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Did you know that one reason bird rescues are overcrowded is because of chronic hormonal behavior in parrots?
Statistics suggest that almost every parrot will have at least five different homes before they find a permanent family. In general, bird sanctuaries claim they receive, on average, an astounding 1,500 calls every year from bird owners who wish to give up their pets.
What’s even more telling is that of those sanctuaries, they claim that they can only accept up to 30 birds a year—even though they continue to get at least four calls every day from those who cannot care for their birds.
Signs of chronic hormonal behavior include biting and aggression, loud screaming, ripping up carpet and furniture, hiding under furniture every chance they get, and health issues.
When people are faced with chronic hormonal bird behavior they tend to feel overwhelmed and frustrated because they don’t fully understand why their parrot is behaving so aggressively.
As you read through this post, I’ll explain to you what these particular hormonal behaviors in parrots mean and what you can do to help stop your bird from doing it. BirdSupplies.com is here to support all things parrot wellness, including hormonal parrots.
You’ll also learn how these behaviors may be caused by some easily changed. Husbandry strategies.
Hormonal behavior in parrots is a natural thing. Some species are more prone to year-round hormonal behavior while other species only become hormonal once or twice a year.
During hormonal times, parrot owners may experience excitable, impulsive birds, aggression, and some owners may even experience their beloved bird ditching them and preferring another family member!
Some hormonal signs your bird may exhibit include:
©Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW
We’ve all experienced a hormonal shift in our personalities from time to time. Luckily as a parrot owner, you’ll only have to experience a hormonal parrot once, maybe twice a year. Just remember that it’s completely natural and plan ahead for it!
Wild parrots tend to experience normal hormonal behavior for a period of several weeks each spring. This is the time of year when the days are getting longer and warmer. But, it isn’t just longer exposure to sunlight that can set those hormones ablaze. Artificial light can also cause the bird's reproductive organs to grow and cause a surge in hormonal activity.
One important way to curb hormonal behavior in your bird is to ensure that it gets enough sleep at night. Most birds need 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night.
Parrots also start exhibiting hormonal behavior when they have access to suitable nesting materials and a place to build said nest. A parrot could interpret many things as a suitable nesting site - under the couch cushions, under furniture, a cardboard box, and even a Happy Hut or bird snuggly could serve as a nest.
Once the bird has found its nest site oh, now it wants to shred things and prepare the area for babies. Once again, our creative and resourceful birds add shredded paper, pieces of clothing, ribbons, string or other soft toy parts. I even had a bird once that pulled out carpet fibers.
If you noticed that your parrot is hiding, it's probably found a nesting spot. If you see it scoping out areas behind furniture cushions, in boxes, or some place that is dark and secluded, nip the problem in the bud and put the bird back in its cage during its hormonal season.
Another thing that can trigger hormonal behavior in parrots is if your bird perceives you as its potential mate. Some birds perceive their reflection in a mirror as a mate. My carpet pulling African grey parrot thinks that my dog is its mate. When a bird has set its sights on a "perceived lover" it will experience hormonal surges.
Even though hormonal behavior can be annoying as all get-out. Or, the bird becomes aggressive, it would be counterproductive to punish your bird for natural hormonal behavior.
The better way to deal with it is to prevent unnatural states of hormonal behavior as much as possible.
Read on to learn 6 tips for how to stop hormonal behavior in parrots.
1 –Use The Percher to train your parrot. When your bird is hormonal, you don’t really want to get too up close and personal with it, because they could become aggressive and bite you—hard. Prevent painful bites with The Percher. It lets you pick up your bird without the fear of losing a finger. Simply put the top of the perch to your parrot's chest and say “up” or “step up!” when you need to move your hormonal parrot.
2 – Decrease your parrot’s exposure to light. As a rule, your bird requires at least 10 to 12 hours of complete darkness every night to keep hormones in balance. You’ll want to make sure the room your bird is in can be completely dark and that your bird can’t be disturbed, and if you cannot darken the room sufficiently, you will want to put a dark blanket or cover on the cage.
3 –Change your parrot’s diet. When your bird becomes hormonal, you’ll want to avoid giving it starchy foods and even high calorie/high fat foods. These types of foods can send signals to the bird that it is the right time to start having babies. Many respected breeders also note that warm, cooked foods may induce hormonal surges. When it comes to your hormonal parrot’s diet, reduce starchy high protein foods such as breads, corn, potatoes, beans, nuts, cheeses or meats.
4 –Entertain Your Bird. When you give yourparrot toys and activities that will distract it from its urges, you’ll find that the behavior will likely subside.
5 - Remove Anything That Can Be Construed As A Nest Box Or Nesting Materials.This might include any Bird Snugglies, boxes or paper bags that your bird crawls into. Don't allow your bird to crawl around on the floor and hide under furniture.
6 - Be Aware Of How You Pet Your Bird. Your bird believes that full body petting is sexual so when you pet it, like one might pet a dog or cat, it simply makes your parrot hormonal and invites"bad behavior." It is safe to pet your parrot's head, high neck, around its beak and its ears. Feet are okay to pet, too.
