Why Does My Bird Do That? Demystifying Breeding Behaviors in Parrots
Most dogs and cats come into our homes spayed or neutered and are not likely to exhibit any sexual behaviors.
Birds, on the other hand, can be extremely sexual beings! They are not routinely spayed or neutered, and many birds reach sexual maturity fairly young.
If they were allowed to, some birds would mate and breed 24-hours a day!
Even when kept singly, they can still exhibit breeding behaviors. Lots of these behaviors are mistaken for behavior problems.
Lots of caretakers are completely mystified by the strange, somewhat obsessive behaviors exhibited by their bird once or even twice a year.
Common Breeding Behaviors
When your bird is feeling randy, she might exhibit some of the following behaviors:
- Extreme interest in dark places. Your bird might try to hang out under the newspapers on the bottom of her cage, in a sleeping hut all the time, under the couch, in your computer printer (that’s happened to me), in kitchen cabinets, etc. Dark places equal a nest to birds, and they may aggressively seek them out.
- Agitation and unsettled behavior. Birds who are wanting to breed may act anxious and very unsettled. They may call out repeatedly, fly around, and generally act as if nothing will make them happy… besides settling into their nest.
- Masturbation. Yes, birds fondle one’s own genitals. Sometimes a lot. You might not recognize this behavior at first, thinking it’s some cute trick she picked up somewhere. Both sexes of birds may rub the underside of their tails on something, like a toy, perch, or anything they can reach. Sometimes they’ll make cute little noises while they’re doing it too as if it wasn’t awkward enough.
- Regurgitation. Regurgitation is different from vomiting. Bird voluntarily regurgitate for other birds, favored humans, toys or other exciting objects. They will make a bobbing motion with their heads and expel some yummy-looking digested or half-digested food. Vomiting is different. A bird who is vomiting is not in control of it and ends up with vomit stuck to its head and neck. If this happens, call your avian vet immediately.
- Chewing up everything in sight. In the wild, most parrots and parrot-type birds hollow out tree trunks in which to nest. Only the Monk or Quaker parakeet actually builds a nest. Your bird might start to chew, or increase the frequency of chewing, various objects around her cage and your home. Papers lying around, newspapers on the bottom of her cage, wood furniture, paper towels, and tissues, etc. It’s all fair game.
- Aggression. Some birds get aggressive while they’re hormonal. If they’ve managed to establish a “nest” they will defend this nest against all intruders! I’ve heard from people who have told me that their birds will attack them anytime the bird is in her sleeping hut. or the cardboard box the caretaker put in her cage because she just looked so cute inside of it. Birds get extremely territorial of their nests and will defend them fiercely. This can be cute with little birds, like Cockatiels, but dangerous in larger birds.
- Beak tapping. I’ve only seen male Cockatiels do this, and it’s not a behavior that occurs exclusively while the bird is hormonal. But it is a behavior that seems to be a way for the male to attract the female.
- Egg-laying. Some female birds will lay eggs, even if there is no male around. This can be especially dangerous in Cockatiels, who will sometimes just keep laying eggs. Egg-laying can lead to the bird becoming egg-bound, which is a potentially deadly condition, or deficient in Calcium.
If and when you notice any of these behaviors, my advice is that you not encourage them.
Birds when let to fully express their hormonal behaviors can get stressful, but then they don’t actually end up with a mate and babies.
If you know the triggers for breeding behavior, you can try to avoid them!
Triggers for Breeding Behaviors:
- Daylight or artificial light that extends longer than 12 hours.
- Petting the bird anywhere on the body besides the head and neck.
- Providing a nesting site (nest box, sleeping hut, box, etc).
- Allowing your bird to regurgitate to you.
And, finally, some tips on discouraging breeding behaviors in your birds.
Discouraging breeding behaviors:
- Avoid tiel going into dark places. Restrict them from sleeping huts, cardboard boxes, nest boxes, or cabinets, no under furniture. They will seek dark places out, so you need to stay alert!
- Don’t pet your ‘tiel anywhere except her head and neck! Other birds’ body parts are sensitive and may induce them into breeding behaviours.
- Don’t let your ‘tiel stay up too late. Longer days (more daylight or artificial light) signal to your bird that it’s breeding season.
- Don’t encourage them for mastṵrbate. Remove any “favored” toys or perches until your little guy calms down.
- If your bird is already in breeding patterns, avoid or stop feeding her wet or soft foods.
- As cute as it may be, don’t let your bird regurgitate for you. Extreme love and emotions for you, may not be good for him to be constantly frustrated like that. Just walk away or put him back in his cage when he does this.
Uh oh! I found an egg!
It’s will happen if you have a female bird. You’ll come home from work one day to find an egg on the bottom of the cage.
What do you do with it now? Is there a baby bird in there??
Well, my opinion is that there are already too many birds here who are not able to find good, lifelong homes to be producing more. And taking care of baby birds is pretty difficult.
I absolutely recommend making sure any eggs your hen lays are not viable. Whatever you do, do NOT remove the eggs permanently.
This will just induce your hen to lay more to replace her stolen eggs. Let her sit on her egg(s) until she gets bored. She’ll eventually give up.
If you found an egg, and your female does have access to a male bird, you have a few options:
- Give it a shake. This will ensure that any embryo that was formed will not develop. Once it completes Replace the eggs.
- Hard boil the egg. This will also ensure that no embryo develops. Again, replace the egg when you’re done.
- Replace the egg with a fake. You can use white marbles, warmed in your hand, or you can purchase fake eggs at pet supply stores.
If your bird does not have access to a male bird (you know the egg is not viable), just leave it. She’ll sit on it for a while and eventually give up and abandon it.
What your momma-wanna be will act like
As your female sits on her egg (or eggs), she will be rather aggressive. She is only protecting her brood.
Place food and water where she can reach them. Try not to disturb her too much.
She will hold her droppings, so don’t be surprised by the one or two monster poops she drops every day.
She won’t be as active as she usually is until she gives up on the eggs.
If she’s especially lethargic, or she just doesn’t look right, call your vet.
She could be egg-bound, and this is a very dangerous problem.
Birds can die from egg binding. Be sure to pay attention to any signs of illness and call your vet if you’re unsure of anything.
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