Handling Hormonal Birds

Handling Hormonal Birds

 March 29th, 2009
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Umbrella Cockatoo

It’s that time of year. (sigh) I hear the same question over and over: “What is happening to my sweet bird?”

Spring is a time that seems to bring out the worst in our companion parrots. Hormones (triggered by weather changes, increased daylight hours and a variety of other factors) start coursing through the blood stream bringing about chemical changes in the body and some pretty odd behaviors. Some parrots seem immune to the effects, some might just be a little “off” for a while, others turn into screaming, biting harbingers of death. Some may remain this way for a couple of weeks, others, several months. Its intensity can also vary in one bird from season to season.

The most important thing to remember is that your bird is NOT being “bad”. This is nature at work. It is up to YOU to cope with and manage any undesirable behaviors in such a way that your relationship is intact when the storm is over.

Here are a few tips on how to deal with a hormonally charged bird:

1. Keep your bird from going into dark, hidden areas that would make a lovely a nest. A dimly lit corner is enough to get my male cockatoo going. One of his favorite things to do is to play inside of a paper bag, a box, or beneath his cage cover. This is not the time to allow these activities as they encourage territorial behavior. The paper bag is perceived and prepared as a nest site and your normally sweet baby can work himself up into a frenzy if allowed.

2. Be very respectful in and around his cage. This is his home and, therefore, his nest. He will defend it mercilessly, even from you. When it is time to clean or change toys, I put my larger birds in a carrier with some foot toys and a treat and bring them to another room. I would rather they didn’t know I was in their cage at all.

3. Limit out of cage time. If your parrot is becoming beaky or nesty, bring him back to his cage. Be fair and do this BEFORE it becomes a problem. Extracting him out from under the couch will likely result in a bite. Keep in mind that even the crook of your arm can be perceived as a nesty spot by a creatively thinking bird. I let mine out for shorter periods of time more frequently.

Umbrella Cockatoo

4. Avoid warm mushy foods. They are a trigger for hormonal behavior. I tend to feed more raw veggies during this time of year, and avoid mashes.

5. Be careful what parts of his body you touch. Head and neck only!! Avoid touching him under the wing, on the back and tail, and especially the vent area. If your bird rests his rear end on your hand while you are carrying him, put him down on a perch. You should always keep your bird off your shoulder and carry him away from your face, but this is especially true during the spring.

6. Limit daylight hours. I make sure mine get 12 hours of covered sleep during the spring months. Too much light will also trigger breeding behaviors and can cause excessive egg laying in females. If you don’t cover your birds at night, be sure that the room they sleep in is dark.

If you find you are having a rough time with your hormonal bird, it’s important to realize that tomorrow is another day. Last year it appeared that someone told my male umbrella cockatoo that he, alone, was responsible for the carrying on of his species. He acted accordingly. There were days when he attacked me with such vigor that I wondered if our relationship would ever again be the same. The next day I would get up expecting more of the same, and each time he would surprise me with a sweet disposition.

It’s all about respect and patience. Allow him his nature without getting angry. Be watchful for any behaviors that could potentially escalate into problems and redirect his attentions BEFORE things get out of hand.

What are hormones?

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16 Comments on “Handling Hormonal Birds”

Mary  06/27/2009 7:09 pm

I have a blue and gold and a military macaw. They have shared their cage for about four years. The military has in the past few years laid eggs, but she hasn’t this year. The blue and gold is extremely aggressive, is building a nest daily, cannot be touched – you have to use something like a broomstick as a perch to move her from place to place. I can handle my military until it gets near the blue and gold, and then she becomes aggressive too. I used to let them out and the blue and gold would remain on the top of the cage, but she gets on the floor with my military and they start attacking everyone, including the cats and dogs. How long does this hormonal thing last anyway? Any suggestions would be helpful, because I am finding it impossible to let the blue and gold out of the cage because she or he is such a terror. She or he has not laid any eggs, so I don’t know what sex it is. I have not witnessed any sexual behavior between the birds, but they do cuddle, and when I remove the military and bring her with me, the blue and gold gets angry. I’d appreciate your input.

