It’s spring, which means some of you may have noticed your bird’s behavior has begun to change a bit which may mean, your bird’s hormonal cycle has begun to change. You can expect many changes but above all expect the unexpected.
One of the harshest realities to deal with is the aggression that you might not have seen before which is normal and probably won’t last a long time. Unlike other pets like cats and dogs, you really can’t discipline your bird for this. Hormonal behavior will happen when a parrot hits sexual maturity causing hormones to modify his or her behavior.
Eclectus and African Greys have the ability to breed year round, many times and never show changes in their behavior. They both reach sexual maturity around the age of three and eventually mature and grow out of it. Conversely, Amazon parrots reach sexual maturity between the ages of five and twelve. You can expect a great deal of aggression for one to two years during this period. The good news is Amazon aggression will settle down once they are no longer hormonal.
Although they pose less of a problem, Budgies and other smaller breeds can hit sexual maturity as early as six months. Larger breeds of parrots can wait as many as 16 years to reach sexual maturity. Generally as males come into puberty they will become more vocal and may do something as benign as displaying affection to the person they have chosen as their mate – you. Cockatiels may show off their plumage like the heart-shaped wings of a cockatiel male or spread their wings in a particular way.
Males may also strut whereas females typically don’t. There will be, at the very least subtle signals that will help make you aware of the hormonal changes going on in your bird’s body.
Catherine responded to a recent Facebook question we posted
regarding bird owners hormonal issues with the following comment:
“Oh one more thing, now this is gonna sadden some folk, but also stop “beaking”, meaning the rubbing the birds beak between your fingers, yeah it feels good. But it is a sexual/sensual thing to a bird. Overall physical touch should be limited during these hormonal peaks because they can stimulate hormones, which is the last thing you want.
Even though it is hard, please don’t forget, these are NOT children, they are wild animals, even if tamed to live with humans. And birds that have not been socialized with other birds when they are young or in their formative years, WILL think you are their are possible mates. They become confused, and may be unable to relate to other birds later on. Supervised birdie “play dates” are a good way to allow birds to realize they are BIRDS.” Even a just ride in a car.
It’s important to avoid handling your bird especially in the tail area and around its vent and certainly don’t pull on the tail. More importantly if you have not exercised your bird this would be the time to start, if you are already exercising your bird this would be the time to step it up.
If your bird is making sexual advances towards you or other family members try to redirect their attention by flicking lights on-off, break out their favorite toy or introduce a favorite food or treat.
This would also be a good time to embark on the training program that’s been on your to-do list. New tricks or working with a clicker will pose a positive distraction. For years we’ve recommend re-arranging everything in your bird’s cage at least once a month to distract your bird. If you haven’t done it before, this would be a great time to start. If you’ve ever considered moving the cage to a different location this would be a the time to do it, again because of the distraction to the bird.
On the bright side if you have a very good relationship with your parrot from the beginning when they’re young, sexual maturity may not become a big problem. Conversely parrots that over bond in other words where one person is dominant in their lives can exhibit serious problems as they mature sexually.
Over bonded parrots may bite their primary companion when someone else comes into the room because the parrot perceives him or herself as their companions sexual partner. The parrots may exhibit unusual behavior by rubbing their vent on their owners hands or legs which is their way of trying to initiate copulation. Your best course of action at that point is to return the bird to a stand or its cage without making an issue. The behavior should be ignored and neither promoted nor discouraged.
Sometimes a bird owner will find their bird aggressive not towards them but towards another family member. This is natural behavior much like a wild bird leaving mom and dad and choosing its own mate. If this happens, make sure the family member that the bird has chosen, limits their action with your bird and make sure you spend more time with the bird when that person is around so that you can be sure that you’re the only one to provide all the goodies and all
Other signs that your bird may exhibit while going through hormonal changes:
- Your bird may regurgitate frequently.
- You may find it panting or crouching down with the wings dropped.
- You may see increased shredding (especially paper toys) and the desire to chew more.
- Nest building awareness in general, hiding in dark areas or searching for potential nesting sites – keep your bird away from these areas.
- As well as you know your bird, they will defend this area and perceive you as a threat
- Keep your hen off the floor because she’s probably seeking an area where she could build a good nest.
- Becoming very protective of a particular chosen nesting site.
- Females may be very interested in sources of calcium or other foods rich in protein like eggs and meat.
- Your bird may be rubbing its vent against different objects which is a sign of masturbation.
You can give them something to masturbate with which can be you or a favorite toy, but a two or three inch diameter ball depending upon the size of the bird works well.
There are some medications available to help overcome these trying times which you can discuss with your vet. A drug named Lupron may reduce certain hormones and has been used for birds who have a chronic egg laying problem as well as feather plucking issues.
One the simplest things you can do to help reduce this hormone behavior is to ensure that your bird gets roughly 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness which is what they get in equatorial regions of the world.
A nest can be store bought, or they can be as simple as a cardboard box and unfortunately they may find areas in and around furniture and even shoes. If that’s the case it’s really best to discourage the furniture behavior and\clothing behavior. You can introduce a cardboard box or even a small blanket.
This would also be a time that you will commend yourself or having the forethought to have stick trained your bird. Sometimes you just can’t get through the lunging or aggression, but you do have to be able to take the bird out of the cage and put it back – without being bitten. A dowel rod or wood perch that your bird can step up on, will come in handy for this. It needs to be something they do not fear. The same color as their perch is helpful.
We can never talk enough about filling your birds cage with toys and items they can shred and chew. The more shreddable materials, the better off your bird will be. Take a look at our free bird toy category for ideas that won’t break the bank.
This the time you want to cut back on any high-protein foods like beans, cheese and meat. If your bird is eating a high potency pelleted diet with a lot of protein you want to cut back on some of that by offering more fresh vegetables and a small amount of fruit as excessive sugar is not good at this time. Soft, warm foods can signal to the bird that it’s time to start making and feeding baby birds so cooked foods should not be served. It’s very important to limit both starch and sugar. Presumably starch will increase a birds hormones dramatically.
If you have a hen that has laid eggs it’s best not to take them away whether or not she’s sitting on them and believe me birds can count.
If you take away the eggs she will move to replace what you took so just leave them. It usually takes about a month from the time the first egg is laid in by leaving the eggs there (your bird can count her biological month) which will then tell her when the laying cycle can stop. You can consider boiling the eggs individually letting them cool one by one and give them back to her so they won’t break and stink up the cage. For small species we offer fake eggs for this purpose
If you see your bird at the bottom of the cage and you notice that she’s straining, panting and it looks as though she can’t move her legs she may be egg bound and you want to get her to the vet as soon as possible
Ladies if you ever told a guy to go take a cold shower the same would hold true with your bird except it’s best that you use warm water, this will also help calm them down.
And sadly much like men will blame hormonal changes in women for their moods, this may not always be an accurate assessment and a trip to the vet may be in order.
written by catherine tobsing
approved by mitch rezman