How to Tell If a Bird Is Male or Female

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It is sometimes difficult enough to identify a particular species of bird without then having to decide whether the specimen is male or female. In many cases, though, you will have enough information at your disposal to learn the sex of the bird if you make careful observations. While it is not always possible to come away positively knowing the sex of a bird, you can do it a good portion of the time.

  • Purchase as comprehensive a bird guide as you can afford. A guide of this nature will often list the differences between the sexes of each species, allowing you to have an idea what to look for when in the field. These types of guides will give you a good description of what the male and female of a species look like and often provide a picture of not only the male but the female as well. Use online birding sites such as AllAboutBirds.com and Whatbird.com for definitive descriptions of both sexes of a bird.

  • Differentiate the sexes by the color of the bird. In the majority of instances when you successfully recognize the sex of a bird, this will be how you do it. The male is typically the more colorful bird while the female's color in most species tends to be much drabber. For example, the male northern cardinal is a brilliant red with a black facial mask, while the female is a dull gray-olive color with just touches of light red. The male goldfinch has bright yellow over much of its body; the female does not. Knowing the color pattern of both sexes of a bird will be your best chance to discern the sexes.

  • Observe the bird's behavior around its nest if this is possible. In many species of birds, the female will be both the builder of the nest and then the sole incubator of the eggs. For example, if you were to spy a Canada goose sitting on a nest on the shoreline of a pond, you would know it was a female because in this particular species the female hatches the eggs. The male goose defends the nest from enemies, which would help you to identify him.

  • Listen carefully to the call of a bird to help recognize the sex of the bird. In many cases, the male has the deeper voice. The male great horned owl has a significantly deeper voice than the female possesses, and you will be able to distinguish this difference when the two are calling each other at the same time, which often occurs.

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