Sexing Tips for Foreign Exotic Doves & Pigeons
By John Pire
This article was found in a folder while cleaning out several boxes of "dove" junk. This article was handwritten, back in 1992. It is on the sexing techniques I found, tried and documented as being accurate on adult and juvenile foreign exotic doves and pigeons. Some of the differences are quite noticeable and some are very minute. Some of these tips work on the juvenile birds and other tips only prove out when the juveniles has attained their adult plumage.
Many dove fanciers will never make the close observations I point out in this article. Then again, reading what is written here may entice you to try and observe the techniques I am about to describe. The sexing techniques I documented were tested and proven on more than the birds in my collection. I have been keeping Foreign Exotic Doves and pigeons for 24 plus years. I had well over sixty different species from 1986 through 1992. I needed a way to sex the non-dimorphic species. In my collection I commonly kept at least three unrelated pair of each species. Many of these tips were also tested on birds from different collections and birds I saw for sale at bird sales or shows.
These tips are presented as an aid to the fanciers. If in doubt about any of the birds in your collection do not hesitate to have them S/S (surgically sexed); DNA sexed or Chromosome sexed.
For example, the tips on the Australian Crested Pigeon were done on 20 birds in my collection over the 5 years I kept them. I also used the techniques on about 30 + Crested not in my collection.
Australian Crested: I first learned of the sexing tip for the Australian Crested after I had bought three pair from different breeders and only ended up with one true pair. This was at a time before the USPS allowed shipping of "pigeons". Airfare was a bit costly so getting a "true" male and female pair was essential. The "true" pair came from a breeder in Northern California. Needless to say I questioned the other fanciers I had gotten the "pairs" from and was told I got what I asked for – a pair of Australian Crested. A pair equals two. I called the breeder I had gotten the ‘true" pair from and asked if he had any extra hens he could sell or trade me. He said yes, he had an extra hen and a deal was struck. I promptly purchased the hen. That was back in about 1987. Through conversations, with this breeder, about the Crested back then, I learned how to sex the birds using the "wing shield patch of color". He had learned this technique from several "old timers" in the dove fancy. From that beginning I observed another difference in the sexes of the Australian Crested Pigeon.
The "wing shield patch of color" of males and females look the same; but there is a difference in this patch of color which will determine the sex of the bird. This tip only works on birds that have attained adult plumage or are at least one year of age. The best situation is to have your birds banded with plastic bands or marked in some way. Without knowing the sex I would use a black and red magic marker to mark the individual birds. You can use any mark you want to identify each bird you’re are going to sex. After sexing, bands can be placed on the proper legs to indicate the sex of each bird. With the bird held in your hand and facing the same way you are the male is banded on his right leg and the female is banded on her left leg.
This tip utilizes the secondary flight covert feather. These feathers contain the reflective patch of color. To make the best comparison you must pull the same feather from each bird. I hold the birds’ wing open and select the feather having the greatest amount of color in it. Take these two feathers into the direct sunlight. Pulling these feathers and holding these feathers in direct sunlight gives the best light reflection. It is also easier than trying to hold both birds to do the comparison. It does not hurt, the bird, to pull a feather. As you hold the two feathers in the sunlight you will see a purplish and blue coloration patch in each feather. Both colors are present in males and females. The greater amount of either color will identify the sex of the respective bird. More of the blue color indicates the bird to be a male. More of the purple will indicate it is a hen. Do you remember which feather came from which bird? You should have marked the feather with the same color marker as you marked the bird you pulled it from. If no difference is noticeable then the birds are of the same sex. When you finally find two feathers showing this difference in blue & purple you will have gained an important sexing tip for the Australian Crested.
I went another step further; if this applied to adults then there might be a tip for the juvenile birds. I tried the "wing shield color patch" tip on the youngster after they had fledged and again after their next molt (the 2nd molt is not the adult molt). Each time these two feathers grew in completely I pulled the same two feathers. No differences were seen until the third or fourth time the same feathers were pulled and compared together. More often it was the fourth time being pulled and re-grown and pulled for comparison that they then could be sexed. Young Crested ten to twelve months were tested and it was noted that pulling the feathers one time and checking for a difference was about 5% accurate. The accuracy increased when the new feathers, which were re-grown are pulled and checked.
In doing this research I began to notice that the "iris color" of the sexes were different. The eye color is only accurate in adult birds. The "iris" in males will have a bright orange color ring at its edge. Female’s lack this orange ring or may have just a trace of it. It will be duller when compared side by side with a male. Her "iris" may also be a greenish gray color lacking any other color.
These two techniques work opposite in the juveniles, the feather comparisons show all the young to be hens. In the eye comparison, the eye color shows all the young to be males.
The feather comparison technique is also accurate in the plumed dove – except the colors are gold and green instead of blue and purple. I have not done any eye comparisons in the Plumed Dove. A well known California breeder of Plumed Doves, who has since died, taught this tip to a select few. He was known for having quite a lot of Plumed Doves.
