Sex chromosomes and sex determining mechanisms in birds

Sci Prog. 1997;80 ( Pt 3):197-216.


The sex chromosomes in birds are designated Z and W, and the male is the homomorphic sex (ZZ) and the female heteromorphic (ZW). In most avian species the Z chromosome is a large chromosome, usually the fourth or fifth largest, and it contains almost all the known sex-linked genes. The W chromosome is generally a much smaller microchromosome, containing a high proportion of repeat sequence DNA. Recently a gene encoding a protein involved in transcriptional activation of chromatin has been detected on the W chromosome. The weight of evidence suggests that sex determination in birds is by a genic balance mechanism, in which the ratio of autosomes to Z chromosomes is the crucial factor. DNA sequences homologous to the testis determining factor in humans have been detected in both male and female birds, but it is not clear that they have a sex-related function in birds. A number of different practical methods have been developed to distinguish the sex of birds, based on sex-linked genes, the amount of DNA per cell and using DNA probes for sex-linked sequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Birds / genetics*
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Male
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Sex Chromosomes / genetics*
  • Sex Determination Analysis
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Sex Differentiation / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Zinc Fingers / genetics


  • Chromatin
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA