Owners trying to pair bond their males and females in the hopes of raising chicks might find themselves totally perplexed by mate aggression. I will try to demystify this phenomenon in the article below.
Mate aggression is a common issue faced by bird owners keeping male and female parrots together.
To put it simply, birds often display aggressive behavior towards their mates during the breeding season and can potentially harm the latter.
Finding your feathered friends fighting in the cage can indeed be worrisome. In this article, we’ll be getting a better understanding of mate aggression in birds and what you can do about it.
Do Birds Fight When They Mate?
To new bird owners, mating birds might appear to be fighting due to their position and the fluttering of wings.
However, there’s a stark distinction between fighting and mating behavior.
When mating, the male usually mounts the female calmly. The flutter of wings would be noticeable but brief.
Overall, the behavior is much quieter and more subtle compared to fighting.
With that said, you should note that birds do sometimes fight while mating.
More specifically, they tend to fight if one of them is ready to mate while the other isn’t. Other factors like dominance and the lack of stimulation may be responsible too.
What Are The Factors That Lead To Mate Aggression?
Mate aggression isn’t uncommon in parrots and may arise from various reasons. Potential contributing factors include:
Birds display varying levels of aggression as a part of their sexual behavior during the hormone seasons.
Behaviors like masturbation and egg laying are harmless, but sometimes sexual aggression may also lead to undesirable behavior in birds.
Common effects of sexual aggression include screaming and overly territorial behavior. Often, it affects the bird’s mating behavior, too, leading to mate aggression.
This happens especially when the male bird is ready to breed while the female isn’t.
Mate aggression due to dominance problems may occur in both male and female birds.
The more dominant bird between the two would try to control its mate. This can lead to fights and result in the victim getting injured or killed.
A common example of dominance-related mate aggression is when the dominant mate (usually the male) forces its mate to stay within the nest box.
In the process, it might brutalize the female’s head or/and crush her beak.
Owner-bonded birds may also display this type of mate aggression towards their owner, who they consider to be their mate.
They feel that their “mate” would be safer inside the cage/nest box. Consequently, these birds try to force the person into the cage by being aggressive.
Lack of physical and mental stimulation
Stimulation and activities are crucial to a bird’s health, both physically and psychologically. The lack of stimulation is one of the most common reasons behind aggressive behavior in birds.
A parrot that lacks sufficient physical and mental stimulation might also turn aggressive toward its mate.
Lack of experience
Birds raised in captivity may not always get the opportunity to observe natural mating/breeding behavior.
When put in a breeding situation, such a bird might attract sexual aggression from its mate. An inexperienced bird might also panic and get defensive toward sexual advances.
Stress is another possible reason behind mate aggression in birds. Noises or eye contact made by a male parrot might trigger mate aggression in other males of the same species.
Are Female Birds More Aggressive or Males?
Typically, female birds are less aggressive and dominant than males. Mate aggression is mostly displayed by male birds.
There are a few exceptions, though. In some bird species, such as Eclectus parrots, the females are more dominant and tend to be more aggressive than the males.
You might also want to note that while mate aggression isn’t as common among female birds as it is among males, the females can still be aggressive due to territorial behavior.
It’s very common for female birds to be protective of their nest and eggs and act aggressively towards anyone who invades their space.
How To Know if Your Birds Are Fighting or Mating?
As I pointed out earlier, you might find it a bit confusing to determine if your birds are fighting or mating.
In case you’re unsure whether to intervene, watch out for the following signs – they indicate aggression between the birds.
- Hissing: Birds hiss to threaten or warn someone to get away from them. It’s one of the most obvious signs of aggression in parrots.
- Biting feet: If your parrots seem to be biting each other’s feet, they’re fighting. It’s a way for birds to forcibly remove another bird from a perch. The female bird unwilling to mate might do it to get away from a sexually aggressive male.
- Squawking and screaming: Violent vocalizations are a clear sign that the birds are fighting rather than mating. If you hear your birds squawking or screaming, get to the cage immediately and break up the fight.
- Violent wing flapping: There’s a clear distinction between the way birds flutter their wings while mating and while fighting. When birds fight, they violently flap their wings in an attempt to hit each other.
- Wrestling: Remember, when birds mate without any aggression, they do it calmly. If your birds are wrestling on the floor, they are in a serious fight and might injure each other unless you intervene.
What is the Most Aggressive Parrot Species?
Cockatoos, macaws, and Amazon parrots are particularly aggressive. They also have nasty bites that can cause severe injuries or even infections.