Patty  06/27/2009 9:45 pm

Hi Mary,
I fully understand the problems associated with hormonal birds, and I sympathize. Last spring was a nightmare for me. The breeding season in my house runs from about mid February to mid June, but it can last longer depending on the environment in your house.
First, let me get this out of the way: Don’t let the parrots near your cats and dogs, even if they typically get along. If one of the parrots decides to get testy and provokes an incident, the parrot will likely be on the losing end. For now, keep this possibility out of the equation.
You didn’t mention the age of the birds. Sexual maturity for macaws is between about 3 and 5 years of age. I’m going to assume they are at least that age. Let’s also assume that the blue and gold is male (given this situation, you might want to have that confirmed so you know what you are dealing with in the future. I did a post last week on where and how to do this).
Now to the nitty gritty, you have to separate the birds for a while. Your military is feeding off of the aggression of your blue and gold. I don’t know what your living situation is like, but even if one goes into a large dog crate for a little while, this is what must be done until the situation is brought back under control. I would keep the cages in separate rooms. This doesn’t mean you can’t let them perch (out of cage) together during the day as long as they behave themselves.
Also, you mentioned nest building. Remove any materials from the cages that could be used or perceived as nesting materials. That might be shredders or paper and remove wood chips as they destroy their toys. Make sure there are no dark corners in the cage, and never let them hide under any furniture or behind the drapes while they are out, these are nesting spots for them. It will only perpetuate this behavior. If there are any toys they get too “friendly with”, those need to come out for the time being too. Be careful how you handle them physically.
Once you remove all of the breeding reminders, the behaviors you described will subside. Eventually they can go back to their usual routine together. Just a word of warning, many parrots get hormonal again in October and November, though it is usually mild by comparison. Be watchful during that time too.
Please keep me informed of how things are working out for you or if your have anymore questions that I can help with.

Jacinta  07/02/2009 12:59 am

I have a Crimson winged Parakeet called Montselvat that I have only had for about 7 months and has become very aggressive.
I believe it has something to do with that time of the year.
Monty turns 2 years old in about September so I am presuming it is him going through sexual maturity that is causing this behavior change.
Over the past 3 to 4 weeks he has become very aggressive, territorial and bites and attackes randomly. He has collected a few items that he scatters across the lounge room floor i.e. pens, and coloured plastic items and just sits with them. Nobody is allowed to approach them.
Anybody coming with in a few feet of him gets there feet attacked or he will fly towards your face and try and bite.
Monty was hand raised to only a young age before being put into a large avary with another male of the same species but he has always hated any hands coming near him.
Sometimes he will be very complacent and you can get very close to him and gently snuggle with him if he is on your shoulder or on his perch (provided no hands are involved) then all of a sudden it’s into a frenzy of biting and he has to be pushed away.
When he does attack I try to put him in his cage but that is realy difficult as it means I have to chase him to do it and it just aggrivates his aggression.. as they say aggression begets aggression.
I have had a lot of severe bites near my eyes and mouth and also on my hands drawing blood on many occasions.
I am at the point of being really scared of him.
Is there anyway of coping with this or any ideas you may be able to offer.
I have ordered Chet’s training CD I don’t know how much I can pu tup with, I hope it gets here soon..

