Q: June is almost over and my bird is still being nippy and trying to build nests. Is it normal for a parrot to still be thinking about breeding season ?
–Jacob C., Davenport, IA
A: Your cockatiel’s behaviors are the result of hormones that begin flooding the body at the onset of spring. Hormones are chemicals which are released into the blood stream causing reactions in other parts of the body. It’s like a communication system. In the springtime, chemicals are released telling a bird that it is time for reproduction and instructs the body to act accordingly.
The hormonal chemicals are produced in response to external stimuli, and the change of the seasons is the largest of the hormonal triggers. As winter turns to spring, the days become longer and more mild and new plant growth indicates that food will soon be abundant. These conditions are considered just right for breeding.
However, we have already passed the summer solstice and the days are already becoming shorter. This, and the change in weather, are strong seasonal signs that typically stop the hormones from raging. It appears that your cockatiel didn’t get the “cease breeding hormones” memo. Why?
Stopping Your Parrot’s Nest Building Behaviors
The reason your cockatiel is continuing to build nests after the breeding season has passed is simple: your bird is receiving messages from something in the environment that continue to say that the conditions are right for breeding.
In your case, it is further complicated by the fact that cockatiels are a species that will breed year round, given the right setting. Even though the breeding season is in decline, apparently the mood is not.
Your bird’s late season nest building is a round robin scenario. The hormones influence the nest building, but having a nest is a reminder of breeding season, which re-trigger the hormones that created the nest in the first place.
To stop that cycle, prevent access to any possible nesting sites (dark places like boxes or cupboards) and remove any potential nesting materials (shredded paper or toy remnants and wood chips) right away. If the nest site is in the cage, it helps to cover the favored spot with a safe obstruction such as a large toy.
The solution to this problem is much more complex than eliminating a nesting spot. There is a reason your bird is refusing to give up springtime behaviors – the triggers are somewhere in your house. Finding them is a bit tricky.
Birdtricks has produced a course, Horror-Moans, that identifies common hormonal behaviors and explains how to adapt a bird’s environment to eliminate the triggers that bring on these behaviors. Some of them are not as obvious as you would think!
For instance, many owners are responsible for escalating hormones with the way they interact with their bird. Triggers can be found in the cage – or in the diet. Often the solution is staring you right in the face – you just need to know what to look for.
Hormones are not just an inconvenience
There is more at stake than the annoyance of continued nippiness – your parrot’s health could be at risk. Even during normal periods of breeding, female cockatiels are prone to excessive egg laying, which depletes their body of calcium and egg binding becomes a concern. When the bird’s breeding season is unnaturally extended, the risks increase.
Breeding season is not only difficult for us. It is a very tumultuous and stressful time for your bird – both emotionally and physically. You might refer back to your own teenage years for a reminder. It is a nightmare your bird gets to revisit every spring.
It is healthiest for your bird to pass through this season in a timely fashion and it will require making changes to the environment to finally bring your cockatiel’s breeding season to a conclusion.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.