In the next couple of weeks we will be looking to find out the sexes of some of last years hatchlings and I thought I’d take the chance to explain how we find out whether our birds are male or female. With newly hatched chicks it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the sexes so we tend to wait until early the following year to find out what we have.
With some species there are obvious differences between boys and girls. You can often tell by colour, size or shape. For species such as pheasant and ducks you often find that the males are elaborately feathered whilst the females tend to be duller in colour. This is because with these species the males often have nothing to do with incubating the eggs and therefore do not have to blend in with their surroundings The bright colours are all designed for a male pheasant to attract a mate.
Below are some pictures of male and female pheasants, see if you can work out which is which (answers at the bottom!)
Occasionally in the bird world though you find the females are the brightly plumed sex. Pharalopes (a small wader family found in the UK) are a good example, females are brightly coloured, fight over males and do none of the incubation.
With some species there are noticeable differences in size and shape between the sexes. In most species males tend to be larger than females. Good examples are the Pelicans, where the males tend to be bulkier, and Humboldt Penguins, where the males tend to have larger faces (aka a double chin!). Having said that we do have a male Humboldt called Chloe……(blame the person who originally adopted the bird)
Male Humboldt with enlarged lower jaw
With some species females are sometimes larger as is the case with many species of Owl. Often the females do the majority/all of the incubation and although the males are present, the girls are the first line of defence for the nest and eggs.
Sometimes it is hard to see size differences and we have to go on biometrics (i.e. measurements). Flamingos are a good example. Some of our males are obviously much taller but sometimes it can be too close to call. If you measure from ankle to knee on a Greater Flamingo you can get an almost 100% accurate answer as to what sex your bird is (greater than 28cm = male)
With many species though there is no way to distinguish between the sexes and to find out whats what we have to resort to DNA testing (NOT like Jeremy Kyle!). This is achieved by taking a sample of feathers from the bird and sending them off to the labs. This process does no harm to the birds and is like having a hair cut. From the sample of feathers there will be enough DNA available for the labs to reveal whether or bird is male or female.
White Naped Crane – very similar in colour and appearance.
In the next few weeks we will be sexing Magpies, Doves, Frogmouth & Bee-Eater and we’ll reveal the results here.
The answers to the pheasants are (in order) – Female Edwards Pheasant, male Golden Pheasant, female Temmincks Tragopan, male Temmincks Tragopan & male & female Vulturine Guineafowl (no difference)
In news these week Humboldts Chloe & Myrtle have produced 2 eggs. Chloe is a proven breeding male (see earlier notes) whereas this is Myrtles first time of laying eggs. Incubation is around the 40 day mark.
The Black Necked Swans have at least 4 eggs now and are sat tight on their trout pond nest
2 female Crowned Plovers went to Marwell
In the next few days we are expecting new Humboldt Penguins from Dudley Zoo, with a male Azure Wing Magpie going in the opposite direction. A male Roul Roul Partridge is also due to arrive.
We have moved 2 Bartlett’s Dove as they are now reaching maturity and we wish for the adults to breed again this year.
Several of the King Penguins are now moulting, including Colin, Norman & Lily. At this time we remove their tags where they get a little tight. Moulting can lead to breeding/courtship and there is a lot of displaying & vocalising going on – eggciting times (see what I did there! – credit Mrs Amy Keen)
There still a lot of wildlife about with Sparrowhawk the highlight seen this week