Originally published in Pet Gazette, March/April 2014
For bird owners, spring can be a challenging time because some of our feathered companions can turn into hormonal monsters. Spring can make us cower in terror … thinking of Band-Aids, gauze, ice packs, oozing wounds, and vicious beaks.
Generally speaking, springtime is hormonal time for birds that have reached a sexually mature age. They exhibit nesting behavior that can range from annoying to downright frightening. But it can be dealt with in a loving manner. By taking the right precautions you may even be able to minimize the effects of some hormonal behavior.
Signs to look for when dealing with a hormonal parrot include:
- Excessive “love” regurgitation. Make sure you learn the differences between sick bird regurgitation and hormonal regurgitation.
- Nest making. Some birds will use anything they can get their beaks on to form a nest. Be aware of such behavior and remove any possible material that may be perceived as a good nesting item from the bird’s environment.
- Masturbation. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
- Feather picking. Yes, it can be a hormonal thing. This most commonly occurs in female birds, which will pick what is known as a “brood patch” on their chest. If they were to nest, the patch of skin would have direct contact with the eggs which would heat them more effectively.
- And the list goes on.
How can you dampen hormonal behaviors, or just make living with your parrot a bit more bearable during spring? Several factors should be considered in determining whether or not your bird’s new behaviors are hormone related. Many things can affect your bird, such as duration of light exposure, types of toys offered, and the foods provided. Some things may even be encouraging hormonal behavior.
Typically, light is one of the first environmental factors to consider. As the spring days lengthen, your bird’s schedule is thrown out of whack. Longer days tell your bird it is time to start acting in ways that will eventually lead to the laying of eggs. Is your bird exposed to 10 or more hours of light a day? How many hours a day does your bird sleep? Increasing the amount of sleeping time during the spring months and regulating the amount of light your bird gets can help lessen certain hormonal behaviors. Light can be adjusted somewhat by not exposing your bird to light too late in the evening. Shorten their day so they receive about 10 hours of light. Help accomplish this with a cover that completely covers the cage. Using a cover and turning lights out at the appropriate time should help reduce the hormonal surges.
As I said earlier, make sure your bird does not have anything in its environment that can be perceived as nesting material. For some birds, this can be a cardboard box or perhaps even the paper on the bottom of the cage. Birds will sometimes try to hide under paper, thus concealing themselves just as being in a nestbox would conceal them. If you find this to be an issue (and a cage grate is not available) consider using a single piece of cage liner such as a cage catcher (replacing it daily). This thinner paper (with one waxed side for moisture control) may be harder for the bird to hide under than newspaper.
For other birds, shredding paper is an activity that stimulates hormonal reaction. In this case, it may be best to keep a cage grate in place to prevent access to the paper. Of course, otherwise wonderful cage accessories, like tents, provide an inviting place for a bird interested in reproducing. So removing these accessories from hormonal birds is a good idea.
Other things, like certain seasonal foods, can also encourage hormonal behaviors. Take sprouts for example. While they are chock full of nutrition, they are also a spring item that can stir hormones. Why? Because sprouts occur when seeds are fresh, have access to enough moisture, air, and sun that they can sprout. Sprouts scream SPRING. Other foods that can encourage hormones are seed mixtures that contain hemp, excessive amounts of warm, cooked foodstuffs, and increased carbohydrates.
Taking the right precautions can help prevent the full onslaught of hormonal behaviors…. and hopefully reduce a need to increase your stock of Band-Aids!