Patty  07/02/2009 12:13 pm

Hi Jacinta,
Sorry you are having troubles with your parakeet. He is indeed becoming sexually mature. Take a deep breath, you can deal with this. First of all, take away the pens and things, and don’t allow him any access to any small items he might collect to replace them, these are nesting materials to him, odd as they may be. He has turned your lounge room floor into a giant nesting site and he will defend it by attacking you. If you are having trouble getting him back into his cage when he is on the attack, it would be best for you to keep him in there more and try to contain him to a smaller space when he is out. I have to seriously limit my umbrella cockatoo’s out of cage time when he gets worked up. I just make sure he has plenty to do in there. Inside the cage, be sure there is nothing that will cause him to continue breeding type activity. If you cover his cage, make sure you take it completely off so there are no nesty dark corners, Take away any loose articles scattered around and make sure all of the toys are hung and not lying on the floor of the cage. That eliminates nesting possibilities. If you see him inside his food dishes, remove them until he has forgotten what he was doing with them – maybe for a couple of hours. Limit baths and showers. A bird’s environment tells him that it is time to breed. If you remove all of the breeding indicators, the “mood” subsides. It might be a couple of weeks before you see real results, in the meantime be safe and keep him in the cage as necessary.

Claudia  07/16/2009 6:40 pm


Kass  08/09/2009 11:40 pm

My male cockatiel regularly wants to mate and I provide him with a small cushion for this. It solves the problem of my last male which preferred to mate with my hand! He does it most days any time of year, and “getting his rocks off” seems to not lead to any other behaviour and sweeten his disposition (like most males!). Do you see any problem with this?

Patty  08/13/2009 9:21 pm

Hi Kass,
This is tricky. I have two male cockatiels that are constantly getting friendly with their perches or whatever else they can find, and at all times of the year. Generally speaking, it isn’t the best idea to encourage this behavior because it often leads to aggressiveness somewhere down the road. As long as you aren’t seeing these tendencies, I wouldn’t worry about it. But if he starts preferring to hang out in dark places as well, I would not allow it. You will see aggression following that.

ParrotPal  09/14/2009 4:11 pm

My 40-year-old cockatoo, female, lays up to 8 eggs a year despite trying to take precautions to stop hormonal behavior. I try to pet only her head, but even this causes her to pant. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is either. She’s a very loving bird, and I can do anything to her (she hands me her feet to clip the nails), but I am worried about the egg-laying extreme–at least it seems extreme to me. Her diet is seeds and fresh fruit (rarely does she get warm oatmeal and that’s in winter). I have even tried in a new, large cage with wire bottom so there’s nothing to nest in, but still there are the eggs. I’ve tried to just talk to her instead of touching her, but that seems to distress her more. She is a feather picker, and was before I got her at age 14. She loves her eggs dearly and broods them for weeks–then bashes them to smithereens with a metal feeder pan. Any ideas to at least lower the egg count?

Patty  09/14/2009 9:24 pm

Hi ParrotPal,

I have to assume that there is something in her environment that is sending her the signal to breed. Check out this post on egg laying: http://www.old1.birdtricks.com/blog/parrots-and-egg-laying/, I hope some of these suggestions will work for you. Eight eggs really isn’t excessive, but it’s still a lot and will take a toll on her. Until you figure out the cause of this stimulation, please be very careful to see that she gets enough calcium in her diet to help her through this. The calcium she needs to produce these eggs is coming directly from HER body and can leave her with a deficiency that can impact her health. I would definitely try to get her on a good pelletted diet in addition to the fresh veggies. Seed should be offered in VERY small amounts if at all, even then only as treats.
Try to get her into productive, independent play, foraging toys are great. (Avoid shredders for the time being because they can be used to make nesting materials.) If she can use her time to entertain herself, she will be thinking less about her breeding environment and require less touch from you. Good luck!


