Brenda or Bruce

Trying to figure out whether you’ve brought home a Brenda or a Bruce is not always easy when it comes to birds, reptiles and even rabbits.  Luckily our mammal boys will eventually give themselves away once their testicles show up but it’s not always that easy for the others.

Birds are often sexually dimorphic (visually different based on whether they are male or female).  Take the Peacock and Peahen for example – it’s easy to tell who is who.  Some of our parrot-type birds are quite easy to identify as well, while other require DNA testing.

Pacific Parrotlets
In general, the boys are green with pretty blue feathers while the girls are all green.  Even most of the color mutations follow this general pattern.

Boys usually have a bright blue cere and are more likely to speak while girls have a lilac or brown cere and just chirp.  This only a guide!  I’ve see more than one budgie with a blue cere who talked lay a few eggs!  If you have a male budgie whose cere changes color from blue to brown, bring him in to the vet.  Estrogen is the cause of brown colored ceres – any true male who has that much estrogen in his system may have a tumor producing it.

male budgie head female budgie head



They used to be very obvious.  With the original, or wild type, coloration boys have bright orange cheek patches and girls have spots and stripes on the wing and tail feathers.

But people have been breeding them for all sorts of color mutations and now it can be a little harder to tell who’s who.  Check out the American Cockatiel Society or the North American Cockatiel Society for a more in-depth review of cockatiel colors and mutations.

One thing to keep in mind is that all cockatiels start out in “girl feathers”.  When they molt into their adult feathers the boy coloration will show up.  This is especially noticeable when your pretty pearly cockatiel turns out to be a boy and looses all that pretty pearly-ness.

pipper sm

Adult females tend to have red eyes but it’s not a guarantee. Those guys can sure tell themselves apart. We walked a bald female cockatoo past a male one day and you should have seen his eyes pin. He started a preening dance right away. Sadly for him, she wasn’t impressed.

African Grey
Female: belly (or ventral) feathers start dark but usually switch to light farther out
Males: belly (or ventral) feathers start dark and may blend into lighter feathers father out

There’s no way for us to sex them!  However, recent research shows that these guys may have different colorations…in the ultraviolet spectrum. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future we’ll just shine a light on your bird and be able to tell you

If you have to know for sure, DNA sexing is easy and requires just a drop of blood.  Surgical sexing can also be performed but most folks don’t need to go to that extent.

That’s a bit of a broad category, but they are much like Amazons – they keep their biology shrouded in mystery.


Who cares? 
For most companion birds, male vs female is not important.  However, there are illnesses that are specific to reproductive organs.  Knowing that you do or don’t have a girl in your hand can save time if egg related problems are a concern.

Of course, if you are trying to get more birds you’ll be a lot more successful if you pair up a boy with a girl!

Hay, It’s Not Just for Rabbits

What’s This Hay Stuff All About?
Hay is the primary food for most of our small mammals like rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.  While rats, mice and hamsters will benefit from hay in their environment, they don’t need to eat it.  Pellets are very nutrient dense.  They can lead to obesity if overfed.  Pellets should only be a very small portion of your pets daily food intake.  On the other hand, grass hays provide the high fiber, low protein diet these small exotic mammals need.

Ok, So Which Hay?
All grass hays provide appropriate nutrients -that doesn’t mean your pet won’t have a preference.  The most common grass hay is Timothy hay.  It is readily available and usually a good choice for that reason alone.  Some people feel that Guinea Pigs prefer Orchard Grass hay.  It has a softer texture and a sweeter flavor.  Oat Hay has a high stem content resulting in a “crunchy” texture.  There are usually several immature seed heads present as well.  Organic Meadow Hay is generally a mix of several types of grass hays.  Keep in mind that different bags of hay will vary in color, taste, texture and smell – variations in soil, sunshine and weather cause these changes.  It is a good idea to transition between bags of hay (even bags of the same variety) rather than perform a sudden switch.  A good way to prevent hay bag snobbery (your pet won’t eat his or her new hay) is to offer a variety of hay all the time.

But What About Alfalfa?
Alfalfa hay is NOT a grass hay – it is a legume.  It has higher values of protein, calcium and energy.  Alfalfa hay is recommended for young, growing animals.  It can be used as a treat to tempt older animals that aren’t eating well.  In some cases, Alfalfa pellets may be appropriate in small quantities for show bunnies or pregnant bunnies because of their higher energy needs.

How Much Hay?
Small mammals should always have hay available – free choice feeding.  In general, a rabbit should consume its body size in hay daily, while chinchillas and guinea pigs eat about two times their body size.

OK, But How Much…Is There Too Much?
Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

Isn’t this a happy bunny?  Now look at him without his hay…

Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

Not Just Food! 

One of the other “uses” for hay is to provide environmental enrichment.  Hay can stimulate natural behaviors such as foraging and grazing.  Hide treats (low sugar, high fiber treats that is) in baskets or hay mangers.  Provide deep piles for your pet to burrow through or hide in.  Even mammals that don’t eat hay can enjoy both a sense of security and fun from a large pile of hay.  Rats, mice, hamsters…even ferrets!

Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

A Final Word on Hay

One very important job of hay is to help our pets with “open root” teeth is to wear them down.  “Aradicular” or “Elodont” teeth have continuously growing teeth.  The teeth of rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas are all open-rooted, while in rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils it is only the incisors that continuously grow.  The best way to keep these teeth in shape is to be chewing long stems of fibrous plants (also known as hay!).  Without an appropriate grinding motion, open-rooted teeth can grow inappropriately, develop points and even grow in the wrong direction.  Once the tooth becomes abnormal only a dental procedure under anesthesia can correct the problem.