I have to admit that I chuckle when I read the stories about the weird bird behaviors going on at this time of year. I think I chuckle out of relief that I’m not the only one with strange birds. This year has produced some funny stories. One friend tells me that her greater sulphur crested cockatoo unexpectedly belted out a chorus of “Splish Splash I Was Taking A Bath” at 3am a few nights ago and then quietly went back to sleep. Another friend watch with amusement as her black capped caique carried her pellets, one at a time, to the opposite side of her cage, pushed the pellet through the bars of the cage and joyously watched as it dropped to the floor. She cackled with laughter and repeated this activity until the bowl was empty. Another report tells of a cockatiel’s daily seed baths.
Why do they act so bizarre during this time of year? Because breeding season has begun and your normally level headed parrot is awash with hormones, giving your teenagers a run for their money in the weird department. Since making sense of the strange behavior is never going to happen (it’s hard to call an early morning serenade about cleanliness a breeding behavior), we can only try to understand the fact that there will be oddities come springtime.
My birds, in fact, begin their journey in January. It’s really quite easy to understand the physiological changes that happen to a bird. Birds are able to see lightwave patterns that we mere humans cannot. They are able to tell in advance of the onset of spring that the days are getting longer and that breeding season is approaching. Soon, the weather starts to get warmer and the spring rains arrive. Spring rains stimulate the plant growth telling birds that food will soon be plentiful. All of these circumstances are ideal for raising a family and a bird will become charged with hormones, nests are prepared and breeding begins. When hatched, the chicks will be doted on by their proud parents, feeding them regularly with foods they have gathered and stored in their crops.
Our birds are affected by the same stimuli that promotes breeding in the wild. They inclined to follow the rules that nature sets forth for every bird and will behave accordingly in our homes. Sometimes, though, the behaviors are not just funny and strange. Sometimes, our typically docile parrots will become cage territorial and aggressive. Sometimes the females begin laying clutches of infertile eggs to the point where her health is at risk. To keep everybody safe and sane, we need to look at our bird’s environment and eliminate the obvious triggers that bring on spring behaviors.
When trying to eliminate some breeding behaviors, it helps to take a look at the springtime practices and activities of the wild birds. Here are some things typical in the wild bird’s environment during breeding season, and those things that our parrots might find as equivalent in our homes that act as triggers to breeding behaviors:
- Nesting sites: Parrots are tree cavity dwellers. This means that our birds are going to be heading for any dark, secluded areas they can find. Cabinets and closets, beneath furniture and even a dark corner will do nicely as a nesting site for indoor birds. If your bird enjoys playing in paper bags and boxes, I recommend that you do not offer them at this time of year. Since our birds cages are their homes, and therefore their nests, it is wise to be careful when you are cleaning, feeding or simply reaching in for your bird. Many parrots, some species more than others, are inclined to defend their nests at this time of year.
- Nest lining: When a nesting site is constructed, it is lined with soft materials made from wood and plants. If you are finding your bird to be very hormonal, you might want to limit, or eliminate in some cases, shreddable and wood toys from the cage and play areas and replace them with non-destructible toys for a time. If you see your bird walking behind the drapes with a block of wood, watch out! Expect him to retaliate when you try to remove him.
- Spring rains: I am reluctant to tell someone to avoid bathing their birds, but a warm shower or misting can sometimes further a bird’s breeding mood. If you are noticing particularly hormonal behavior on a given day, put the bath off until the next day.
- Warmer and longer days: Well, to be honest there is a limit to what we can do about this. We can’t control seasonal changes, but we can control the climate in the house to a degree. During the spring, your bird should have 10-12 hours of darkness each day to offset the lengthening daylight hours. Although there isn’t too much discussion on temperature, I tend to think that maintaining a constant temperature in the house might be the best way of keeping an awareness of the rising mercury levels from our indoor birds.
- Breeding: Your bird is in breeding mode, and sexual activity is on his or her mind. Please be very careful where and how you touch your bird at this time. Limit your affection to the head and neck areas only. This is not the time to play tickle games with your bird. You will stimulate him and he will begin to regard you as a potential mate. You don’t want to be around when he finally realizes that you aren’t going to put out.
- Chick feeding: The parenting birds will feed, and then regurgitate their meal to their young. As imagined, it is warm and mushy. Serving these types of foods to hormonal birds is also a trigger for breeding behavior and you will want to provide less mashes and soft cooked foods. Opt, instead, for raw veggies. You may find that your bird tries to regurgitate for you. It means he loves you. Tell him you would prefer jewelry.
Understanding plays a big role in how well we get through these days. Compassion, patience and caution are the key words to keep in mind. Know that some birds respond to breeding stimuli more intensely than others and each year will be different from the last. It is important that you take these seasonal changes in stride and don’t overact to off behavior. While breeding behaviors will pass with time, some unwanted behaviors learned in the process might not.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.