This article will describe the differences between a male goldfinch and female goldfinch (sexing goldfinches) on adult and young birds. There are many ways to identify the goldfinch male and female and it is a bit easier when the birds are adults than when they are very young. Older birds will have all the plumage displayed and the young birds will be very grayish. Two methods will tell for sure the differences between male and female goldfinch. Those are DNA testing and the female will always lay eggs. Also, there are lots of other sex-identifying methods for goldfinches that will help the breeder to have a good idea of what birds they are keeping.
Sexing adult goldfinches.
Some methods are known by most persons that own goldfinches or like to watch them on feeders. Examples like singing, the red mask, etc. Here I will talk about those methods and a few more that I’ve been told about from breeders with experience and used by myself too.
- DNA testing for birds
- Before and during breeding season
- Red mask
- Beak size and shape
- The feathers at the base of the beak
- Yellow mark on the wing
- The tail
- Vent during or close to breeding season.
- The chest
DNA testing for birds
DNA testing is one of the best methods of finding out for sure if your bird is male or female. This can be done any time of the year.
Collection of samples
DNA testing can be done by testing blood samples, feathers, or eggshell samples. It is recommended that the feathers and blood sample harvest be carried out by a person with experience in raising birds, in order to avoid unnecessary stress.
DNA feathers samples
Medium bird species, this would be cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), it takes 4 back feathers.
Large species, like the African gray parrot (Psittacus Erithacus), takes 2 back feathers.
Small species, like the goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), takes 2 tail feathers.
Samples from young birds (follicular feathers) are accepted too. In this case, take 4 or 5 feathers of at least 2 cm.
Pull about 5 feathers from the chest area. Do not use naturally fallen feathers because they do not contain enough DNA for analysis.
When collecting feather samples, check that each feather has the root attached (white part with which the feather attaches to the skin).
DNA blood samples
Blood collection is more complicated than feather collection. Follow the procedure below:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect the bird’s nail with sanitary alcohol.
- Collecting blood samples
Clip the nail with a sharp, clean and previously disinfected nail clipper.
Clip the bird’s nail millimeter by millimeter and let a drop of blood flow on the collection card.
The cut should not be too short so as not to cause discomfort and danger of infection. If no blood drips, try squeezing.
Apply a coagulating powder to the cut nail – this will prevent bleeding and disinfect the area.
Allow the blood drop to dry completely on the collection card
Put the sample in a small plastic bag, this could be a small freezer bag
DNA eggshell samples
From the eggshell, the DNA is extracted based on the blood vessels that remain on it after hatching.
- Sample collection
Collect the eggshell as soon as the chicks hatched.
Allow the eggshell to dry completely.
Put the whole eggshell in the collection kit provided or in an envelope. Tape the envelope to be sure, the eggshell fragment won’t be lost.
Bird species have chromosomes called ZW, they do not have genes with X and Y chromosomes from mammals.
Bird species have a chromosomal designation known as ZW chromosomes which share no genes with the X and Y chromosomes we find in mammals.
Females carry ZW chromosomes and males ZZ. Unlike mammals, female chromosomes determine the sex of offspring.
By testing samples, it can be determined what kind of chromosomes the tested specimen wears.
Goldfinches just before and during breeding season
The best time to find out if you have a goldfinch male or female is just before or during the breeding season. This period begins in late winter or early spring, although it depends on the climate in the area. During the courtship ritual, goldfinches show differences in behavior depending on their sex.
If you have a pair of goldfinches in a cage, you can see that the male goldfinch is trying to feed the female, putting the food directly into her beak.
If there is another male goldfinch in the same cage, it is normal for them to become more aggressive. Female goldfinch will begin to prepare the nest, looking for materials that are useful to create a safe and soft nest.
As you might know already, the female is the only one laying eggs. Always!
If you want your goldfinches to breed, take a look at our article on how to keep goldfinches.
Males are prone to sing melodiously and with greater intensity to attract female’s attention.
Some females sing too, but their song is not as loud and diversified as male’s song.
Try to avoid sexing goldfinches by song during moulting and wintertime as they do not sing as much.
Here are few examples of males and females songs:
Goldfinch Red mask
Males tend to have a larger area of intense red color on their face while female’s is smaller and not as intense.
The red mask extends past the eye of males and just to the center of the eyes of females.
The red mask extends under the beak for both males and females only that for males it goes lower on the neck than for females.
Goldfinch beak size and shape
On some occasions, you will see that the male goldfinch has the beak slightly longer and curved than females.
The small feathers at the base of the goldfinch’s beak
Apart from the beak size and shape described above, the goldfinches have small feathers at the base of their beak sometimes called HAIRS. They also show differences between the sexes. The male’s feathers are very dark, very close to black. The female’s feathers are very light in color very close to brown.
Another part of their head can give you lots of information about the sex of those birds. The black strip at the back of their heads is different too. This is called the CROWN.
Males will display an intense black-colored crown and the females will have some brown feather in it that will make look like a faded black.
Also, in some cases, the cheeks are whiter in males and look very brownish in females.
Open the bird’s wing fully and look at the shoulder. Males have the wing very well defined from the rest of their bodies. The wing color stops and the body color starts. The females have their brown body color extending into the wing until it is disappearing.
Yellow mark on the goldfinch’s wing
Apart from the shoulder, the goldfinch wing provides us with more information about the differences between males and females. The yellow mark on the wings is shorter in females and wider in males.
The tail of the goldfinch
The tail feathers will also tell me the differences between the sexes. The female has the brown body feathers overlapping with the tail feathers in the shape of a fork and when I look at the other end of the tail it can be noticed some white spots that will be smaller and fewer than males.
The male goldfinch has also brown body feathers extending over the tail but it normally finishing with one feather instead of two like the females. Looking at the other end of the tail it can be noticed white spots that are fever than at females.
Goldfinch vent during or close to breeding season.
Throughout the year, the vents of male and female goldfinches appear identical, but during the summer breeding season, if you look closely, you may notice a difference in shape.
When you lightly hold a bird in your hand and blow on the feathers that cover the vent area enough to expose the skin, the vent of a male will appear elongated and prominent, while a hen will be round and flatter. But the timing is important; the difference in shape will be evident only at the peak of the breeding season.
Of course, a laying goldfinch is certainly a female, but if an egg appears while you have two birds in a cage, you can’t assume that one is a male – because hens do not need assistance from males to generate infertile eggs.
In general, the goldfinch male will sit straighter on a perch when the female will have her chest closer to the ground.
The goldfinch chest will give us some information about the gender of the birds. When blown, the male goldfinch will display a couple of yellow feathers when the female will display none.
Even if I said earlier that the adult birds are relatively easier to be sexed, there are occasions when all the marking could get you confused. Here is a photographic study I found about badly marked goldfinches.
So, the final words would be that the only method of being 100% sure of the differences between males and females at any stage of their life would be DNA testing. During the breeding season, the female goldfinch will always lay the eggs.
Sexing young goldfinches
The youngsters are much more difficult to be sexed as the plumage is different from adult birds but even so there are parts of the body that could give us a rough idea of what this could be.
When sexing young goldfinches, known as gray-pates, we can’t get guided by the red mask or the crown or the hairs at the base of the beak or the song as this won’t be present. They will become visible and the song will improve after the first moult.
The parts of the body that could tell the sexes of the birds (same as the adults) would be:
Shoulder color (this could change after the moult)
As mentioned before, this will not be 100% on young birds as everything could change after the first moult but it will help us a little bit.
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