One of the most frustrating aspects of breeding is dealing with mate aggression, which can range from preventing a mate from eating and drinking to injuring or even killing the mate. This phenomenon is not limited to newly formed pairs, but has occurred in pairs that have been bonded for years.
Several species of cockatoos, the eclectus and a few other species have a reputation for aggression toward their mates – but this behavior has also been seen in cockatiels and lovebirds. In most species, the male is the aggressor — with the exception of the eclectus parrots, where the dominant sex is the female.
It should be noted that this problem is specific to aviculture — as it has not been observed in the wild. One explanation may be that wild parrots have the advantage of being able to choose their own mate; they also have “time away” from each other when foraging for food. In the wild, they have the ability to separate once incompatibility has been established. This is not possible in the confinement of an aviary. Therefore, it seems to make sense to look at the parrots’ environment to find a solution.
Possible contributing factors include:
- Hand-raised cockatoos are put into a breeding situation, but never had the benefit of observing natural breeding / mating behavior
- Stress brought on by noise or visual eye contact made by other males of the same species.
- Sexual aggression: Male sexually ready to mate, while female is not
- Lack of stimulation and activities that the parrots can do as a way of entertaining themselves.
- Parent-raised Breeders: Avoid placing hand-raised cockatoos into a breeding situation. Wild-caught, parent-raised birds make better breeders. Please aksi refer to Pet Birds: Hand-raised or Parent-raised: Behavioral Issues Associated with Hand-reared Chicks by Jeannine Miesle.
- Consider Past History: Any male that has ever killed or seriously injured his mate should be permanently excluded from any breeding program.
- Temporary Separation: If temporary separation becomes necessary, always remove the male from the aviary – not the female, to avoid the male becoming territorial and attacking her when she is reintroduced into the aviary. Once the female has been separated from the male, watch out for signs that she is ready to breed, such as her calling the male or working the nest box. You might consider reintroducing these birds by housing them next to each other in separate cages / adjoining aviaries for a while, to allow the pair to get used to each other again and also to observe the parrots’ behavior and interactions.
- Aviary Size: The most important step to stopping mate aggression seems to be the aviary size. Provide large cages — or better yet — flights to allow some flying. The highest success rate at avoiding mate aggression has been achieved in aviaries that are at least 30 feet long by 15 or more feet wide.
- Separate from Other Cockatoos: It is generally recommended never to put the same species of cockatoo in adjoining cages / aviaries. However, some breeders claim to have had success housing same-species cockatoos side-by-side in roomy outdoor flights. Whatever the arrangements are, the nesting boxes should be in sheltered areas, out of sight of neighboring parrots.
- Diet: A poor diet can cause birds to feel unwell, which can translate into unwanted behavior, including mate aggression.
- Nesting Boxes: Ideally supply several nesting boxes, allowing them to choose their preferred nests in their preferred location. Nesting boxes should have two openings, so that the female can escape the nest, if necessary. Also do not add perches on or close by the nest box, as they will enable the male to hold a hen captive.
- Boredom: Provide a stimulating environment. In the wild, parrots enjoy “customizing” their environment by chewing on trees and branches. Provide them with fun toys and fresh branches. Find different ways of changing their environment, to help keep the breeder birds busy and entertained. A wild cockatoo would never have time to become bored and a bored male in captivity with nothing but time on his hands can turn into a frustrated and aggressive male.
- Wing-clipping: Trim the male’s flight feathers on both wings, while leaving the hen fully flighted to allow her to escape. This being said, if the male is so aggressive that he needs his wings clipped, you may want to ask yourself if he should be in a breeding situation at all. Wing-clipping will not help prevent aggression in the case of a male attacking a female in the nestbox.
- Provide at least two feeding and water stations, so that the male cannot prevent the female from eating
- Observation Camera: Cameras and intercoms will allow you to observe the breeder birds without being present, and enable you to separate the birds, if needed.
- Pair Compatibility: If possible allow the birds to select their own mates. If you are unable to accommodate this, then try pairing aggressive males with aggressive hens, sweet males with like hens; and avoid pairing large males with small females. Separate pairs if there are warning signs of aggression.
- Beak Alteration: Surgical Beak Alteration (photo above) is usually carried out on male breeder cockatoos that have harmed or killed their mate, whereby the upper beak is left intact but the lower and upper beaks are bisected. The objective of the procedure is to reduce the force and leverage of the bird’s ability to tear and crush. The two segments cannot be bridged back together again; the subject will have two freely movable pieces of lower beak. The male is unable to crack nuts and certain seed, and the dysfunct lower beak makes drinking difficult; nor will the male be able to feed and nurture chicks. In the UK and many other countries, this practice is considered inhumane, but is apparently condoned by authorities in the US. As mate aggression is not natural behavior but unique to aviculture – we should concentrate our efforts on finding a humane solution, rather than “punishing” and permanently mutilating breeding birds.
The following web resources will be helpful: Redirecting Negative Behaviors in your Petbird for some excellent tips and tricks … Bird Proof Your Home to Protect Your Furniture and Keep your Bird Safe … Foraging: The Way To Keep Your Parrot Mentally Stimulated and Happy
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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