We Can’t Blame Everything On Hormones

Blue and gold macaw

Are you noticing lately that your sweet, happy cockatiel is a little nippy? Has your quiet-as-a-mouse African grey become loud and opinionated? Is your cockatoo cuddling in ways that make you blush?
It’s the onset of the spring season here in the northern hemisphere of the world. Although in most places it is still very cold, our birds are able to perceive the subtle signs of spring, even when all we see is the harshness of winter.
Parrots see things we do not. Their amped up eyesight allows them the see light patterns that are the telltale signs of spring. They are able to recognize that the days are getting longer and that warmer weather – and breeding season – are around the corner.

Umbrella cockatoo

These signs trigger hormonal changes in our birds and cause behaviors that may lay dormant the rest of the year. Nestiness, excess vocalizing and territorial aggression are common this time of year. And as unreasonable as it sounds, many times when behaviors turn aggressive it is our fault for being  unprepared or unaware of the triggers.

If your bird makes his way under the couch and bites you when you try to retrieve him, you are paying the painful price for making not one, but two mistakes: 1) you allowed your bird to follow its nesting insticts and head for a dark space, and 2) the intrusion of your hand triggered the instict to protect the nest (territorial aggression).
While you could never call this behavior acceptable, it is understandable and even provoked. It isn’t the onset of a behavioral problem (unless you reinforce it with your reaction to it). You chock it up to experience and you don’t make the same mistake next year.

Blue throated macaw

However, we must be careful not to use hormones as an excuse or an explanation for ALL unwanted behaviors – ones that might be present all year long and simply escalated because of hormones.

The perfect example of this was a woman I knew a few years back who had a yellow sided conure. Throughout the year, whenever she would try to pick the bird up from its play stand, it would lunge at her hand, sometimes nipping, before it would finally relent and step up. She always played down the event saying that she must have frightened the bird or would try to defend the action by saying it was crabby because it hadn’t slept enough the night before.

The following spring, her bird, then four years old, actually bit her hard and drew blood, she called me for help with her “hormonal” bird. No doubt her bird was hormonal and conures are territorial at any time of the year, but this was a problem that had begun a long time back.

The point of this post is this: I have always encouraged you to be understanding and forgiving of behaviors that are relative to breeding. It is a difficult time not just for humans but is stressful for our birds as well. Since birds are guests in our homes, it is our job to do what we can to eliminate from the environment the things that cause the behaviors. Unfortunately, we are humans and we understand only a portion of what is happening to our birds.

While we are busy being kind and compassionate, we have to be careful not to excuse behaviors that are not seasonal, or blame new unwanted behaviors on hormones. When we see a problem, at any time of the year, we should address it before it become ingrained in the bird’s behavior and becomes a challenge to deal with. Sometimes the behaviors we see in full bloom in spring are the results of seeds planted earlier in the year.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987. 

1 comment

Faith Embleton

Spring must be coming to the far north as well. It was -30c this morning when I got up. Today my African Gray Congo and I had a conversation while I was ironing sheets for our Bed and Breakfast. He was sitting on the perch in the sun in front of the picture window when longingly he looked out and then at me and say SUMMER summer! I had to laugh and I said “Yes soon Congo it will be summer again” Then Congo said" Samui" “Samui!!!” Japaease for cold, cold. Talk about a smart fellow.

Faith Embleton

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