In regards to mate aggression, cockatoos are particularly notorious. However, it’s also found in relatively friendlier parrot species like lovebirds and cockatiels.
New bird owners would do well to start with smaller parrots like budgies and cockatiels.
Even though they display mate aggression, too, they are less likely to cause severe injuries than larger species like macaws.
Do Parrots Kill Each Other While Mating?
Well, parrots don’t intentionally kill each other while mating. However, as I explained earlier, they can get aggressive while mating.
Mate aggression may prove to be fatal if the aggressor injures its mate too badly.
Do note that this is only an issue with domesticated parrots. Mate aggression isn’t seen in wild parrots, possibly because they have plenty of options when choosing a mate.
Bird breeders, on the other hand, have to be very careful.
How Can You Prevent Mate Aggression in Parrots?
By now, it should be clear to you that mate aggression must be prevented among pet birds at all costs. Especially if you plan to breed parrots, keep the following tips in mind.
Remove repeat offenders from breeding programs
Before putting male birds in breeding scenarios, consider their track record.
Any male that has a history of repeated mate aggression should be removed from breeding programs entirely.
It reduces the number of males that you can use for breeding, but it’s much safer this way.
Use parent-raised breeder birds
Hand-raised parrots make great pets, but they aren’t the best choice for breeding purposes.
Apart from the different behavioral problems they might display, these parrots might also find mating scenarios stressful.
Parent-raised birds, especially those caught in the wild, make far better breeders.
Use large cages or aviaries
Providing birds with a larger cage is very effective at reducing mate aggression.
It would be even better if you could use an aviary large enough to offer the birds some space to fly around.
This way, the females will have a better chance of getting away from aggressive males. For the best results, use aviaries that are at least 30 feet long and 15 feet wide.
Separate parrots of the same species
Since the presence of rival males can stress out male birds, it’s best not to keep the same species of parrots in adjacent cages or aviaries.
Keeping them in separate cages can help reduce mate aggression.
There are mixed opinions about this, with some breeders claiming to have successfully housed parrots of the same species next to each other. However, keep in mind that they achieved this using spacious outdoor aviaries – it may not be a viable option for everyone.
Either way, make sure the nest boxes are placed in a way that they remain sheltered and out of sight of other parrots. This is something you can’t afford to compromise on.
Setting up the nesting boxes
Speaking of nesting boxes, it’s a good idea to provide several of them in the aviary. This way, the birds can choose whichever nest location they prefer the most.
It will significantly reduce their exposure to stress-inducing elements and help prevent mate aggression.
I’d recommend using nesting boxes with two openings. It will allow the female to escape if it’s not ready to mate or if the male gets too aggressive.
Also, make sure there are no perches near the nest box. A perch would allow the mail to hold the female captive in the nest box.
Wing clipping is a common practice to keep pet birds from escaping, but it can also help prevent aggressive makes from chasing down their mates.
By clipping the wings of males that have shown signs of mate aggression before, you can allow the hens to escape by flying. That is, considering the hen is fully flighted.
However, if you have to clip a bird’s wings due to excessive mate aggression, you should reconsider placing it in a breeding scenario in the first place.
Even with clipped wings, the aggressive male might be able to attack the hen in the nest box.
This is another way you may physically alter aggressive birds to make them less dangerous, though there are ethical considerations surrounding it.
It’s possible to surgically bisect the lower beak while leaving the upper one intact.
Beak-altered birds have two freely moveable lower beaks, and the two cannot be bridged back together again.
This significantly reduces the bird’s ability to tear and crush things with his beak and, in turn, his ability to injure the hen if he gets aggressive.
However, beak alteration also has severe implications for a bird’s feeding habit.
It will no longer be able to crush nuts and certain seeds. Drinking water might prove to be difficult too. Additionally, a make with a defunct lower beak won’t be able to nurture the chicks.
Hence, it’s no surprise that the practice of beak alteration is considered inhumane in the UK and many other countries.
Although authorities in the US apparently condone the practice, here’s my take on it.
Since mate aggression is unique to aviculture and absent in wild birds, it’s not a natural behavior. We shouldn’t punish and mutilate birds for behavior arising from human practices.
Instead, it would be logical and ethical to deploy other, more humane measures to prevent mate aggression.
Provide adequate stimulation
Not getting sufficient activity and stimulation can turn a bird aggressive – remember? Make sure to provide a stimulating environment in the aviary.
