Hormonal behavior in parrots

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It is no surprise that bird rescues have become overwhelmed, considering that most parrots are passed between five different owners before finding a permanent home. Even more concerning is the fact that bird sanctuaries have reported receiving an average of 1,500 calls annually from individuals wishing to give up their birds, partly due to chronic hormonal behavior or other behaviors that interfere with family life.

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.

What Does Hormonal Behavior in Parrots Look Like?

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! 

Your bird may display some hormone related behaviors like:

  • Acting sexual when you pet them on their back or wings
  • Plucking its feathers on the chest or between its legs
  • Trying to throw up on you 
  • Crouching down, panting, and masturbating
  • Hiding under furniture because it seems like a good place to make a nest
  • Shredding carpet, paper, and other soft items
  • Biting and lunging at people
  • Screaming

How to pet a parrot
©Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW  

Environmental Triggers For Bird Hormone Surges

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! 

1.  Increase darkness: One of the best ways to stop hormonal behaviors in birds is to increase its hours of sleep from the usual 10 -12 hours to 14 - 16 hour per night.  Use blackout shades if necessary to make it dark.

2. Perceived Nest and Nesting Materials. When birds have the right things to build their nests with and somewhere to build them, they get excited and happy! Parrots can use a lot of things as a good spot for their nests, like the cushions of your couch, pieces of furniture, a cardboard box, or even a special place like a Happy Hut or Bird Snuggly! 

Once a bird finds the perfect spot for its nest, it starts gathering materials to make it cozy for its future babies. To build the nest, it shreds things like paper, clothes, ribbons, string and pieces of soft toys. I even saw one bird who collected pieces of carpet!

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.

3. Refrain From Petting: Parrots may behave hormonally when they see something as a potential partner. For example, some parrots see their reflection in the mirror as a mate and others may even think that a family pet is their romantic partner! When birds think they have found their true love, it causes a big hormone rush. 

How Do You Manage Hormonal Behavior In Birds?

It's normal for your bird to act differently when it's feeling hormonal, but punishing it isn't a good idea. Even though this behavior can be really frustrating, it's important to remember it's just a natural reaction.

It's always a good idea to do our best to avoid anything that could trigger hormonal behavior in birds. This can lead to "chronic hormonal behavior," hormones that last year around. Adult birds will still have seasonal hormone spikes from time to time. The best way to be safe is to take precautions and make sure to be extra careful around them when these surges happen.

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Read on to learn 6 tips for how to stop hormonal behavior in parrots.

1 – Use "The Percher" hand-saver perch. When your bird is hormonal it is more apt to bite. Prevent painful hand 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, a hormonal bird will to better with more hours of darkness. Aim for 14 - 16 hours each night during hormone season to keep hormones in balance. A sleep cage with a cover will work for the 3 - 4 weeks of parrot hormone season.

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 -
Cut back on easily accessible foods, fats, and protein.

 Instead Feed:

  • Wheat Germ
  • Hemp Seed
  • Lot’s of fresh, uncooked vegetables
  • Low-sugar, antioxidant rich fruits like blueberries

4 –  Keep Your Bird Busy. When you give your parrot toys and activities that will distract it from its urges, you’ll find that the behavior will likely subside.

You’ll want to provide your bird with activities that will encourage foraging, like putting bird-safe pesticide-free twigs, sticks, and leaves from safe plants in the cage. You can supply chunks of wood,  newspaper and phone books so that your bird can focus on chewing to release the built up sexual energy. Flying is also a great way for your parrot to release that energy too.

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.

What happens when birds get hormonal?

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:

  • Feather Plucking
  • Screaming
  • Biting

Some chronically hormonal birds turn to feather plucking 

It is not unusual for chronically hormonal birds to turn to feather plucking to deal with their frustration. A lot of parrot species pluck out feathers to line their nests during breeding season, so it is easy to see how a sexually frustrated bird turns to plucking.  

Hormonal birds tend to pluck their chest or between their legs.

Bird collars can protect your bird during this time. 

Hormonal birds may scream more

If your bird is hormonal, you can curb its screaming 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 a bird 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."

Birds May Become More Aggressive When They're Hormonal

If you notice that your hormonal bird bites more in the spring time, you're not alone. It is common for hormonal birds to have more pent up energy and to scream and bite. The best thing that you can do during this time is to learn to read bird body language to prevent a bite.  

When my Moluccan cockatoo is feeling hormonal, he lunges, spreads his wings and screams, and paces back and forth on top of the cage.  When these behaviors start, I make sure to keep a close eye on him and back up if it gets worse.  

My African grey, on the other hand will climb down to the floor and search for a nesting site, usually a closet.  When he is hormonal, I always use my hand-saver perch and put him back in his cage because he can deliver some nasty bites. 

It is important to not feed into the biting behavior.   Getting angry, screaming, and yelling only reinforce the bird.  Instead, plan to spend a few weeks watching parrot body language and planning to protect yourself.  The last thing that you want to have happen is for this behavior to turn into a habit.

In Closing

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. 

If you found our article on Hormonal Behavior in Parrots to be helpful, please share it on your favorite social media platform.

For more information on hormonal bird behavior check out these blogs 

The Ultimate Guide To Hormonal Bird Behavior

How To Pet A Bird And Avoid Chronic Hormonal Behavior

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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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