How To Tell If Your Bird Is Hormonal
If you own a pet bird you can count on the fact that it will become hormonal as it reaches sexual maturity. That's just a fact of life! Each species may have a different set of circumstances relating to the age that they become hormonal, their chosen partners, and the frequency of hormonal behaviors. But, they all become hormonal.
Hormonal birds tend to engage in the following behaviors:
- Cuddling, snuggling up to their caretaker, and maybe even masturbating on the caretaker.
- Nest seeking behaviors like finding a dark and find cavity and shredding materials to line the potential nest
- Regurgitating on the caretaker
- Becoming very territorial regarding the nest site and jealous of anyone else but the perceived mate
Typically, smaller birds that have a shorter life span reach sexual maturity at a younger age and are capable of reproducing more frequently throughout the year.
Larger birds, like cockatoos and macaws, have young that take a longer time to fledge and that need to learn more intensive flock and safety behaviors. The rearing of larger birds typically takes longer than it does for smaller birds. These birds tend to become hormonal just once or twice a year.
When the hormonal season ends in wild birds, their hormones essentially go dormant. Things are different with our pet birds, though. Our pet birds are often exposed to year round conditions that mimic spring and which bring on a constant state of raging hormones.
These birds display behaviors that are associated with excessive or chronic hormonal states. One example might be constant territorialism and nest seeking behavior. Another example might be chronic egg-laying that depletes the bird of essential calcium and other nutrients.
For most species, a bird's body simply isn't designed to be in a constant hormonal state so chronic hormonal conditions can actually be physically and emotionally dangerous for the bird.
A lot of avian professionals believe that one important cause of feather plucking in birds is the angst associated with being in a chronic or mental state.
You can learn more about that in this blog post: 5 LINKS BETWEEN BIRD HORMONES AND FEATHER PLUCKING THAT YOU CAN CHANGE RIGHT NOW TO HELP YOUR BIRD
What Causes Hormonal Behavior In Bird's?
We bird caretakers often accidentally set up our birds' environment in a way that mimics the spring and induces chronic hormonal behavior. We also tend to interact with our birds in a way that they perceive to be “foreplay.”
Possibly, the top three hormone producing conditions that I see in my practice as a bird behaviorist include:
Inappropriate petting and handling the kind of touch that is reserved as part of a mating ritual in birds.
Keeping the bird up late into the evening thereby giving them an extended photoperiod, just like longer spring days.
- Providing the bird access to perceived nesting cavities and shredding activities.
© Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, 2021
What Is Normal Hormonal Behavior In Various Bird Species
A few other factors that influence hormonal behavior in your pet is its sex, its species, the type of nest that particular species prefers, and the lifespan of the bird.
For instance, smaller birds are typically lower on the food chain and therefore have shorter life spans. These birds tend to become hormonal throughout the year as a way to replenish their population.
Sexual behavior of 5 Common Pet Birds
Nest in pre-existing tree cavities
Mate in dry season Aug. - Jan.
Incubate the young
Hunting for food
In the Southern Hemisphere
Range of time from fledging to independence based on species
Both parents incubate
In the Southern Hemisphere
Reach sexual maturity at 3 yrs.
Guard the nest, incubate and rear young;
Hunt for food
Green Cheek Conure
Live in flocks of 10 - 20 birds
Chicks hatch after 22-25 days, 3 - 8 eggs per clutch - per season
Mature between 1 - 3 years
Mate for life
Clutch size 2 - 4 chicks
Hunt for food
Once you've set up an environmentally-safe, parrot-friendly environment and given your pet appropriate care, you can now start planning on how to get ready for normal parrot hormonal seasons going forward.
It's good to know that a normal parrot hormonal season doesn't last that long. Like, maybe just a few weeks. That is if good environmental and behavioral conditions have been consistently carried out.
In the wild, the season starts with springtime courtship rituals. Then, the happy couple proceed to locate a nest cavity and make a nest. And, finally, they breed. After they breed, the hormones start to subside.
Some experts have said that this is only a two to three-week process. It may last longer for captive birds because they simply can’t go through all of the steps. And, as soon as it's over, you'll get your gentle baby back.
So, the key to managing chronic hormonal behavior in our pet birds is setting up the environment and honing in on your parrot husbandry practices.
Certain hormone-balancing parrot supplements can support your efforts, too.
Is Lupron safe for birds?
There are four ways to manage chronic hormonal behaviors in both male and female birds:
A hysterectomy for medium to large female birds
Improved environmental management
- A combination of both hormone therapy and environmental management
Hormone Therapy -
As of this writing there are three research backed hormone therapy medications that are commonly used birds. Keep in mind that hormone therapy to solve your pets issues should be viewed as a temporary stop gap.
Depo-Provera (DEP) is a very potent hormone therapy medication that has been shown to be effective in reducing chronic egg-laying in birds.
Unfortunately it can have some bad side effects depending on the physiological, emotional, and hormonal variables that the bird presents. Birds that use it are at risk for hepatic lipidosis. Worse, it's difficult to predict whether a particular individual bird will tolerate Depo-Provera or not. For these reasons, many avian veterinarians only use Depo-Provera with caution.
Lupron has been shown to be more accepted in the veterinarian Community for slowing down the production of gonadotropin releasing hormones from the pituitary. It is better tolerated and has no known negative side effects.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) - antagonizes the production of hormones by causing low levels of progesterone to be produced by the body. It can work for chronic egg laying.
