Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aaah, Summer Hormones! (Guest post)

Got a question a while back from a hen owner whose bird is shrieking for her ALL THE TIME and presenting her vent to her as well. She pleaded for help. Here is my answer (which applies to both chronic egg layers, regurgitators, compulsive masturbators, overly-bonded-to-one-person-birds, and possibly hormonal pluckers. It applies to both hens and cocks.):

Parrot-type birds only wanna have babies and have sex when the conditions are right. Sadly, in our attempt to be good bird parents, we sometimes provide these conditions without even knowing it!

Here are the ideal conditions for having a clutch:

Shrieking parrots? Could be hormones!
SPRING AND SUMMER. Extended daylight hours send the signal that it is mating season.
Solution- a sleeping cage in a quiet room away from family hubbub, where s/he can get 12 hours of dark & quiet.

ABUNDANCE OF FOOD. When we overload the dish with lots of food, we are sending the signal that there is not only enough for her, but enough for babies.
Solution- a sprinkling of food, not a bowl full. And if they eat it all, refill with (again) just another sprinkling. Don’t starve them, but don’t give them so much that they are playing with their food, either!

RICHNESS OF FOOD. What is your bird’s main diet? If you said “seeds”, you should work on converting her/him to a pellet based diet supplemented by greens veggies and fruits. They are lower in fat. Cut out rich fatty foods like seed, nuts, treats, & such when she gets crazed like this. When a hen 'tiel I know starts acting this way, she gets enough pellets to last her a couple hours (a mere sprinkling) and greens only. No seed, no other fun foods. (Boy, does she give her bird parent the evil eye--but no eggs!)

Too much couple time and not enough larger flock
time can lead to hormonal rages.
PRESENCE OF A “MATE” (real or imagined). If you are her perceived mate, you should shun her when she acts randy, and only touch her head, neck, beak (not the skin attaching her beak to her face, though), and her feet. Full body stroking (cockatoo owners, are you listening?!), touching of wings, back, tail, etc are sexual to a bird. Do not send her that message.

PRESENCE OF A “NEST SITE” (real or imagined). Remove any huts, tents, boxes, cubbies, etc. Rearrange her cage & play areas so that they are sparse and have no dark areas.

SAFETY (familiar surroundings she knows are safe) TO RAISE A CLUTCH. Move the location of her cage to another side of the room, add a new strange toy in there or rearrange the cage so it is unfamiliar. Move her food cups from where they usually are.

MATE TIME VS. FLOCK TIME. Make sure that lots of the time she is out of her cage is “flock time” not one-on-one “mate time”, if possible. Is she your only bird? If so, then “flock time” is as many humans in the house as possible + her. “Mate time” is time she spends alone one-on-one with you. Make more of her time (when possible) flock time and when she must have mate time, do not encourage her advances at all. Ignore screaming, masturbation, seduction attempts, regurgitation. Do not allow her to seek out dark spaces at any time. Start eating meals as a flock, and have her shower (in the shower) with various members of your household (not just you).

Excessive stroking and hiding inside or under
things is a big no no.
DRY SEASON. Birds have more of a sex drive in the hot long days of the dry season, not winter (the wet season). Take away the illusion of ideal conditions by showering (and I mean drenching the bird!) frequently.

Creating conditions opposite to ideal for creating a clutch is the way to cool off those raging hormones! Redirect those instinctual behaviors! Giving your bird a behavioral "out" to take their instincts to is an excellent but not often talked-of strategy. Foraging toys and shreddables are the best tools for this trick. There are some great choices at Momma Bird's Toy Shoppe and Cafe!

The author is the founder of Squawk and Howl, and has worked with parrots as a behaviorist, sitter, and rescuer.

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