Q: My bird is sexually frustrated and tries to mate with my computer mouse or anything else about that size. Should I put a stuffed animal or something in his cage for him to get out his frustrations on?
– H. Hirsch, Kettering, OH
A: This subject comes up several times a year. Many people are mistaken in their assumption that their birds are sexually frustrated and they wonder if they should get it a mate. In reality, doing so may actually make the problem much worse.
To explain why, I must first explain hormones and the role they play in your bird’s behaviors…
What are hormones?
Hormones are a chemical produced by your bird’s endocrine glandular system, which is the body’s communication network. When a task needs to be performed by a certain part of the body, a hormone relative to that task carries that information to the appropriate part of the body through the blood stream.
The hormones we will be referring to here are relative to reproduction. These are the same hormones that cause the dreaded behavioral changes in teenagers as they reach sexual maturity. These hormones will cause us to barely recognize our own children’s behavior, so it stands to reason that we will feel completely out of our league when trying to understand our parrot’s mutating behavior.
Hormones begin to flood the body following exposure to certain climatic and environmental changes that indicate the onset of breeding season. Climatic changes begin with the winter solstice – which is the day of the year with the shortest period of daylight -December 21 in the northern hemisphere, June 21st in the southern hemisphere.
In the days following the winter solstice, light wave patterns begin to change in ways that are evident only to our birds. While we might still be feeling the numbing cold that screams winter to us, the birds mark this as the onset of spring at which time it will be warm and food will be plentiful – the conditions necessary for the successful raising of young.
Birds use the sun as their calendar. They see spring coming long before they feel it. This is the trigger that kicks the endocrine system into action and the body begins to flood with hormones.
This is a time when that some bird owners come to dread. Their birds begin finding hiding places, and shredding everything in sight. Their normally even tempered birds seem to strike out at them out of the blue. Sometimes they just sit there and make strange sounds that most of us can identify as a sexual longing.
It’s hard not to feel bad for them. We start to think about the fact that if our bird was not kept in captivity it would be free to find a mate to alleviate its frustration. We wonder if we should provide them one because it seems so unbearable.
A common mistake we make as bird owners is to attach human feelings and ideas to our bird’s behaviors (anthropomorphize). Even though it helps us feel more comfortable with their strange actions, it causes us to respond to them in ways that are inappropriate.
Human beings feel sexual frustration – birds do not. Humans are the only animal species that have sex for fun, for emotionally therapeutic purposes, or for the acquisition of money or things. The entire rest of the planet uses sex for its intended purpose – reproduction.
Perhaps the thing most innately ingrained in animals is the need carry on their species. It is their duty and, during certain times of the year, their sole purpose in life. A bird’s prime directive is a nest full of healthy young. Sex is merely one of the steps required to accomplish that mission. The sex drive is activated only seasonally for this reason. It is timed to produce babies when there is the best chance for their survival.
Your bird is not frustrated because it longs for sex – it is frustrated because its body is nagging at it to complete a task that is not possible to complete on its own. Sex equals babies – nothing more.
Relieving the symptoms
Your bird’s response to its environment directs the amount of hormones that are released into its system. The more hormones delivered, the more exasperating life will be for your bird and the more trying it will be for you while you cope with the changes in behavior.
The most practical (and compassionate) way to handle hormones is to eliminate the things that bring them on. In this regard, it makes sense that adding the opposite sex into the equation will NOT alleviate sexual tensions, but in fact increase them. Having another bird around with which to potentially procreate will intensify the breeding mode, sometimes out of season. Unless you intend to breed, (which I strongly recommend against) you are only adding to your bird's troubles.
Supplying them with items on which to masturbate has the same result. Remember that for birds, sex is a function that is used to produce young. It will not be satisfied until that is accomplished – regardless of how many times it turns to a toy or perch for sexual release.
While we have no control over the seasons or the climate, we can control the immediate environment in which our birds live and reduce a bird’s reproductive frustration. By removing certain items from the cage and play area, preventing access to dark and secluded areas in the house and changing the ways we physically interact with our birds we can lessen the degree to which hormones affect them and keep some of their feelings of want at bay.
Click here to learn more about handling parrot hormones.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.