Explaining Your Bird's Springtime Behaviors

Explaining Your Bird’s Springtime Behaviors

 March 31st, 2011
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Blue and gold macaw

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.

Congo african grey

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.

Rosebreasted cockatoo and Congo african grey

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.

Blue and gold macaws

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.

Blue fronted amazon

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.

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42 Comments on “Explaining Your Bird’s Springtime Behaviors”

Cliff Main  04/02/2011 9:32 am

I now have 2 green cheek conures. They fight when they are near each other, but respect me enough to let be break up the fights with bare hands. Spring has not inspired these two to get along any better,
I agree completely with how the birds will protect their cages at this time of the year. I now let them decide if they want out of the cage, and have place a perch on the outside of the cage. I wait until they go to that outside perch before asking them to “step up”. This eliminates the potential for a bite if I had to put my hand in the cage. I find that avoiding the bite by understanding the bird’s behaviour is a great way to get along with my little friends, Beans and Marly. Thank you for the insight as to “why” the behaviour is different.

Ann  04/04/2011 3:59 am

Make sure your females get lots and lots of calcium in the spring!!! Our lovebird uses a cuttle bone, but we get an extra rx supplement from the vet when she gets in breeding mode. She lays an egg pretty much every year, and no amount of the above advice has kept her from doing it. I do everything suggested above and I intervene in any vent rubbing I see, but to no avail. Having extra calcium ensures she can lay an egg safely, and then we just leave it in her cage for awhile after she has it. She gets to have her one egg for awhile and then she is over it. But having extra calcium in the diet is key for safe egg laying, Without it, the egg will bind and that is very life threatening.

Samantha Beardsmore  04/04/2011 4:25 am

My Sun Conure – Sunny – attacks my husband if he enters the room with me and Sunny. We’ve tried various methods to stop this behaviour but to no avail. Sunny flies at my husband’s face, especially his eyes, and also drags his claws over my husband’s head when flying over him. We hope the end of the breeding season comes soon!!!!!!

Enid  04/04/2011 4:28 am

My male sulphur crested cockatoo gets very protective of me (his female owner) in Spring – so much so that he attacks my husband whenever he comes near….

Beeker’s Birds  04/04/2011 8:39 am

I inherit a pair of Yellow Crown Amazons. They have already done their thing, she laid her four eggs, and all were healthy babies. These two birds are fairly young, I was wondering how many years can they produced fertile eggs? I know these birds can live a long life, but I can’t imagine they are able to produce fertile eggs the entire time.

Mary Battershill  04/04/2011 8:55 am

My 30-year old LSCC acted seasonal for the first time that I am aware of this year. He began to make it his mission, rather than merely a hobby, to try to bite me, and to challenge me when I approached his playstand. This only started after we returned from a 2-week vacation, during which he was boarded with several other birds. The difference this year was that our vacation was a month later than usual, so I am surmising that he got stirred up hormonally by being with other birds during the spring season–though the boarding room has no windows… Anyway, after about 2 weeks, he seems to have decided to return grab-at-the-finger to hobby status. I have noticed this year that whenever I move the cage into the sunshine for a change of scene, he begins to shred paper, no doubt also a hormonal behaviour. Birds is fun!

pat henry  04/04/2011 9:06 am

i have 8 caiques sooooo it should be interesting .so far it just playing and preening.my one little guy has always thought that i was his mate and the others were our children.he has not gone totally hormonly yet but who can say.

jane newton  04/04/2011 9:07 am

I use Pluck No More from Kings Cages on a regular basis. When I stop using it, my bird screams, so I have him on a capful daily. I change his water right before he goes to bed, and it stays clean through the night. He soaks all his dried fruits in his water, and it is very messy by that evening, but he goes through a lot of water. My husband can tell when I quit using this miracle formula, and begs me to order more quickly. I know I sound like an ad for the stuff, but I SWEAR if you use it EVERYDAY, it will make a difference. Buy a three month supply, and see if it doesn’t help! My blue and gold used to scream all day long, and now I seldom hear a scream at all!

Linda Elliott  04/04/2011 9:13 am

I am the owner of a blue and gold macaw (he is 4 years old and I am his 3rd owner), he was very aggressive when I first had him, but I have prided myself on how well his aggression hasdiminished in the year that I have had him. That was until the clocks went forward last week, he has become very aggressive again and took a massive chunk out of my hand a couple of days ago and adopting the naughty behaviour he original had when I first had him. That will teach me to be smug, roll on summer !!!!

Patty Horvath  04/04/2011 10:01 am

Patty, Thanks so much for all the info you put out. I am a rookie when it comes to my blue and gold Ozzie. I don’t get to spend much time with him. Actually he is not mine, but I have been Babysitting for months now. Your posts are really helping. I don’ t think he eats enough and lately he has been very aggressives. This could explain that behavior. Thanks again.

Desiree’  04/04/2011 10:25 am

My goffin has a ring made of fabric. He has been chewing up all the wood he can in his cage and placing it in this ring and anything else he can put there. We really believe he is a male. Do the males make the nests? Is this what he is doing?

