There's a lot of talk about getting ready for parrot hormonal season. But, what about being wary of the common culprits that throw parrot hormones out of whack in the first place?
We know that hormones can be the cause of many behavioral problems in birds from mood swings and aggression, to furniture destruction, to health issues. But, keep in mind, when hormones are in balance, they keep your bird's body functioning properly.
Springtime is bird hormonal season for most birds.
Parrots have completely different sexual hormone cycles than mammals. Most caretakers don't realize that wild parrots become hormonal and capable of rearing young only once or twice a year. In the wild, parrot hormonal season happens in Spring when food is abundant, the weather is more temperate, and days are a little longer.
Most parrot species are from tropical areas near the equator where there is very little difference between temperature and daylight throughout the year. However, a parrot's body has become highly attuned to the small changes in food availability, lighting, nesting site availability, and weather. Their bodies respond accordingly when the conditions are just right for mating and rearing young.
Otherwise, a wild parrot's sexual hormones go into a dormant stage for the remainder of the year allowing their body to recuperate from the taxing experience of mating, feeding chicks, and teaching their chicks how to survive before winter sets in. Simply put, a parrot’s body is not designed to withstand being in a year-round sexual hormonal state.
Domestic parrots tend to have completely different environmental and lifestyle experiences than their wild cousins, resulting in physical and behavioral problems.
Caretakers innocently make decisions that mess with the birds’ sexual hormones. Case in point: expecting your parrot to adapt to your sleep cycle when parrots actually need 10-12 hours of sleep.
Combine a sleep disturbance with other lifestyle and environmental stressors like poor diet, improper petting, and a sedentary lifestyle, and you can imagine the toll that takes on your bird’s physical health. We call this achronically hormonal state and it can have deadly consequences for your pet.
The good news is you can reset your bird’s body from the inside out by improving certain environmental factors and incorporating the right supplements to help you balance their hormones. So let's take a deep dive into learning why parrot hormones become so imbalanced resulting in health and behavioral issues.
As described above, parrot hormonal season kicks off as Spring approaches. Typically, the days are getting longer and longer, fresh, new growth protein and fatty foods become more available, and the weather gets a little warmer. A number of factors come into play causing hormonal surges that result in the sexual organs enlarging, nest seeking and territorial behavior and the like.
Your birds’ endocrine system makes and releases hormones within the brain itself and releases them throughout the body. This includes the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and skin.
Hormones are the messengers of the body—they send chemical messages to all body systems, like the metabolism, circadian rhythms , digestion, and reproduction.
When I’m talking about the parrot hormonal season, I’m, of course, referring to hormones related to sexual function and reproduction, but keep in mind that the entire endocrine system is synchronized.
The most common causes of hormone imbalances in parrots include the following:
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There are many symptoms of a parrot being in a chronically hormonal state. Simply put, the bird displays hormonal behavior year-round. Here are signs that your bird is hot to trot.
Photoperiod. Make sure that your bird gets 10-12 hours of total darkness and quiet sleep per night.
Shredding. Remove shredding toys and cage lining paper. The sheer act of shredding things simulates getting a nest ready, throwing parrot hormones into overdrive. Observe what your parrot is shredding and remove the objects. At the same time vigorously reward your bird for all other natural parrot behaviors such as chewing wood, proper preening, and bathing, foraging, singing, etc.
Cavity Seeking. A hormonal parrot is driven to find confined dark areas to raise young. In your home could be anything from a shoe for small birds, a dark closet, or even under furniture and cushions.
This behavior may seem cute at the time but it is no laughing matter. The simulated nesting activity makes your bird oversexed, and when it can’t satisfy its biological needs, it turns its angst toward outward with aggression or inward with self-harm behaviors like plucking. Once again, remove cavity seeking opportunities and reward natural parrot behaviors. Encourage exercise and foraging behaviors. Offer up fun, positive training sessions.
Heavy Petting. Most of a parrot's body is an erogenous zone, so petting your bird anywhere but on the head or feet is a huge turn on. Even though your parrot is driven toward heavy petting, just like a teenage boy, it will only cause problems in the long run.