One of the possible reasons why mate aggression doesn’t exist among wild birds is that in the wild, they have plenty of things to do.
Just like pet birds at home, provide your breeder birds with exciting toys.
Fresh branches are easy to obtain, and adding some to the aviary can be very helpful. In the wild, birds like to chew on leaves and branches to customize their environment.
Teach your birds to forage and prevent food in a way that requires them to put in some effort to obtain the food. There are various foraging ideas that you could try.
Set up multiple bird feeders and water bowls
Place at least two bird feeders and water sources in the aviary. Dominant birds often prevent their mates from eating or drinking, which is another trait of mate aggression.
Especially during the breeding season, female birds need sufficient nutrition. Egg laying can be very stressful on their bodies, especially in terms of calcium usage.
In case the female isn’t ready to mate, temporarily separating the birds is an easy solution for preventing mate aggression. When the hen is ready, she’ll start working the nest box and calling the male. You may then put them back together again.
In this regard, keep in mind that you should always remove the male parrot when temporarily separating a pair. Removing the female can cause the male to grow territorial of the aviary. He might then attack the female once she’s reintroduced.
Are Cockatoos Aggressive?
While cockatoos are quite friendly, they’re also notorious for getting aggressive at times, especially when they are hormonal.
Mate aggression, too is very common in this species of parrot. Cockatoo owners and breeders must take the necessary measures to protect their birds.
These large parrots can get very aggressive, which, put together with their size and bite force, can be a fatal combination. It’s not very unusual for female cockatoos to die due to mate aggression.
What Does Cockatoo Aggression Look Like?
Aggressive cockatoos may lunge at people and other birds and potentially try to bite them. Other common aggressive behaviors like hissing and loud squawking are seen in cockatoos too.
Another sign of aggression you should watch out for is the bird marching towards its mate (or anyone else) with its head low.
Aggressive cockatoos do this to frighten someone and might try to force the female into the nest box this way.
Do note that there’s no reason to worry if your cockatoo marches forward with its head held up. This is a sign that the cockatoo feels happy in the presence of its company.
What To Do If Your Cockatoo is Being Aggressive?
In case your cockatoo displays mate aggression, your priority should be to keep the female safe. Separate them temporarily and give the male cockatoo some toys to keep him busy.
Besides this, the easiest way to deal with aggressive behavior in birds is to get rid of the aggression-inducing stimuli.
If the cockatoo is feeling stressed due to something in particular, remove it from the bird’s environment.
Why Is My Female Cockatiel Attacking the Male?
Since male cockatiels are the more dominant sex, watching your female cockatiel attack the male might seem a bit odd. There are mainly two possible reasons why she might be doing it.
- Bonding: The female may have bonded with you and considers you to be her mate. In this case, she would see the male as a potential rival.
- Territorial behavior: In case the female cockatiel has grown too territorial over the nest box, she might attack the male if he gets too close.
Why Is My Male Cockatiel Attacking the Female?
Despite being known for their friendly temperament, male cockatiels might sometimes be aggressive towards females. Like in the case of other birds, mate aggression in cockatiels is usually a result of the female being unready or unwilling to breed.
The dominance problems I described earlier might be responsible for the male cockatiel’s aggression too. Due to their territorial nature, they might also get into fights if the cage is too small.
Can Cockatiels Kill Each Other?
Unfortunately, cockatiels end up killing each other if they get into a serious fight. Usually, it’s the result of mate aggression, with the male bird killing his partner.
This might occur even in cockatiel pairs that have been bonded for years.
Bird breeders should also note that male cockatiels that have killed their partner once might do it again.
Hence, killer male cockatiels should not be placed together with females, even if they have been killed only once.
What To Do if Cockatiels Are Being Aggressive?
First and foremost, do not yell at the aggressive cockatiel or punish it – that would only make matters worse. If the aggression stems from territorial behavior, moving the cage to a neutral location might help.
For the usual kind of mate aggression, i.e., the female not being ready to mate, temporary separation would be the best choice.
Eclectus Parrot Aggression
What Are The Triggers For Eclectus Parrots To Fight?
Aggression due to hormonal influence is very common in Eclectus parrots.
Although the females are more dominant, hypersexuality can lead to sexual aggression in the males too. Hypersexuality in male Eclectus parrots arises from prolonged mating periods.
Usually, the females reject the advances of the males after laying the second egg.
This triggers the release of GnIH in males, quickly diminishing their sex drive by lowering their testosterone levels.