Marge Gehrum  04/04/2011 11:58 am

question I have a male military mccaw, and shortly will have an umbrella cockatoo,sex unknow right now. Both have their own cages of course. Will they become friends? thanks for your help….Marge

Val  04/04/2011 12:10 pm

My male yellow naped Amazon- normally a loving bird – turns into an aggressive unpredictable fiend!!! I have endured many severe bites as a result. Nowadays when he starts his attacks I put on the safety specs, mask, and baseball cap when he is let out of his cage. It dosen’t look pretty but it does offer a degree of protection!!

Trish  04/04/2011 1:20 pm

We have 4 parrots, all males. This time of the year I uncover them late and turn their lights on late (9:00 am). I also turn them off early like it was still winter (4:00 pm). I still cover them at 7:00 pm like I do all winter. Though my green cheek is cage agressive this time of the year, it’s not bad, the others are fairly calm. Our Goffins is a little more nippy but really not much. He is a rescue and barbers this time of the year. It could be the season, but we don’t know since this behavior was already established. We just feed him more calcium and protien so he’ll be better able to grow his feathers back around June. I don’t notice any more noise, though my two conures love to shred the news paper on the bottom of their cages. I think the lighting control works pretty well for us.

Trish  04/04/2011 1:27 pm

@ Samantha,
Please consider clipping your Sunny’s wings this time of the year! This will stop the agressive behavior towards your husband. Sunny feels like the alfa male right now and is trying to drive his competition away from you-his mate. If you clip him he will settle down considerably. It’ll probably solve our problem. Don’t feel sorry for him, he’ll be fine. I have a sun conure named Sunny as well! Good luck and I hope you consider my advice. It will work.

Bunny  04/04/2011 1:56 pm

My B$G gets honery. She bites and hates me to change the papers in the bottom of her cage. This goes on for about 6 weeks in Jan. Then she is miss perfect again. It requires patient as they are not responsible for their behavior. I just let her alone for that time period unless she chooses to like me… Just think of a teenager and you have it.

Argel  04/04/2011 4:46 pm

Thanks for the info. It came at the right time. Now I know why my pineapple cheeked conure laid three unfertile eggs. I tried looking for a breeder around the area where I live to get it a male, but that was impossible. The funny thing is that my conure is four years old and had never before done this.

Nikki  04/04/2011 4:50 pm

@ Desiree:

Yes, the males prepare the nests. I have a Goffin, too. He also tries to “mount” my hand. :-/

Gloria Wong  04/04/2011 5:21 pm

Thanks for the info. My sulfur crested 7yr old is like clockwork.. Every year about this time she/he starts to break off her feathers in groves. She gets a lot of attention so I figured it’s hormonal. We tend to let her stay up til 8-8:30pm…Maybe I will try putting her to bed earlier.

marian  04/04/2011 7:32 pm

I have three conures, two are female, can I keep them in the same cage ? They all seem to be unseperatable, and dont like to be seperated.?

Name (required)  04/04/2011 8:47 pm

Poppy, our Mexican double yellow head who’s about 4 years old, must be retarded as he acts crazy all the time. Always talks up a storm. Whistles the Andy Griffth tune and Woody woodpecker tune, tells whoever is at the door to just COME IN, ECT, ECT, ECT……..a real pain in the …… I wouldn’t trade him for anything..

Kirk  04/04/2011 9:33 pm

My Amazon, Bert, is “in season” pretty much all year. My wife calls him “Bert the Perv”.

Bonnie  04/04/2011 10:59 pm

for the person with the female cockatiel….leave her until she has laid 4 eggs, then take them out…if she is like my female that will stop the laying for a while, while she builds up her calcuim…I give her oyster shell and she loves it, year round.

Intisar  04/05/2011 3:21 pm

Thanks for this information as I was wandering what happened to my male cockatiel, he is following my hands like crazy and the female just screaming (unfortunately they don’t like each other), and my african grey wants to stay in his cage much longer and become aggressive.

Shaunna Gunderson  04/06/2011 9:39 am

ouch ouch ouch! When they bite do we ignore the bite and just put them away for a bit? or do we tell them NO! and hold their beak for a moment……

Graham  04/06/2011 6:40 pm

i have two male cockatiels, is it unusual for them to mate together? we cant really stop them a lot of the time as we just look into the front room and there they are, doing it :L
but i suppose without a female in there lives a this moment in time, they gotta improvise eh.

Patty  04/06/2011 11:20 pm

Hi Shaunna,
Ignore the bite and after a minute put the bird in the cage if you feel it’s necessary. You don’t want to pick the bird up directly after the bite because it will be perceived as a reward (your physical attention) for the bite. Telling a bird “no” is verbal attention and holding the beak is a form of punishment and will earn you another bite! Punishment does not work with birds, it just leads to mistrust and further issues. Try to ignore the bite, especially during this time of year. It’s really best not to make a big deal of the misbehavior because it will pass when the breeding season ends.

