Hormonal Behavior in Companion Parrots

All parrots will get hormonal at times. This is a normal natural process. The challenge, however, is greater with some parrots than with other species.

Amazons, for example, go through a stage that is difficult to handle for many but the most experienced amazon owners.

Species such as Lilac Crowns and Mealies are less excitable than other amazon species during the breeding season. Females are usually calmer than males during the breeding season.

An attack by a hormonal male can be vicious and will not be limited to one bite. The time of aggression varies with the individual bird. It usually appears between the ages of 5 to 12 years.

During this time there will be one to two years in which they will be very aggressive. Once they go through this, they generally settle down with little or no aggression shown when they are not hormonal and some aggression when they are.

Bird owners may find that their pet all of a sudden turns on them and favors another family member. Dr. Jill M. Patt – practicing Veterinarian in Mesa, Arizona – describes this being similar to a wild bird leaving its parents and choosing a mate.

She suggests the following ways of dealing with your pet bird choosing someone else as its mate …

  1. Understand that this is a natural behavior.
  2. Have the family member the bird has picked limit their interaction with your bird, spend time with the bird when that family member is absent, and ensure that only you are the one to provide all favorite treats and activities.
  3. The environment can also be altered somewhat to attempt to reduce breeding behavior. Limiting the daylight hours to mimic a winter sun will often help.
  4. In some instances, the vet may prescribe drugs that balance out a pet’s hormones.

Identify hormonal signals, such as:

  1. Birds acting overly sexual in response to being petting (especially on the back or wings).
  2. Hormonal feather plucking (most often occurring on the chest or between the legs)
  3. Frequent regurgitating of food, panting, crouching down with wings dropped.
  4. Increased shredding of paper or toys and increased chewing
  5. Nest-building or nesting; hiding in dark areas or holes and/or actively searching for them (potential nest sites)
  6. Aggression / protectiveness of chosen nest site
  7. Possessiveness of favorite human (or bird companion) – while being extra aggressive toward others.
  8. Increased vocalization
  9. Females especially may show an increased interest in cuttlebone or other calcium sources, as well as protein rich foods like egg or meat.
  10. Masturbating

Triggers of Breeding Behavior:

  1. Extended hours of light. Lengthening days and increased amounts of artificial light will cause a bird’s reproductive organs to increase in size which in turn triggers a significant increase in hormonal activity.
  2. The availability of a suitable nest site and nesting materials. A suitable nest sites may, in your pet’s eyes, include ordinary household items like cardboard boxes, areas behind cushions on the couch, even shoes. It is best to discourage them from claiming those as nests. Nesting material can be paper or a favorite blanket.
  3. Availability of a mate (can be you, another bird or an object, such as a favorite toy)
  4. Diet: Levels of fat and/or protein, as well as starches in the diet. Warm, wet food (nestling food) also encourages breeding behavior.
  5. Perceived sexual petting (i.e., stroking the bird’s backside or near the vent)

Hormonal behavior is perfectly normal and a pet bird should never be punished for this natural behavior. However, there are ways to minimize hormonal / sexual behavior in birds:

  • Stick-train your parrot. This is very important. You don’t want to handle a hormonal parrot, as they can bite very hard. T-perches are great. If you use just one simple straight perch, they can move over to your hands and bite. It’s easy enough to make such a “T” perch yourself. Home Depot basically has the parts that my perch is made from. The manufacturer simply attached a short perch to the long one. Stick-training is a natural process. Simply pushing the perch against the parrot’s tummy will prompt them to step up. Always accompany the action with the words “step-up” or “get up” or “up” – whatever you like. This way the parrot knows what is expected.
  • Decrease the amount of light your bird gets every day. Ensure that your pet is getting 11-12 hours of darkness per night. Limiting the amount of daylight and / or artificial light the bird receives. If you cannot sufficiently darken the room the bird is in, then put a dark cover over the cage.
  • Increase level of exercise, in the way of flying or foraging activities.
  • Adjust the Diet: Avoid feeding foods that are high calorie or high fat when your companion bird is hormonal. They trigger the “abundance” cue that say it is a good time to provide for babies. Limit a bird’s access to starchy / sugary and high-protein foods during its cycle.
    • Do not feed: breads, corn, sweet potatoes, beans, nuts, cheese, meats or grapes. If you feed a high potency, pelleted diet with a high protein content, cut back a bit on the amount.
    • Do feed less stimulating food substances, like wheat germ and hemp seed. Offer instead more fresh vegetables, and some fruits.
  • When a female displays signs of broodiness / nesting behavior, remove access to any chosen “nest site.” That may be a tent, a box, or a food dish.  Some will choose a cozy corner of their cage.  Signs of nesting behavior are rearranging paper, dropped seeds and feathers in a corner of the cage (for example).  It is important to clean that up quickly.  She is trying to build a comfy nest for her young.   Making sure that any “nesting material” is removed will stop most females from continuing her nesting activities.
  • This can be done by rearranging the interior of her cage – such as placing the perches and toys in different locations.  She will need time to get used to the new layout which will stop nesting.  Females need to be comfortable with their surroundings
  • Deter your bird from actively seeking a nest or building one.  
  • Refocus your pet’s energy by finding activities that distract your pet. Often this will halt this behavior for the entire day.
    • Provide foraging opportunities and Bird Toys / EntertainmentTry changing the “scenery,” like moving the cage to a different location.
    • Interrupt sexual advances by showing your pet his or her favorite food or toy, turning the lights off and back on again.
    • Try “packing” the cage – stuffing your pet’s cage with sticks, twigs, branches with leaves from safe plants, pieces of balsa wood, paper, phone books, anything shreddable – so much so that your pet has to chew its way out to get anywhere. Do make sure not to block access to food and water. The idea is that the bird will redirect its energy toward chewing up the obstacles in its way.
    • It is important to immediately “change the subject” when sexual advances begin. You might try keeping a toy box or basket of interesting items that he likes to play with and when he tries to mate with your hand or arm, offer him one of the toys.
    • Exercise works wonders too. Flying in place is the easiest way for non-flighted birds to burn off hormonal energy. They can be encouraged to fly in place until they are tired. Giving a caged bird time on an open perch equipped with swings, cotton ropes, and a Boing is also effective
  • Ease up on affection as stroking and cuddling can be viewed by your pet as a solicitation. Petting the bird on the back, neck, or vent area should be avoided
  • Drugs for hormonal feather picking: If all these changes fail than drug therapy may be warranted. Drug therapy is most effective in females but has also be tried in males. Lupron (leuprorelin acetate) has an inhibitory effect on the pituitary that should reduce the hormones FSH and LH. This drug has been used in birds for chronic egg laying, hormonal aggression and feather picking. Again, this is not a perfect drug and certainly not for all situations.
  • Note: egg-laying females may need to have their calcium intake boosted.

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