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Dimorphic: Bird Term of the Day

Definitions of words used by pet bird enthusiasts with the pet bird slant.

By Angie Hendrickson

Derbyan parakeets (Psittacula derbiana) are the largest of the Psittacula parrots.
Many Psittacula parrots are sexually dimorphic, with the males having brighter colors than the females, like with this Derbyan parakeet male (right) and Derbyan parakeet female.

Sexually dimorphic means that it’s easy to tell whether a bird is male or female just by looking at them. This could be through size, color or a number of other characteristics on a parrot or bird.

If you watch the birds in your backyard, you’ll notice a number of sexually dimorphic birds. For example, male cardinals are bright red, while female cardinals tend to be brown with only a little red on them. Other birds like chickens, turkeys and peacocks also have very obvious differences between males and females.

In parrots, it can often be hard to tell a bird’s sex just by looking at it. Parrots living in the forests or jungles of Africa or the Americas tend to be sexually monomorphic. This includes birds such as macaws, Pionusconures and most Amazon parrots. Australian and Asian parrots tend to be sexually dimorphic, as do other birds that live in arid climates. For example, female Eclectus are red and blue with a black beak, and male Eclectus are bright green with an orange beak. Male and female Eclectus look so different that at first scientists thought they were two different species! Ring necks (and other Psittacula), budgerigars (aka budgies or parakeets), cockatiels (normal grays; some mutations) and cockatoos are also sexually dimorphic, although not quite as extreme.

Tip: If you’re unsure about your bird’s sex, an avian vet can help you or you can mail-order a DNA-test kit, many of which can determine your pet bird’s sex by submitting a molted feather. Knowing a bird’s sex can be important in emergency situations because it will easily help you rule out some concerns, such as egg-binding in a male bird.


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Qing, Rochester, NY
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