A dilemma faced by many pet bird owners is in determining the sex of their avian housemates. This is due to the fact that many species of birds that are popular with bird enthusiasts are not sexually dimorphic, meaning there are no visible physical characteristics that distinguish male from female individuals. In many cases, the males and females of an avian species appear to be identical.
Species such as the budgie, have a gender that can be easily identified when they are adults but may not be easy to see in young birds. Since a large majority of birds are selected by future owners or breeders before they are sexually mature, this poses a problem when choosing which bird to purchase.
DNA testing is a reliable way to determine the sex of your bird. We will take a look at what exactly DNA testing entails, as well as how it is accomplished. There are other uses of DNA testing in addition to gender identification which we will briefly review.
Why Do I Need To Know The Sex of My Pet Bird?
There are a few reasons you might want to know.
- You are buying a solitary bird where gender can influence the bird’s personality or temperament. For instance, Indian Ringneck males are less likely to over-bond to their owners than females.
- You are planning on breeding birds and need to know how to segregate or pair up your birds depending your breeding method.
- Perhaps you are getting a friend for your Sun Conure. You want to make sure that both birds are the same sex to ensure that they do not breed.
- Maybe you just want to be sure you name the bird with a gender appropriate monicker.
What Is Bird DNA Testing?
DNA testing analyzes the DNA in a blood or feather sample and searches for the Z or W chromosome. According to easydna.ca, males birds only possess Z chromosomes. Females, on the other hand, have pairs of ZW chromosomes present in the complicated DNA molecule.
Bird DNA testing is an extremely reliable way to determine the sex of your birds. Birds obtained from reputable dealers often have had DNA tests performed, and if not, should allow you to have your selection tested prior to purchasing the bird.
How Is Bird DNA Testing Done?
As mentioned above, a sample of the bird’s DNA must be collected. DNA can be found in your bird’s blood and feathers. You can do the DNA sample collection yourself, but it is often done by avian veterinarians, breeders, or others who are experienced at handling birds. Small birds can die from stress when handled incorrectly so the process needs to be done with great care.
The site whozthedaddy.com gives detailed instructions on how to obtain samples of both types. If you are using feathers as your sample then follow these steps:
- Collect at least 5 feathers. The feathers need to be from the bird’s chest and should be freshly plucked. Feathers that were naturally shed will not contain usable DNA.
- Ensure that you have collected the feather tip, where the DNA resides. This is the white part of the feather that meets the skin and should not be touched to preserve the sample’s purity.
- Store the feathers in a zip-lock bag and label it.
Here is a short video demonstrating the technique:
If collecting a blood sample then you need to proceed in this manner:
- Disinfect your bird’s nails and wash your hands thoroughly.
- Using a sanitized nail clipper, clip the bird’s nail about 2/3 away from the toe. If no blood flows, apply gentle pressure to obtain a few drops.
- Use a blood card to blot the blood.
- Use blood clotting powder to sanitize your bird’s toe and stop the bleeding. Wait until all bleeding stops before returning your bird to its cage.
Below is a video that shows how to collect a blood sample from your bird:
Where Does The Sample Go?
If you are comfortable handling your bird and are able to collect the sample yourself, there are mail-in kits available to the individual pet bird owner. You will mail your sample to the laboratory and have results returned by mail. Some labs reply by e-mail or post the results to an online account so you can learn the results as soon as they are obtained.
Your vet or bird professional will use similar means to get you the results after they have collected the sample. After they return your results, you can be confident that you know the sex of your pet bird.
Other Uses of Bird DNA Testing
Bird DNA testing can be useful in some other situations.
Testing for Infectious Diseases
DNA testing is an important diagnostic tool for avian vets when treating pet birds. Birds often present few overt symptoms when they are ill, and often a DNA test is the only reliable way to ensure that the correct treatment options are employed. Some of the diseases and conditions that can be identified through avian DNA testing include:
- Avian Polyomavirus
- Chlamydophila Psittaci (Psittacosis)
- Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
The availability of DNA testing to help with your bird’s ailments is a primary reason to bring your bird to an avian vet who has this technology available.
Curbing Exotic Pet Smuggling
DNA testing can be used as a weapon in the struggle against illegal and harmful smuggling of exotic pets and birds. A piece on nrdc.org details how DNA testing could have made a big difference in the sentence handed down to a smuggler.
Essentially, a man was caught smuggling numerous eggs which he claimed were quail eggs. Unable to refute his assertions, the authorities gave him the minimum sentence for his transgression. Later DNA analysis by some dedicated researchers showed that the eggs belonged to a number of exotic bird species, including the near-threatened yellow-faced parrot.
A system of rigorous DNA testing in smuggling cases can help put a damper on this barbaric practice. All bird lovers should wish to see the creatures they love continue to thrive in their natural habitats, and not be threatened by illegal smuggling.
As you can see, DNA testing can be used for important purposes besides identifying the gender of your pet.