It’s that time of year (sigh). I hear the same question over and over: “What is happening to my sweet bird?”
Spring is a time that seems to bring out the worst in our companion parrots. Hormones (triggered by weather changes, increased daylight hours and a variety of other factors) start coursing through the blood stream bringing about chemical changes in the body and some pretty odd behaviors. Some parrots seem immune to the effects, some might just be a little “off” for a while, others turn into screaming, biting harbingers of death. Some may remain this way for a couple of weeks, others, several months. Its intensity can also vary in one bird from season to season.
The most important thing to remember is that your bird is NOT being “bad”. This is nature at work. It is up to YOU to cope with and manage any undesirable behaviors in such a way that your relationship is intact when the storm is over.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with a hormonally charged bird:
1. Keep your bird from going into dark, hidden areas that would make a lovely nest. A dimly lit corner is enough to get my male cockatoo going. One of his favorite things to do is to play inside of a paper bag, a box, or beneath his cage cover. This is not the time to allow these activities as they encourage territorial behavior. The paper bag is perceived and prepared as a nest site and your normally sweet baby can work himself up into a frenzy if allowed.
2. Be very respectful in and around his cage. This is his home and, therefore, his nest. He will defend it mercilessly, even from you. When it is time to clean or change toys, I put my larger birds in a carrier with some foot toys and a treat and bring them to another room. I would rather they didn’t know I was in their cage at all.
3. Limit out of cage time. If your parrot is becoming beaky or nesty, bring him back to his cage. Be fair and do this BEFORE it becomes a problem. Extracting him out from under the couch will likely result in a bite. Keep in mind that even the crook of your arm can be perceived as a nesty spot by a creatively thinking bird. I let mine out of the cage for shorter periods of time more frequently.
4. Avoid warm mushy foods. They are a trigger for hormonal behavior. I tend to feed more raw veggies during this time of year, and avoid mashes.
5. Be careful what parts of his body you touch. Head and neck only!! Avoid touching him under the wing, on the back and tail, and especially the vent area. If your bird rests his rear end on your hand while you are carrying him, put him down on a perch. You should always keep your bird off your shoulder and carry him away from your face, but this is especially true during the spring.
6. Limit daylight hours. I make sure mine get 12 hours of covered sleep during the spring months. Too much light will also trigger breeding behaviors and can cause excessive egg laying in females. If you don’t cover your birds at night, be sure that the room they sleep in is dark.
If you find you are having a rough time with your hormonal bird, it’s important to realize that tomorrow is another day. Last year it appeared that someone told my male umbrella cockatoo that he, alone, was responsible for the carrying on of his species. He acted accordingly. There were days when he attacked me with such vigor that I wondered if our relationship would ever again be the same. The next day I would get up expecting more of the same, and each time he would surprise me with a sweet disposition.
It’s all about respect and patience. Allow him his nature without getting angry. Be watchful for any behaviors that could potentially escalate into problems and redirect his attentions BEFORE things get out of hand.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.