Parrot Plucking Series: The Link Between Hormones and Parrot Plucking
One important factor to consider when trying to identify what is causing parrot plucking is to determine if your pet is experiencing chronic hormonal stress. The problem of chronic hormones in parrots contributes greatly to parrot plucking behavior.
What is Chronic Hormonal Stress in Parrots?
In the wild, birds only mate for a short period of time each year because a precise set of physical and environmental conditions simultaneously come together to bring about the hormonal surges that a parrot needs to mate and rear young. After the seasonal period ends, parrot hormones resume dormant phase.
Domestic parrots, on the other hand, have been found to develop chronic, debilitating hormonal states that their bodies just can’t handle.
Here iare 5 sexually arousing conditions that induce chronic hormonal stress in Parrots (www.beautyofbirds.com).
- Bonding with a perceived mate: Your bird is not racist or even species specific in its love interests. It may perceive you as a mate. Or, in my case, my chihuahua, Pilar! Birds have been known to develop a mate-like bond with another family pet, a stuffed animal or even their own image reflected in a mirror. A bird that is “in the mood” displays crouching behavior, it may coo and ruffle its feathers.
- Diet: High levels of fat, starches and/or protein physically prepare a birds body to mate and create young. Warm, moist food in particular brings on hormonal surges. Birds in love regurgitate foods rich in protein, fat and starch to feed their mate as a form of foreplay. If your parrot is regurgitating when it is around you, it is likely that it is hormonal.
- Nesting site and materials: A bird’s idea of a love nest and your idea of one may be completely different. Your bird would be perfectly happy building a nest in a cardboard box, under furniture, behind couch cushions or even in a shoe! Any dark, confined place will do. And, in terms of nesting materials, the only requirement is that it cushions the eggs. Carpet fibers, toy fibers, or even shredded paper all work fine. Take a look around. Does your bird have accessible nesting spots and materials? Is it constantly trying to shred things?
- Petting: What loving pet owner doesn’t enjoy giving their parrot a good massage? Back stroking, massaging under the wings and around the vent area make your bird coo with pleasure, so you do it more. Just like you, your parrots body sexually responds and prepares to mate with a good massage. To avoid giving your parrot the wrong idea, limit petting to the head and feet.
- Sleep: Lengthening days, whether it is from natural sunlight or artificial light too much light is bad for parrots. Too long photoperiods cause a birds’ sexual organs to increase in size and emit reproductive hormones into the blood stream. The bird’s body is fooled into thinking that it is Spring.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that wild parrots only mate seasonally? Constant hormonal states not only damages important body structures but they can also mentally affect your pet, causing significant stress. This constant mental stress is known to induce parrot plucking.
Take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts on which of these conditions you could improve upon? How will you protect your bird?
How Constant Hormones Affect Your Parrot
When a parrot is hormonal it becomes driven and hyper vigilant. Its only intention is to breed, create a nest and rear chicks. This would be fine and dandy if the parrot actually had the opportunity to follow Mother Nature’s lead, but that's not usually the case. A parrot that can't satisfy its sexual needs becomes full of sexual tension. Thus, in a sexually frustrated state, one way to relieve tension is parrot plucking or other tension relieving behaviors.
Because Cockatoo’s are so cuddly, they are especially prone to hormone induced parrot plucking. And sadly, Cockatoo's are one of the species that is highly prone to self-mutilation. Hormone-induced parrot plucking usually starts in the chest region or between the legs, but it may progress to other areas of the body as time progresses. You must be especially careful with species prone to engaging in self-mutilation behaviors.
What Does a Hormonal Parrot Look Like?
You can prevent chronic hormonal states, but how do you know if that is what you’re dealing with? Here are signs that your bird is experiencing hormonal surges. Circle the behaviors that you’ve noticed in your parrot.
- Regurgitating by rapidly bobbing the head and neck
- Dropping its wings
- Raising its wing so that you can pet its sides
- Putting its tail or vent in the air
- Males may try to mount your hand or anything else
- Masturbating by rubbing the vent area on anything that is handy
- Females may chronically lay eggs
Of course, the more symptoms that you circled, the more hormonal your parrot may be. Now, do you remember the list of conditions that arouse sexualized behavior in parrots? Reflect on the conditions that your parrot is exposed to.
- Bonding with a perceived If your bird perceives you as its mate, it is more likely to become hormonal. This is highly preventable.
- Diets rich in calories, starch protein and fat, such as breads, pasta, meat, beans, nuts and cheese.
- Nesting opportunities consist of access to dark, small areas such as Snugglie’s, boxes, being allowed to go under furniture and into closets. It also involves having access to nest lining materials such as paper to shred, cotton or fibers, or any other cushioning material.
- Petting sensitive body parts that sexually stimulate a parrot
- Sleep dysregulation
How to Change the 5 Sexually Arousing Conditions
Make sure to socialize your parrot with all family members. Certainly, your bird may have a preferred person, but when all family members socialize the bird, it is better adjusted and has less chance of sexually bonding with just one person. If you’re not sure where to start, explore Clicker Training with the family. Teach your parrot that everyone can be a pal.
Check out the Parrot Food Pyramid below. Notice that it is recommended that the bulk of the diet should consist of premium parrot pellets. Supplemental foods, should consist of about 10% of the diet. Notice that the recommended intake of fat, protein and sugars is low. Reserve tasty goodies for training purposes.
To reduce nesting opportunities, remove bird beds or “Snugglies” from the cage. Examine whether your parrot is shredding anything in the cage, from tray liners to fluffy toys. Instead, increase foraging toys and add foraging stations, so that your parrot has to problem-solve to obtain food, just like a wild parrot. If your parrot seeks nesting sites during out of cage time, eliminate those opportunities. A lot of parrots crawl down from their play stands to hide under a sofa or in a closet. Use Clicker Training and positive reinforcement to make staying on the stand more rewarding that hovering around in a make-shift “nest.” Again, creating foraging stations on the play stand is a good option.
Since adolescent and adult parrots can become stimulated with sexually arousing petting, learn how to properly pet your bird. Even wild parrot pairs only fondle sensitive places during the short window of breeding season. The image below shows you how to properly pet a parrot to prevent creating a chronically hormonal condition.
If you work all day, of course you want to socialize your parrot in the evenings. But, remember, parrots are from equatorial areas have minimal seasonal variation in daylight and night hours. You can expect that your parrot needs between 10-12 hours of completely dark, uninterrupted sleep each night. Likewise, the parrot will benefit from between 10-11 hours of full-spectrum lighting during the day. The figure below shows you where your species of bird is from and how many hours of sleep and daylight are recommended. If you are unable to filter out light during much needed sleeping hours, consider covering your birds cage with a blanket or cage cover to keep the bird away from excessive light and lack of sleep, known hormone inducing situations.
In conclusion, one cause of parrot plucking is chronically hormones use the area below to jot down an action plan to get it under control.
- Diane Burroughs, LCSW