Now that we’ve discussed how to stop hormonal behavior in parrots, let’s discuss harmful hormonal behavior in parrots that often leads to rehoming. There are three hormonal behaviors that commonly cause owners to give up their parrots. These are:
For many parrot owners, seeing your parrot pulling out their feathers (or feather plucking) can be quite alarming. Before you start to panic and pull out your own hair, take your bird to an avian veterinarian to clear your parrot of health concerns. Once the vet cleared your parrot of medical concerns, you will want to understand a few things about this behavior.
Feather plucking can be caused by environmental changes, like moving its cage, getting another pet, they could have dry skin, or being placed near a window where they can see predatory birds. If none of these changes occurred, next look at its routine. Maybe you got a new job and are exposing the bird to more light than normal, or you’ve changed how often you give it attention. If everything has stayed the same, then it may be safe to say the feather plucking is, in fact, due to hormones.
In general, feather plucking is a sad but common problem for birds who are kept in captivity. The birds are often faced with stressors that their free brethren do not experience because they have the ability to focus their energy on staying alive and reproducing. If your bird consistently plucks out their feathers, there are ways you can treat and prevent this behavior.
In extreme cases of feather plucking, you can usebird collars to prevent the bird from hurting itself, however it is not entirely recommended because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem and it can also agitate the bird even more.
Suppose your bird is plucking out of boredom, it is up to you to provide some kind of stimulation to occupy and entertain the bird—whether you spend more time with your bird or you give it foraging and play activities to keep it occupied.
Sure, parrots are very social flock animals and they will communicate to one another with sometimes loud vocalizations throughout the day, but they should not be screaming nonstop. There’s only so much a person can take before they get fed up and want to shout or punish the bird. This is strongly discouraged because it doesn’t understand punishments and these negative actions will only be seen as aggression, which could make matters worse! Your bird will stop trusting you.
Instead of lashing out, first, make sure that your bird is alright—it has plenty of food and water, is not stuck in a toy or trapped somewhere. After all, its constant screaming could be its way of alarming you that it is in distress or wants your attention. If everything is okay, try talking back to the bird with a soft whistle or ignore it. If the parrot responds appropriately in a positive manner, reward its good behavior immediately. This will encourage your bird to focus on the positive behavior for attention rather than screaming.
Of course, if your bird is hormonal, you can curb the hormonal behavior by giving it activities that will refocus the pent up energy. As mentioned above, foraging activities and giving it opportunities to play and socialize on abird stand is a great way to help your bird. Talk to it in a normal voice and pay attention to it when it is using an "inside voice."
Just keep in mind that for a parrot, height is considered a sign of dominance. If your parrot is allowed to be on top of a cage or even on your shoulder, it may act out as a sign of dominance and power. Of course, you don’t want your bird to be too low because it will feel vulnerable or frightened. The ideal height for dealing with your bird is about chest to abdomen height.
If you’ve ever been bitten by your bird, even if by accident, you know that it hurts! It’s amazing how much power they have with their tiny beaks! Even though parrots are typically prey animals, your bird should never bite you, but sometimes accidents do happen. Most birds give warnings in the form of body language before they actually take the lunge. It is up to you to learn to read a bird's body language. Oftentimes, they will bite because they are afraid of something, whether it is excessive stimuli or a perceived threat like an animal they see outside or on the television. Hormonal birds, though, tend to be more impulsive. Like screaming, you do not want to punish the behavior because the meaning will be lost on them. If you are dealing with a parrot that is biting, you definitely want to correct the behavior, regardless if it is due to hormonal behavior or not.
While it is more difficult to prevent hormonal biting, it is recommended to avoid getting too close to your bird lest it take a bite at you. Never allow a hormonal parrot near your face. Keep your young children away from a hormonal parrot, too. But, if your bird isn’t feeling hormonal and is biting, there are some ways that you can prevent your bird from biting you. One of the most effective ways of dealing with a bird who bites is by leaving it alone; however, if your bird is a habitual biter, or it has experienced some kind of abuse or trauma in the past, then you may want to seek outside help.
Avian behavioral consultants or even your vet can help you treat the biting. It will take a lot of work and time to help your bird overcome their biting habits—especially if your bird experienced abuse or trauma because they remember mistreatment, regardless of the person who hurt them. And boy, do they hold grudges.
Your first instinct may be to show your bird who is boss and that you are in control. That’s not how birds work. Believe it or not, birds recognize respect and they can easily stop trusting you if you try to enforce dominance over them. After all, parrots are kept as companions and aren’t your typical “pet”. No matter what kind of biter your bird is, it will give you signs prior to the bite. They will use some sort of body language like their tail will flare, they’ll stare at you with pinning eyes, or their feathers will ruffle. Of course, no two bird’s body languages will be the same. Just take notice of changes in your bird so you can keep yourself protected.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the different kinds of hormonal behavior in parrots and you’ll feel more confident when you are dealing with your bird. I’m a firm believer that a properly educated bird owner is the first step to prevent parrots from being put in sanctuaries and being moved from home to home. It is no small feat to take on a parrot as a pet, as many of the birds will outlive their owners. After all, with the proper care, your parrot can be the most (appropriately) affectionate pet you’ve ever had.
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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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