Just know that your exotic pet needs you to show your love in a different way. Rather than petting your bird or letting it ride around on your shoulder making a nest in your hair, show your love by giving it time out of the cage and bird training. Or, by encouraging it to exercise and forage.
Feeding. Limit high calorie, high sugar, and high-fat foods that trigger hormone production. Avoid grapes, corn, meats, and sweet potatoes. Also, avoid feeding soft, warm foods that remind your bird of the mating ritual of regurgitating into their mate’s mouth. Instead, supplement your bird's diet with more fresh veggies and lower sugar content fruits.
Probiotics.There is a link between gut health and hormone balance. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can improve the production and regulation of key hormones.
Purchase a reputable parrot probiotic and feed it as directed. Unfortunately, there are few natural dietary options in the form of grains, fruits, or vegetables that will deliver probiotics.
Magnesium. Many parrots are magnesium-deficient. The trouble is that stress can increase the amount of magnesium that is dumped from the body leading to a magnesium deficiency. Consider a good Supplement such as UnRuffledRx Calcium, Magnesium +D3. Your bird needs to replenish magnesium to keep its central nervous system calm and prevent an oversupply of cortisol. When these nutrients are regulated, other hormones will also be better regulated. Magnesium also improves sleep and reduces inflammation, both of which are needed for hormone balance.
Omega-3s. One function of omega-3s is the construction of hormones which is why Omega - 3 are recommended to ease hormone disorders. Omega-3s also reduce the inflammatory damage that interferes with hormone balance.
Adaptogens: Adaptogens are herbs that help the body handle stress and support the adrenals. They are healthy and natural ways to help birds experience hormone balance.
Not all adaptogen herbs are the same. Always opt for fresh, organic herbs when looking for a way to support your parrots’ elevated mood. Safe, nutritious and healthy adaptogens for parrots include:
Coconut Oil: Nourishing coconut oil has been used for centuries due to its numerous health benefits. But, it's not just for humans. Coconut oil has great health benefits for parrots, as well. Here are just a few of the health benefits that you're hormonal parrot may experience:
For these reasons, Coconut Oil is amazing for hormone health. It provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production, can assist weight loss, reduce inflammation, and it even has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
Vitamin D3. Research shows that when taken, vitamin D3 acts like a hormone inside the body and can help to reduce inflammation levels. Sunshine is the best way to supplement this, but we can’t always take our birds outside. If you can't, taking a vitamin D3 supplement daily is a general recommendation.
Get good sleep. Without adequate sleep, hormonal balance doesn't stand a chance. Your parrot needs between 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night to cleanse its body, recharge, and balance hormones.
Obviously, parrot sleep needs don't fit in well with our work schedule, but nevertheless, the consequences of lack of sleep can adversely affect your birds overall health. Using a bird sleep cage will provide a quiet, dark place for your bird to get much needed rest.
Feed for hormone balance. If your bird doesn't eat nutrient-dense foods, it's body simply cannot do its job properly—that includes producing the right hormones at the right time to maintain balance. If your parrots’ diet is contributing to hormone imbalance, change it. Your bird needs a balance of premium pellets, leafy green vegetables, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Exercise is amazing for balancing hormones. It reduces inflammation, lowers stress, and aids in sleep. So, make it a point to get your parrot out of the cage on a daily basis. A play stand is a necessity, not a luxury when it comes to your parrots’ health.
A lot of people think that the best way to show their parrot love is to let it ride about on their shoulder or to pet their bird and give it a nice massage. But, these activities can actually induce hormonal states in our birds. Show your parrot “the love” by allowing it to vigorously exercise every day.
In the wild, parrot hormonal season starts when the environmental conditions are just right and ends after the eggs are laid. This process only lasts a few weeks at most.
In our pet birds, parrot hormonal season lasts as long as the bird is exposed to a high protein and fat diet, long days and short nights, and it is petted on its erogenous zones.
In conclusion, by making a few environmental adjustments, you’ll not only improve your exotic pet’s overall wellbeing and help it to maintain proper hormone balance.
To learn more about how to prevent or turn around frustrating, aggressive bird behavior, check out these blogs:
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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