What it looks like, how it affects the health of your bird and how to manage it.
So it's springtime here in Australia and I find it so fitting that it is also the spooky season because nothing is as scary as a hormonal bird! The last few weeks all my focus has been on managing two hormonal birds that don't get along even when it's not breeding season. This means they get over each other's presence quicker than usual and I have to be ready to separate them before a fight breaks out for their safety.
Pistachio is usually my sweet snuggly boy but for the first time since last spring he has been biting me, and he's looking for blood when he does. Both birds are showing territorial aggression not only towards each other but towards me as well (something that is not usually an issue in my household) and can go from sweet to moody and vicious in the blink of an eye. This is Monkeys first spring time and as Monkey is just about to turn one it's safe to say they have reached sexual maturity because they will have "grunting fun time" on every perch and toy in the cage.
Unfortunately this time of year I tend to see an increase in the number of ads to rehome birds for aggression or the fact that "they used to be sweet but now they attack me" and 9 times out of 10 if you ask the age of the bird it is 1-2 years old and is experiencing its first real hormone season. A baby bird and a bird that is sexually mature can have very different personalities and is something that must be understood when getting a baby bird.
While both my birds have raging hormones right now there is a lot of things I put in place to minimise stress and reduce prolonged or out of season hormone problems. A huge thing that triggers hormones in pet birds is their owner patting/scratching anywhere other than the head. In the social world of birds only the mate is allowed to touch their body, wings and tail, when the human touches these areas they are telling the bird they want to be mates. I have seen people excuse patting the belly, under the wings etc by saying "my bird loves it", and while yes the bird loves it it is because they are getting sexual stimulation from it and is not the kind of relationship you should have with your bird! Birds will eventually become frustrated and aggressive because their "mate" is unable to fully, well, satisfy them. As I've mentioned before, Pistachio loves to snuggle but I make sure that if he's snuggled into my hand I am not stroking his body and during peak hormone season I don't generally allow him to snuggle into my hand because it will quickly turn him on due to the excess hormones he's already experiencing.
Now with Monkey I don't have to worry too much about touching the 'no-no zones' because while Monkey enjoys sitting on my shoulder, Monkey does not like to be touched even on the head for scritches. With Monkey I have to worry about any dark, nesty looking corners as Monkey will fluff up and claim them, becoming aggressive towards anyone that comes near. To work around this I have my environment set up to reduce any potential nesty areas as much as I can and if Monkey finds a spot I missed I will basically block it off.
Aside from frustrating your bird and causing aggression increased hormones can have negative health affects on your bird. If the bird is constantly regurgitating on their favourite toy to feed their "spouse" this can cause a dangerous hygiene situation resulting in eventual infection as the regurgitated food is a breeding ground for bacteria. Increased hormones and sexual frustration can result in a bird plucking their feathers from stress (something that can become a very difficult habit to break). Some birds will pull feathers to line their nest and some birds have been known to go overboard plucking out these feathers. For the girls (I'm not sure of Monkeys gender so for caution sake I am highly aware of hormone triggers just incase Monkey is female) chronic egg laying, calcium deficiency and egg binding can all be deadly. Many pet birds don't have the muscles to effectively lay their eggs, particularly seen in birds that are not flighted, which can result in egg binding.
So what can we as owners to during hormone season and throughout the year to reduce the above negative consequences of having these wild animals in our homes?
ONLY pet you bird on the head, you are not their mate you are their flock friend
Avoid warm mushy foods (it imitates regurgitated food)
Ensure your birds are getting a minimum of 12-14 hours sleep (have them in a dark room, as my birds are in the living room I turn off the lights and go to my bedroom at 7-8pm so they can go to bed)
Ensure they have a good diet with adequate calcium (especially if you have a female or don't know if your bird is female)
Keep your birds busy with training and foraging (I do extra flight recall training during this season to burn a bit of that extra energy they have which seems to make them more content)
Ensure all toys are clean and regularly changed out (both for interests sake and to reduce any "bonding" with the toy)
Make sure you have an avian vet on hand for any emergencies
Track your birds weight to monitor overall health
Take a step back to figure out your birds individual hormone triggers and work towards reducing or eliminating them
Provide plenty of mental (trick training, foraging etc) and physical (flight work) stimulation to keep your bird occupied and using their energy on desired behaviours
Take a breath and know that bird owners around the world are going through the same thing, a good bird community can provide support and advice during the hard times of bird ownership
If you're still having behavioural issues from hormones, your bird is hormonal for an unusually long period of time, your female bird is over laying eggs or find hormone season hard for some other reason consult your veterinarian and reach out for training help. An outside perspective is a great way at identifying potential triggers that you may have missed!
Don't forget, hormone season can be annoying for us humans but it will always be affecting our birds more, it's important to remind yourself that birds are still wild animals and that when cared for appropriately hormone season is only temporary, you haven't lost the bird you love, they just need a little more patience during this time. If you find yourself getting frustrated with your birds behaviour it's important not to direct that frustration at them; give them a good foraging activity to keep them occupied and go give yourself some self care so the next interaction you have with the birds is calm, trust me they appreciate it.
Until next time,
Jesse (human), Pistachio and Monkey are signing off