Q: My bird has been biting me a lot lately and I was told that it was because of hormones. What are hormones doing to my bird? Does she need a “boyfriend”?
Shannon M., Ithica, NY
A: In the Northern Hemisphere, we are in the thick of the spring season and birds residing in this area are probably acting a bit “off”. That may be an incredible understatement in some households. The Southern Hemisphere may be noticing the milder effects that resurface with many species in the fall.
No matter where you live, the topic right now is hormones. The dreaded hormones. Many of us think of them as evil demons that swoop in on our birds every year taking control of their minds and thoughts, forcing them to commit heinous acts that would NEVER occur to them otherwise. They destroy the house. They bite. They scream. They perform unnatural acts with their toys! Before you call an excorcist, there are some things you should know…
Hormones are just doing their job and without them, there would be no baby birds, and without baby birds, well, you know what that would mean.
In the spring, the weather begins to get warmer and the days grow longer. Rains cause dormant plants to burst into life which means that food sources will soon be ample. These are the conditions that are ideal for reproduction and they are the triggers that send your bird’s hormones into action.
Hormones are the body’s communication system. Chemicals containing messages are sent through the bloodstream from one area to another relaying information about what task needs to be performed. For birds, in the springtime, hormonal information encourages reproduction.
Some birds begin this cycle long before the obvious signs of spring have appeared. This is because of a bird’s visual acuity. They are able to see changes in light waves and patterns that signal the approach of spring long before we recognize it and hormones will begin mounting in the early part of each new year. The result is single minded focus on one thing, and one thing only: reproduction.
Reproduction involves a lot more than just laying eggs. There is a lot that surrounds that main event: the courting of a mate, finding and preparing a nest and, once eggs are produced, defending the nest.
These are tasks that our birds feel compelled to carry out, even in captivity. They continue to press forward under conditions that make success impractical, even impossible. As the bird struggles and fails to accomplish its goals, there can be emotional chaos, and behavior becomes strange and unpredictable, even aggressive at times.
As humans, we tend to view this as a time of sexual frustration for our birds. But this is not about the need for sex (birds are quite adept of relieving those tensions anyways – I witness my cockatiels doing this often throughout the year.) Birds tend to look only at the big picture – their goal is a full nest, and sex is just the first step in many in accomplishing that.
Your bird’s body is under the assault of very demanding hormones and her frustration comes from a failure to procreate, sex being only one aspect of that. To bring in a male will only heighten the female’s frustration, because, unless you intend to breed and have all the proper tools and knowledge necessary to do so, this will intensify her need to complete her task and her feelings of frustration.
A much better plan is to eliminate the hormonal triggers in your birds environment (this post explains how to do that), thereby eliminating the need for a mate. Once you accomplish this, you will notice a marked change in her behavior.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.