Sexing juveniles of dimorphic species is quite easy. Some of the dimorphic species are; Ruddy Ground, Ruddy Quail, Blue Ground, Dwarf Turtle, Tambourine and Cape Doves. The juveniles of these species, except the Cape, have plumage similar to the female. The juvenile Capes have a dappled or spotted plumage. This tip can be applied while the young are in the nest or when it fledges. In all but the Cape and Tambourine pull a few feathers in the wing shield, chest or back. If a male; the new feathering will come in showing the male‘s adult coloration. For the Cape, pull a few feathers in the area were his "mask" extends to the chest area in the adult male. If the feathers come in black it is male, if they come in brown it is a female. On the Tambourine pull a "patch" of feathers on the chest, if they come in "white" the juvenile is a male.
The Black-billed Wood Dove can be sexed as adults. It is a bit hard, but close observation of male & female will show the small difference. The area under the chin of both (at the base of the bill) shows the difference: the hen’s dull breast coloration extends to the base of the bottom bill. In the male, his head and neck coloration extends around to the underside of his neck. This is a slight difference and was noticed in two adult pair & four young when they attained the adult feathering. I never owned the Red-billed Blue-spotted or Emerald Spotted Wood Doves, so I cannot state whether this tip will apply to them. I did see a few pictures of a pair of the Red-billed Blue-spotted Wood Dove. It might be possible this sexing tip could apply to this specie.
Sexing the juvenile Common Bronzewing is easy: as the juvenile bird begins to go thru the juvenile molt the feathers on its forehead attain adult colors. If the "ochre" coloration is retained with the new feathers it is an indication the bird is a male. If these "ochre" forehead feathers are replaced with gray colored feathers this is an indication of the bird being a female. This begins at the base of the forehead by the bill and molts towards the back of the head. If you want, a few of these forehead feathers can be pulled & they will come in the adult coloration as described when the young fledge. The pulling of forehead feathers was tested on only two young Brush Bronzewing. The sex was indicated when the new feathers grew back in.
Senegal Doves: the males are usually much brighter across the backs than the hens. The male has a solid dark eye, looks almost black. The female has a brownish "iris" ring and a dark pupil. Of interest – the hatching hair is a sexual dimorphism facet I just recently finished documenting in the seven breeding pair of Senegals in my collection. This aspect has proved to be accurate for the sex of the hatchlings. I am in the process of writing this article for publication (2/01).Article was finished 6/01. Yellow-Eyed Mutation Dimorphism
Green-wing Doves: a dimorphic species. The easiest tip for sexing the juvenile Green-wing while they are in juvenile feathering is to look at their tail feathers. Even the nestling can be sexed (see details below). There is "no" deviation in this fact. The tails feathers of the young are the same color as what they will be in adult plumage. All males will have the dark or blue-gray outer tail feathers. All females will have a "chestnut" coloration in the outer tail feathers. I have not found this fact mentioned in any descriptions of young in any book. The book on the birds from New Guinea (I purchased it for the Imperial Pigeon information) noted the "chestnut" coloration in the adult female Green-wing. In Derek Goodwin’s book, Pigeons and Doves of the World (3rd printing) there is no mention of this obvious color difference in either the adult hen or the juvenile.
The nestling bird in its "barred" plumage can also be sexed. The nestling Green-wing has a red-brown and black "barring" effect. The red-brown feather tip is the indicator of the birds’ sex. One can see this difference when comparing the young. If no difference is noted then the birds are of the same sex. The width of this red-brown tip is what you want to compare. You do not need to pull any breast feathers from each nestling, just look at the two young next together and compare the width of these feather tips. These tips have been measured and the sexes have a different width. The thinner "red-brown" tip is a male. The thicker "red-brown" tip is the female. This can be used before the tail feathers grow in enough to sex the youngster. "Using the tail feather difference is the best and easiest method to use for the Green-wing Dove."
Stephan's Green-wing Dove: I personally observed the two pair of imported Stephan’s Green-wing Dove. One pair had raised a single youngster and it was off the nest. I drove two hours to view this specie and the youngster. I was hoping the owner would allow me to collect some feathers from the adults and the youngster. The owner would not allow me to handle any of the birds or enter the flight cage. At the time I did not own a camera and had forgotten to borrow the son’s 35 mm before leaving. This was the first time this specie had been bred in the US and he did not want any unnecessary intrusions. (G. Scott 1990)
White-crowned Pigeon: sexing adults is easy, typically the male has a white crown and the hen has a dirty white crown. Some hens show the pure white crown; she will still have the characteristic brownish overcast or suffusion across her back and wing shields. The male has a "clear" dark gray almost black coloration on the back and wing shields. Sexing adult White-crowns from the front (even with the hen having a white crown) compare the chest and belly areas. There is a difference. This is best done on a comparison of the birds side by side. The male has a uniform color from bill to vent, The hen looks like she has two gay colors meeting at about the middle; with the lower area seeming a bit lighter than the top half.