However, in case the female doesn’t signal the end of the mating phase, elevated testosterone levels would lead to aggression in the males.
Besides this, both male and female Eclectus parrots are very territorial. They might get into fights if they feel their personal space is being invaded by the other parrot.
How Do Eclectus Parrots Attack?
Eclectus parrots attack the same way as pretty much any other parrot. However, their way of expressing stress and fear is completely different.
Most parrots scream and fly off when they are stressed or frightened. On the contrary, Eclectus parrots grow very quiet and still.
How Do Eclectus Parrots Defend Themselves?
When faced with a threat, an Eclectus parrot would first try to escape by flying off. However, if escape isn’t possible, they use their beaks to fight and fend off the aggressor.
In a cage or aviary, it would usually be the latter unless the aviary is large enough for the attacked parrot to fly and keep its distance from its attacker.
What To Do if My Ecelctus Parrot is Being Aggressive?
The Eclectus parrot isn’t as much of a screamer as other parrot species, but if they do start screaming, just remain calm and wait for them to finish.
Avoid trying to feed or handle the bird while it is screaming, as that would only reinforce the behavior.
However, mate aggression in Eclectus parrots requires immediate intervention from bird owners if the parrot gets physically aggressive.
Smaller Parrots: Parakeet & Lovebird Aggression
What Does Parakeet/Lovebird Aggression Look Like?
Aggressive behavior in smaller parrots may vary from one species to another.
Parakeets are known for being loud and tend to squawk with their wings raised. Depending on the level of aggression, they might also bite.
Aggressive lovebirds may fight by pecking and biting at each other’s beaks and feet. A lovebird’s bite can be very painful, so make sure to intervene and break the fight.
Why Is My Male Parakeet/Lovebird Attacking My Female?
Although male and female parakeets and lovebirds bond very well with each other, they might also get into fights for various reasons.
The female may have chosen someone else as her mate and decided that the male is no longer suitable to be a partner. Fights may also break out due to territorial behavior and mate aggression.
Can Parakeets/Lovebirds Kill Each Other During Mating?
Despite their usual friendly demeanor, lovebirds and parakeets can get quite aggressive when they are hormonal. This can lead to mate aggression, potentially leading to one of the birds getting killed by its partner.
What To Do if My Parakeet/Lovebird is Being Aggressive?
The best way to deal with an aggressive lovebird or parakeet is to ignore the bad behavior. Any attention you show will only reinforce the behavior because the bird would want your attention.
However, if one of your birds starts attacking the other, it’s best to remove the aggressor from the cage.
Remember to bird-proof your home before allowing an aggressive bird to stay outside the cage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do female parrots attack male parrots?
Female parrots may attack male parrots for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is to establish dominance and assert their authority within the group.
Female parrots are often the primary caregivers and protectors of their young, and they may see male parrots as a potential threat to their offspring.
In some cases, female parrots may also become aggressive towards male parrots during mating season when they are trying to establish a mate.
This behavior is not exclusive to parrots, as many other animals exhibit similar aggression towards members of the opposite sex for various reasons.
Why is my female bird suddenly aggressive?
There could be several reasons why your female bird is suddenly aggressive.
One common reason is that the bird may be feeling threatened or stressed due to changes in its environment or routine.
Another reason could be that the bird is feeling territorial and is trying to protect its territory.
It is also possible that the bird is experiencing hormonal changes, which can cause aggression in some birds.
If the aggression persists, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues and to get advice on how to manage the behavior.
Do male and female parrots fight?
Mate aggression is not very uncommon, though it is more of an exception rather than the rule. I have listed out a number of possible reasons why it happens.
For example, trying to establish dominance over the female is one of the usual suspects. This is particularly true if there are multiple suitors around.
One more reason is that your bird might have a lack of physical and mental stimulation, or it could just be a simple case of inexperience with the opposite sex.
Why does my female cockatiel bite the male?
I answered this question earlier, but let me just repeat some of the points here.
Females sometimes pair bond with their owners (though its a bad thing and needs to be discouraged).
In such cases, the male trying to approach them just seems like an aggressor rather than a potential mate.
At other times, cockatiel females might be getting territorial regarding their nest box, especially if they have just laid their eggs.
So, that concludes this guide on mate aggression in birds. I hope you have found it helpful and can do what’s necessary to protect your pets from each other.
If you’re a new bird breeder, you might initially find redirecting negative behavior to be a bit of a challenge. It will get easier as you gain more experience handling breeder birds.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your parrot breeding efforts.