Patty  04/06/2011 11:28 pm

Hi Graham,
I have two male cockatiels that are quite fond of each other as well. It happens. Apparently, it happens in the wild as well. One of the animal channels did a documentary on the subject 4 or 5 years ago.

Macawma  04/07/2011 11:02 am

Well, my B&G started early…REALLY early. Last October, late, in fact. Almost overnight, my VERY sweet loving boy started biting hard and flaring his wings at me. He started attacking my other macaw, a harlequin, and just became a general pill. Once I figured out I could pad my arm against the bites…he quit, realizing his biting was doing no harm. I took an oven mitt, nice thick one, and cut off the thumb and the very end of the finger part so I could slip my arm through it. The look on his face when he grabbed my arm and it did no good was priceless! He still acts out quite a bit, but is readily stepping up and being a bit sweeter. Funny thing is, when I hold him and pet his head, he still turns his face up to me and pumps like a feeding baby bird. He’s a nut! But I love him!

Marcia Wolfe  04/07/2011 7:16 pm

Thanks for your informative column. I always enjoy reading your suggestions and the comments from other bird owners. We have a female eclectus who has a different reaction to hormones. She does lay eggs, which is okay, but she also bites at her feet – sometimes until they bleed. She has had to wear a cone at least three times so her feet can heal. We have made some changes in order to help her get through these periods. She is getting more sleep by being covered earlier. We have taken any nesting material out of her cage and we have stopped petting her on the back. The vet also suggested a shot periodically to often the hormonal changes. Comments?

Suzy  04/07/2011 7:41 pm

I have a female cockatiel who is in heat frequently during the entire year. She becomes more of a screamer even though I have eliminated all sources of stimulation. She also tends to lay eggs quite often. When I leave them in the cage hoping she’ll stop laying, she holds off eating for a good portion of the day. Is there anything else I can do to control the egg laying and screaming a little better.

McCall Weiner  04/08/2011 2:54 pm

My Red Lord Amazon won’t let anyone or anything
near me! He bites, now attacks! Help
What do we do with him…..

Patty  04/08/2011 7:41 pm

Hi McCall,
Male amazons can get VERY hormonal in the spring. Please be careful. Now is not the time to address behavioral issues because he is not himself. Keep yourself and everyone else safe from potential bites until the season passes. Be respectful of him, especially near his cage. Keep him off your shoulder and away from your face. I know someone who suffered from a vicious attack from a male amazon last year that made her plastic surgeon rich. Put him away when others get near you. He perceives you as his mate and is trying to scare off the competition. He might decide to take his frustrations out on you as well. It will pass, but be on your guard until it does.

Patty  04/08/2011 7:58 pm

Hi Suzy,
Chronic egg laying can be a problem with cockatiels.Here’s a link to a post that will help: http://www.old1.birdtricks.com/blog/so-your-parrot-laid-an-egg/.

Patty  04/08/2011 8:04 pm

Hi Marcia,
Since your bird is injuring herself during this time of year, I would consider the hormone shots. A lot of birds also pluck only during this time of year. I would do whatever I needed to to stop the injury.

Bhav  04/16/2011 7:19 pm

I have rehomed a blue fronted amazon last year but had greys before. This blue fronted amazon is tempramental at the best of times but is even worse now. He just cant be trusted and so he has to spend alot of time in his cage even though he has a big play gym and stand. I wish I could do something about this have been doing what you suggest but has not mellowed him out yet.

Roxanne  04/23/2011 9:10 pm

I have 2 female macaws 1 B/G 23 yrs old & 1 Camelot recuse approx 10 yrs old. They are both in breeding mode bigtime! The feathers are flying from all the fighting they are doing. I believe the Camelot is trying to be the alpha around here but I keep telling her she is on the bottom of the totem pole. She is flying attacking me & the B/G . She is taking hunks out of me wherever she can. Right before this started I found her trying to mount the string of block toys she likes. I need to get these 2 out of this mode for harmony to resume around here & I have all my skin back. Ineed HELP desparately & soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Patty  04/23/2011 11:39 pm

Hi Roxanne,
Here is a link to a post about handling hormonal birds: http://www.old1.birdtricks.com/blog/handling-hormonal-birds/. I recommend that you keep the birds separated if they are fighting and limit out of cage time until things return to normal for your own safety. Please follow the advice in the article. It really does help.

helen  05/12/2011 10:30 am

any tips on how to stop tiels got 3 living together 2 males 1 female she only interested in 1 male though

helen  05/12/2011 10:31 am

any tips on how to stop tiels breeding and laying eggs got 3 living together 2 males 1 female she only interested in 1 male though

Patty  05/13/2011 9:26 pm

Hi Helen,
Here:s a post that will help: http://www.old1.birdtricks.com/blog/so-your-parrot-laid-an-egg/.

lyndsa  04/02/2012 4:53 pm

Thank you so much. Sometimes it is hard to go through information about behavioral patterns and know what is real and what is not.