You may notice behavioral changes in your parrot friend and start to wonder, “What’s going on with my bird?” If they have hit sexual maturity, it’s likely breeding behavior, or a side effect of it. It can be especially noticeable during spring.
If you have a small bird, like a budgie or cockatiel, these behaviors may begin within the first year, medium birds will not be observed until they’re 5-10 years old. If you have an even larger bird, it’s around 9-15 years.
This is the most difficult time of year to be sharing a space with a parrot, but it also can be a very educational one. Your bird will take you on a journey to better understand their wants and needs and you may even develop a new level of patience and understanding.
Signs your parrot’s hormones are kicking in include:
- Excessive screaming and aggression (biting)
- Feather plucking
- Lurking at the bottom of their cage
- Defending their “nest”
- Doing the “Dirty Birdy Dance” ... you know the one.
Suddenly favoring a particular family member over the primary bird snuggler
“Can’t I just get them fixed?” Technically yes, you can spay/neuter a bird, but it’s not a simple procedure and can be very risky. Injectable drugs and similar treatments can be effective in the short term, but may become inadequate as a long-term solution. The truth is, these behaviors may not be completely controllable, but can be subdued with changes to routine and environment.
Some ways to discourage these behaviors are:
- Keeping your parrot below eye level during play time. This will prevent them from asserting dominance.
- Put your bird to bed by 5 or 6 p.m. (The long days of spring and summer trigger breeding behavior).
- A shreddable toy is ok as long as they don’t convert it into nesting materials. If you see them doing so, find them a different toy.
- Avoid giving your parrots hidey-holes. This includes boxes as well as not letting them hide underneath items in the home i.e. couch, behind the toilet, under their cage, bookshelves, etc.
- Sexual frustrations may translate into feather plucking and can be difficult to avoid. You may try to keep your bird occupied with play time, teaching them tricks, or giving them tasks to complete in order to distract them
- Rearrange their cage interior and change the cage location.
- Avoid petting under the wings or anywhere below the neck.
If your bird is laying eggs:
- Make sure they’re getting enough calcium - a pellet-based diet can prevent calcium and similar nutrition deficiencies. If they’re on seed, the use of calcium supplements may help.
- Sunflower seeds are high in estrogen. Beware, lady parrots!
- Be mindful of egg-binding - This is a life-threatening emergency. It happens more frequently with parrot that are obese, elderly, or calcium deficient.
Look for swollen abdomen, tail-wagging, and difficulty balancing on their perch (or straining). If the egg presses on a nerve, there could be leg paralysis.
- Leave unfertilized eggs or dummy eggs for 21-28 days (varies depending on species) to let your bird get over their urges and recuperate. At the end of this time period, an egg may be removed every 1-2 days. Switch out potentially fertilized eggs laid and replace with dummy eggs. (Baby birds don’t form inside eggs until they’ve been incubated for 2 days, you can always candle them for piece of mind).
- Remove nest boxes
- Separate sexes
Whether or not your bird was hand-fed or if you raised them from a baby, once they hit puberty, you can expect these behaviors time and again. We must learn to accept that our parrots are wild animals that run on instinct. They’re going to do what comes naturally, and if their needs can not be met, they will act out.
Breeding season will pass and these behaviors should calm down, but may not disappear completely. Us Bird Lovers have to move forward with patience and put forth an effort to balance both our own and our bird’s needs.
Remember, “Birds are here with us, not for us.”