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Home > Birds > Male or Female Cockatoo? How to Identify the Differences (Vet Answer)

Male or Female Cockatoo? How to Identify the Differences (Vet Answer)

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cockatoos are a family of 21 species of parrots, some of which are kept as pets all over the world. They are known for their trademark crests, intelligence, ability to learn tricks, ability to dance, and beauty. Cockatoos come in a variety of sizes. The smallest cockatoo is the cockatiel, the second most common pet bird in the world. Larger cockatoos are more challenging to keep as pets but offer a great sense of fulfillment to their owners nonetheless. 

As a pet cockatoo owner (or prospective owner), you might be curious if it’s possible to tell males apart from females. It is possible to tell the gender of some species of cockatoos by looking at mature adults for some key differences. In this article, we’ll look at which species can be sexed visually, how it can be done, and how you can sex species that don’t display differences between males and females.



Cockatoo Families

Broadly speaking, cockatoos are categorized into three large families: white cockatoos, black cockatoos, and cockatiels. White cockatoos do not display any reliable form of sexual dimorphism. In other words, it’s not possible to tell males apart from females, and anecdotal tips to identify a bird as either male or female aren’t reliable. Black cockatoos, on the other hand, do display sexual dimorphism. Cockatiels are classified in their own family, and the most common types of cockatiels (gray-bodied with a yellow head) can be visually sexed once they are adults.


White Cockatoos

White cockatoos are composed of two sub-genera: the “true” white cockatoos (Cactua) and the “false” white cockatoos (Licmetis). Several species of the Cactua subgenus are popular as pets. Examples of such birds include the Salmon Crested Cockatoo and the Yellow Crested Cockatoo.

Image By: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock

All birds in the subgenus Licmetis have pale-colored beaks and crests that aren’t conspicuously colored. An example of a cockatoo in this subgenus is the Red Vented Cockatoo

Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock

Determining Sex (For White Cockatoos)

All species of cockatoos classified as white cockatoos do not show any reliable sexual dimorphism. In other words, a male cannot be distinguished from a female simply by looking at the two birds. Anecdotal evidence does suggest some differences, but these are unreliable. For example, female Salmon-crested cockatoos are sometimes larger than their male counterparts. However, in other species, such as the Sulphur-crested cockatoo, adults are of the same size and only display minor differences that can’t be easily observed, especially from a distance. 

If you’re lucky, you might be able to sex your white cockatoos if they end up breeding (though this doesn’t always happen in captivity). Here are some signs you may notice:

Signs of Courtship
  • During the breeding season, males strut towards females with an erect crest and their tail feathers spread wide. They also bob and flick their heads and emit a trademark low ‘chuckling’ sound to woo a female. However, this courtship dance is only observed in non-paired birds. Cockatoos are monogamous, so a pair of cockatoos that have bonded will save time and energy by foregoing all mating dances and rituals for future mating seasons.
  • Egg laying is the most obvious sign that your cockatoo is a female. But waiting for this is not a reliable sign as some female cockatoos may never lay eggs.
Image Credit: Right Arts Photography, Shutterstock

Outside their mating season, there’s no reliable way to tell a male apart from a female by just looking at your bird. The best way to sex your bird is to have your veterinarian collect a sample from your bird (either blood or some molted feathers) and send it to a lab. These procedures are often cost-effective and very reliable and remain the best way to sex any cockatoo that’s considered a white cockatoo. 


Determining Sex (For Black Cockatoos)

The species of cockatoos classified as black cockatoos do show sexual dimorphism when they’re mature. This makes it very easy to identify them visually by looking for some key traits unique to males and females. Let’s look at some popular species of black cockatoos and the key differences between males and females for the species.

Red Tailed Black Cockatoo

This is one of the easiest cockatoos to tell apart, even from a distance. The male is jet black and has a broad band of bright red feathers in his tail and a dark gray beak. The female is a slightly duller shade of black, with yellow speckles on her head and breast, and has yellow patches on her tail. Her beak is also slightly paler.

Image Credit: Miroslaw Skorka, Shutterstock

Glossy Black Cockatoo

Similar to the Red Tailed Black Cockatoo, the Glossy Black Cockatoo shows sexual dimorphism. The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at their heads. Males have a browner color on their heads and underparts. On the other hand, a female Glossy Black Cockatoo usually has yellow markings around her head.

Image Credit: David Cook, Creative Commons

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo

In this species, the female has a larger yellow cheek patch than the male. She also has a pale gray eye ring and a white upper bill. In males, the eye ring is pink and the upper bill is gray in color.

Image Credit: Jukka Jantunen, Shutterstock

Palm Cockatoo

The easiest way to tell a female palm cockatoo apart from a male is by looking at their beaks. A female’s beak is white horn-colored. Males, on the other hand, have black beaks. The yellow markings on mature females are also usually more pronounced than they are on males.

Image Credit: Karel Bartik, Shutterstock


Determining Sex (For Cockatiels)

Cockatiels are available in many different colors. They are the smallest members of the cockatoo family. The easiest color combination of cockatiels that can be visually sexed are those with a gray body and a yellow head. In gray cockatiels, the male has more striking facial features: vivid orange spots standing out on a bright yellow backdrop. The female’s face has lighter orange spots on either a muted yellow or gray backdrop.

Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock


Should I Perform a DNA Test for my Black Cockatoo or Cockatiel?

Generally speaking, it’s always a good idea to have your veterinarian perform tests on your bird to identify their sex. Despite the obvious differences between males and females of certain species and different perceived trainability, DNA sexing is warranted for several reasons:

Reasons To Have Your Cockatoo DNA sexed
  • The obvious differences between males and females don’t show themselves until they are sexually mature (this can take up to 4 years in some species of cockatoos).
  • Though it may be easy to tell males from females when they’re seen together, it may be tricky to identify the sex of your cockatoo if you have just one pet bird.
  • There are several color variations and breeds of different species of cockatoos that may not display very obvious signs of sexual dimorphism.
  • In addition to a DNA-sexing test, your vet can provide your bird with a full check-up while they are taken in for the procedure and can help you identify the early signs of potential issues (if any).


Final Thoughts

Cockatoos are popular pets that comprise several species. White cockatoos cannot be reliably identified as male or female by visual appraisal alone. Most black cockatoos and cockatiels, on the other hand, display sexual dimorphism, and in most cases, males and females can be identified by looking for key differences when your bird is sexually mature.

Featured Image Credit: Squirrel_photos, Pixabay

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