It is always recommended to combine hormone therapy alongside behavior modification. These medications provide temporary relief but they can't override your birds natural hormonal responses to environmental stimuli.
Lupron and Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) have been found to be safe, they are not as effective as DEP.
Bird hormone treatments should be viewed as a used temporary tool. Hormone treatments only work for a short period of time. Birds will need repeated shots, and then there are many reports that Lupron loses its efficacy in long term use.
Hormone medications will not solve the problem but they'll temporarily calm the intensity of the problem, giving you time to adjust your parrot care routines.
it'sDon't get me wrong! Hormone medications have their place in the care parrots who are experiencing dangerous health problems due to their chronic hormonal state.
Getting a female bird a hysterectomy is a big deal. It's an invasive procedure and, if successful, will stop chronic hormonal problems for good. Larger birds tolerate hysterectomies much better than smaller birds.
In fact, many avian vet’s will not perform a hysterectomy on a small bird like a cockatiel because it's just too risky.
Always discuss the pros and cons of this invasive procedure with your avian vet, weighing it against medications, behavior modification, and environmental rearrangement.
Behavior modification and environmental rearrangement
I'm not trying to blame you. Most people would never intentionally do anything to harm their feathered friend.
More frequently, parrot caretakers believe that birds have the same environmental and behavioral needs as domesticated dogs and cats.
But, birds are exotic pets with unique care requirements.
According to Dr. Mike Mitchell, “The problem is that the changes needed to resolve these problems are often the kind of changes that alter the status of our relationship with them (parrots) as pets in ways that we don’t want to accept.”
In other words, the simple yet required changes affect the way that we, as people, like to interact with our pets. It's very important that you realize that your feathered friend has unique care needs when it comes to hormone management.
And, if you don't make environmental changes to help your bird to regain normal hormone cycles, it will continue to be plagued with dangerous, ongoing health and emotional symptoms of chronic hormonal behavior.
Why is Lupron given to birds?
Lupron, also known as leuprolide acetate, is used to decrease the luteinizing hormone levels by regulating the GnRH receptors. It is a temporary “stop gap” to use as you and your bird behaviorist explore important behavioral and environmental changes that will have lasting effects.
Reproductive disorders are common in pet birds because most caretakers simply don't understand what conditions bring on hormonal behavior. They don’t understand that for most bird species, hormones are dormant for a good portion of the year.
Others think that it is cute when their bird's cuddle up and coo all over them. They love it when their bird nests in a box. Unfortunately, the bird is thinking, “Oh yeah, ow, we’ll start a family.” Of course, that never happens.
The effects on your bird’s body are harmful. Male birds become territorial and aggressive. They also scream and they often feather pluck in angst.
Females also nest and mate guard. But, worse, they can develop chronic egg laying and prolapse issues. Worrying about the adverse health effects makes the owner want to comfort the bird with cuddles and petting even more - until the issue turns into a dangerous health condition.
© Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, 2021
Unfortunately, there is a large range of published leuprolide acetate doses described in the literature so your avian vet may have to play around with the dosage” to manage hormonal imbalances. But, leuprolide acetate, or Lupron, has been found to be very useful in controlling chronic egg laying in parrots.
What are the effects of Lupron?
Of the commonly used bird hormone treatments, Lupron is reported to be well-tolerated.
Avian vets have the ethical obligation to make veterinary decisions based on doing more good than harm. In other words, they weigh the medical effects of the disorder against the efficacy and side effects of the medication, also taking into account your bird’s unique presentation.
So, in the case of chronic egg-laying, we know that a bird is susceptible to depleted calcium levels. And, that they can develop muscle fasciculations and life-threatening seizures if the chronic egg laying is not gotten under control.
The vet may ask you to choose between medication or a hysterectomy, which, of course, has downsides, too. For instance, safely performing a hysterectomy on a very small bird, like a cockatiel, is something that many vets are not comfortable with.
How to safely resolving hormonal behavior in birds at home without drugs
What if I told you that, in many cases, you can safely resolve hormonal behavior at home by making a few, simple environmental and parrot husbandry changes?
And, that there is a way to quickly balance hormones, in many cases? Check it out in my book.
In conclusion, ask yourself, “ would I be willing to make a few changes for the health of my bird? To help my chronically hormonal bird experience normal hormone cycles?
If your bird is experiencing chronic hormonal symptoms, you'll have to weigh the pros and cons between the following options:
Letting your bird continue to experience these debilitating symptoms
Using medications that may or may not work
Having a surgical hysterectomy, if it’s female
- Making changes in your parrot care routines.
No statements on this site have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). My products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. BirdSupplies.com, Inc. assumes no responsibility for the improper use of and self-diagnosis and/or treatment using these products.
You can help your bird lower the production of luteinizing hormones by doing 3 important things.
Taking away nesting opportunities.
Putting your bird to bed early so that it gets 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
- Avoiding “lovey-dovey” interactions that your bird interprets as foreplay.
To gain a deeper understanding of how to support bird hormonal behavior check out these blog posts:
Millam,JR, Roudybush, TE, Grasu, CR: Influence of environmental manipulation and nest box access on reproductive activity in captive cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus). Zoo Biol 7:25-34, 1988
Millam, JR, Finney, HL.: Leuprolide acetate reversibly prevents egg laying in cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus). Zoo Biol 13:149-155, 1994
Mitchell, MA. Leuprolide Acetate. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, Vol 14, No 2 (April), 2005; pp 153-155.
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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