Most parrot species are sexually monomorphic, meaning humans can’t tell the difference between males and females. Those of us who live with these fascinating creatures play the guessing game. We stereotype, thinking we know the subtle differences in mannerisms and shape and size of the beak, head and body between males and females. We’ve compiled enough data through the years to make pretty accurate guesses. We discuss with our friends; we place wagers. But we still get thrown the occasional curve ball and that petite, sweet Congo Grey that definitely must be a girl turns out to be a boy. Or that Sun Conure we all thought was a boy lays an egg. And until we have that DNA result, we’ll always wonder: is this bird a boy or girl?
When Benji came to me, my friend Lisa and I thought she was a girl. Those of us who know Double yellow-headed Amazons (DYA), know that the boys can be slightly larger and their temperaments can be, how do you say? Obnoxious? Pushy? This isn’t always the case, of course. I also live with a DYA, Frankie, that is very large for her species. But her personality betrays her, and my suspicions of female were confirmed when I received her DNA results. Now we have Benji, who not only had that girlie demeanor, but also weighs in at only 380 grams. Small for a bird that typically weighs between 445 and 650 grams. We can attribute this to inadequate diet or muscle wasting from frozen wings, but her physical presentation also hints at underlying medical conditions that may have adversely affected her physical and emotional state. In a nutshell, Benji probably felt like crap.
But as Benji settled in–relaxed into an environment of positive energy, wholesome food and natural light–her behavior changed. I noticed the big, blocky head when she was excited, the pinning eyes and vampiresque delight when chasing my husband, Dave, and I became suspicious of an incorrect gender labeling. What’s a human to do? We lack the natural tools, the specialized vision, to correctly label, with 100% accuracy, the sex of these birds.
Had Benji not needed blood work to precisely diagnose her medical needs, I wouldn’t have subjected her to a veterinarian visit and needle poke in the jugular for samples. However, she did and it was the perfect opportunity to take a little extra blood for the coveted DNA analysis. Finally, Lisa and I could use the proper pronoun for Benji because proper use of the English language when interacting with our parrots is of the utmost importance!
Two weeks later, the results were in.
And the gender is…