Sexing juvenile White-crowns can also be done. The juvenile is similar to the adult hen. First year WC sport a dirty white "half crown". At the base of the top bill the first feathers may be "white". If so, it is a male. If these first feathers are "dirty" white it is a hen. The "eyebrow" feathers will also indicate sex. If "white" it is a male; if they are "dirty white" it is a female. You can also pull a "patch", the size of a dime, of the juvenile feathers on several places. I prefer to do each wing shield and two places on the back. If they come in and you cannot see any color difference the bird is a female. If a male, the feathers will be a "clear" dark color and will standout against the brownish suffusion.
Luzon Bleeding Heart Pigeons & Bartlett Bleeding Heart Pigeons: eye coloration in male and female are different. In Luzon's, males have a "bluish" iris. Females have a "purplish" iris. This eye color difference is also noted in the young when they begin to attain adult plumage (J. Croce 1989). Many fanciers have said this iris coloration is not present in their birds or birds they have seen. I cannot refute their statements. I have seen S/S pairs the owners said this difference was not present. Upon seeing the birds & pointing out the differences they also saw it. I even received a S/S pair that the fanciers adamantly said the iris color was the same. I noticed the bluish & purplish color upon taking the birds from the shipping box. The man who told me and others about this tip suggested taking the birds into a darkened room & using a small penlight or flashlight and shine the light on the bird’s eye. The purplish & bluish coloration will be seen. I personally have not had to use a darkened room yet.
Mountain Witch/ Crested Quail
Hadomi has sent in a tip for sexing this specie of "quail dove".
The link to the picture shows a very definite coloration difference between the
sexes on the vent regions of the birds. Many times the differences are not this
pronounced, but if close observations of the vent regions can be done and one
knows what to look for, then even minute differences can be seen.
(Tip from Jacob Hadomi in Israel)
Pinon Imperial Pigeon: sexing tips done on six imported adults and four captive raised young. The "iris" color difference was noted in the adults, males had a lighter colored "iris" when compared to the hen’s "iris." The width of the white "tail bar" or "tail stripe" also indicated sex. The male had a wider "bar". The vent region also showed coloration differences in the sexes. Males have a light cream and maroon vent area and the hen sports a dark maroon vent region.
Olive Pigeons: Olive Pigeons are not considered to be a dimorphic species. However, as the birds mature the males and females tend to obtain some slight dimorphism. When the males attain 3 or 4 years of age the eye cere begins to obtain an orangish red coloration. With more age this coloration tends to increase a bit. There is also a tendency of the head area to be somewhat darker in the adult hens when compared to the adult male. This coloration is not 100% accurate though. One fancier sexed his Olive Pigeons by the cere coloration and was correct in 7 of the10 birds before he had them surgically sexed.(Tip from Jacob Hadomi in Israel)
Ashy Wood Pigeons: This species has a coloration difference between the sexes. It is best described as the male being a brighter color then the hen. check out the picture of the pair to see this difference. (Tip from Jacob Hadomi in Israel)
In the fruit doves/pigeons I kept, which were and were not dimorphic, differences were noted in "iris" ring color differences. The juvenile fruit doves/pigeons I raised had feathering which was similar to the hen’s coloration. Pulling a few feathers, in the areas which corresponds with the adult male coloration indicated the bird’s sex when the feathers came back in. A note was also made that some of the juvenile "iris" color was different from either adult bird and at about four months would begin getting the color of its sex. The male’s "iris" color if the young was a male and the female’s "iris" color if it was a female. These two tips were utilized in the Black-naped Dove and Pink-necked green Pigeons. The ‘iris" coloration difference of adult birds was noted in Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Spotted Imperial Pigeons, Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Pinon Imperial Pigeons and Black-chinned Fruit Doves. NOTE: in nestling Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans) the pin feathering along the back area looks to be an indication of the bird's sex.
In closing I ask that everyone take a closer look at the species of doves they keep in their collections and apply the tips I have described here. It is hoped that you can learn some of these and apply them to your birds. When you sell your birds to an interested fancier you will be able to guarantee they have a "true" pair (male and female). I would also hope that you impart your sexing tips to them so that they can apply the tips to their birds and pass along the information. It is asked that if you know of other tips for sexing foreign exotic doves and pigeons please drop me a note about it (describing the details). I would also ask that if anyone does have any tips to please share them with other dove fanciers.
Please don’t write me with sexing tips using the well known "thread and needle"; "pencil and string"; "pelvic bone sexing"; the "up or down tail position sexing tip" or any other "old fancier's tip" – these are ONLY 50% accurate. Although, these types of sexing tips become 100% accurate when a known sex is required by a potential buyer. I am not saying the "pelvic" sexing tip does not work. It is the most widely used sexing technique in many species of birds not only for the doves and pigeons. I know many fanciers who have the "knack" for this type of sexing and their "sexed birds" have been verified as correct by producing young.
If you have any tips for sexing your dove/pigeons please share them with IDS, so that other fanciers can benefit. Just use the email link below and send your tips & articles.
J. Pire – rewritten 2000 & updated 2001. Thanks to the fanciers for sharing their sexing tips of the birds in their collections. This article will be updated whenever tips are received and verified as working as they are stated.