will have the same ability to mimic speech or learn tricks. The personality of every cockatoo is different, there will be dominant males and dominant females so if you are seeking a specific personality in a bird you should not pay attention to the gender but to the behavior itself. It is difficult to determine the sex of a cockatoo just by observing its behavior.

When male cockatoos reach adulthood, they can start to try to mate with objects or his human companions. This can be seen as annoying or embarrassing, but it is not harmful. The best way to get rid of this behavior is to distract the bird with something else to do. Or of course get him a mate if you are interested in breeding.

Both males and females can display egg-incubating behavior, even when they are housed alone, so this behavior does not indicate the sex of the cockatoo.