Jenny from India  10/17/2009 9:20 am

Hi Patty, I’ve written to you before on other topics…. My female Alexandrian is 1 yr 10 mths old and for the past month and half, is showing signs of going thru’ hormonal changes. Normally very loving, she has become quite aggressive and unpredictable. And one big change is that she screams for no reason at all. Earlier she would shout to get on my shoulder but now she screams into my ear! She also cannot stand me going near her cage when she’s in it – she lunges and bites my hand and screams….. She also shreds the paper that is placed at the bottom of the cage and moves around in it – is she trying to make a nest? Should I give her a nesting box? I thought shes still too young for nesting….. I feel so bad for her and keep wondering how she must be feeling and what I could do to help her. She and the male are not loving at all and keep mock fighting. The male is very loving with me – he keeps kissing me and regurgitating his food onto my face, hands and feet! I’m really puzzled at his behaviour!! Can you give me some advice pls…. Thanks. Jenny

Rosemary Southard  06/28/2011 11:40 pm

thank you for the info. on the cockatoo. it did tell me something about some things. actually casper is not biting at all right now especially. she is sweet, and has allowed a lot of thing, and is better in her disposition. the only thing i have a question about is :: when they are like this:: what kind of nest do you make them or what do you put in their cage so they can make a nest for them selves?? what kind of stuff or things do you give them for it:::: I have no clue.

prismz  03/18/2013 5:08 am

i have a male and female cockatiel. they are pretty well bonded but they arent able to successfully mate. The female tends to rub against a perch and when the male tries to be on top of her they are to mate the perch always is in the way, i have tried removing perches and whatever is the hinderance and but she always tends to rub.and thats only when the male comes to her. anyways the problem is that now the male has become real cranky and i am unable to stop this behaviour.he shrieks all the time, and she is laying eggs all the time. i have done whatsoever to stop the egg cycle but they are an unsatisfied couple. how should i get them to cool down and stop laying eggs, or atleast get fertilized eggs ?

Christine Savage Salinas  06/10/2014 4:00 pm

I have a female umbrella cockatoo which seems to be about five or six years old. She has begin to lay eggs. The first time she laid an egg was about four weeks ago and she only laid one. I researched and did leave the egg in her cage in order to prevent her from laying another one, she did end up leaving the egg. However it’s been about 4 to 6 weeks now and she just laid another egg this morning and just one. She currently is not showing any signs of distress. She seems to be back to normal immediately. I also have an Amazon. Which I do not know the sex of. The birds do have their own room their own cages and stay in that room together however I have limited the amount of interaction between them due to the egg laying. I’m wondering what you would suggest for me to stop the egg laying due to hormones or the season being spring. I do you have both birds on a strict schedule so they do get covered at nighttime and uncovered in the morning, 12 hours on 12 hours off of sunlight and darkness. I was advised that I could do a sunlight reset of 3-7days straight to reset my umbrella cockatoo’s reproductive system is this true? Do you know of anything else I can do to prevent my bird from laying eggs? My family of 4 are all of the fact we cannot cuddle or stroke or provoke masterbation of any kind? And or bird has not acting aggressive at all, what should I do??

Justin  08/10/2014 6:40 pm

Is it just the female umbrella cockatoos that pant when they are getting sexually aroused or do the males do the same thing too? Just wondering because my umbrella has done it a few times and I immediately stop petting and stop the behavior. I never had her DNA tested so I was wonder if the panting meant I had a female?

Lucy  03/12/2015 3:04 pm

I am somewhat perplexed. My 11 month old Pineapple Conure has suddenly changed her disposition.
She has always been so sweet and cuddly and would rush to the cage door when I went to take her out. About 2 weeks ago she started fleeing from me when I try to get her to step up and no amount of coaxing will get her on my hand or arm. She will let me pet her head but if I extend my hand or finger for step up she retreats. I have been very patient with her but this is really bothering me. My husband can get her out and give her to me with no problems but she is a bit nippy and does try to back up into my hand if I hold my hand thumb up. Is she going into the hormone stage? Do you think she will eventually return to her loving personalty?

Shanti  06/12/2015 3:48 pm

Thank you so much for this information. I just adopted a 13 year old male Umbrella Too, and he is displaying behaviour as mentioned above. Can I assume this is a hormonal issue or did I adopt an aggressive bird? He was incredibly sweet the first few days. Then my brother came over, and the bird started to court him. After that all the symptoms appeared.

I do hope it will be over soon rather than take months as you said. Is this different for males and females?