The Screamy Birdy Blues

or…this too shall pass.

By Kelsey Day

Although it’s technically still winter in North America, our companion parrots are entering “that time of year” when their hormones rage. The sun conure (Aratinga solstitialis) in my home enters a frenzy right around the middle of January. His problem is that he’s looking for nesting material. Every toy gets examined for its shreddability. Toys I wouldn’t think could be shredded end up as nesting material. It’s pretty impressive.

He also begins to sing the song of his people. Loudly. Frequently. Insistently.

I’ve never offered him a sun conure female to woo, so I’m not sure if a partner would settle his nerves or not. There are different schools of thought on that in avian circles, and mentioning one without mentioning another would be unfortunate, so I’ll refrain from trying to mention any. What I want to say is this: the hormonal season will pass.

Owners take their dogs and cats to veterinarians to be spayed and neutered not only because they wish to prevent unwanted litters of puppies and kittens, but also because they wish to curb the unwanted hormonal behaviors of the animals. No one finds it appealing to have a male pet dog get amorous with the leg of a friend who’s visiting for the evening. Few families want male cats spraying their walls, bedspreads, couch cushions and curtains. Rather than punishing the pet each time he or she displays hormonal behavior, the owner has the pet clinically altered.

When the pet reaches sexual maturity, the hormones don’t “kick in” and send the poor creature into fits of frustration when the owner refuses it release.

You’ll notice that we don’t clinically alter our pet birds. At some point in the bird’s life, he or she reaches sexual maturity.  The bird will naturally get squawky and nippy; she will naturally seek out dark places where eggs can be safely sat upon. The human-animal bond could suffer at this stage, depending on the owner’s readiness for periods of squawkiness, biting, and masturbating on toys and/or shoulders. In other words, the owner has to understand that the bird hasn’t been clinically/surgically altered to reduce hormones. If the owner punishes the bird each time he or she acts upon the hormonal impulses in his or her body, the owner is adding to the frustration.

That’s not fair.

As difficult as if may be to do, the humans in the human-animal bond have to wait it out. My sun conure goes through this hormonal period for about four weeks. Some years the extra squawkiness goes on for five or six weeks.

I do all the things the behaviorists tell us to do: I limit fresh foods and eliminate the sugary fruits during this time. I monitor the sunlamp time so he’s getting an even 12 hours of day, 12 hours of night. But I let him have his shreddable toys for destroying. I let him squawk when he feels the need to squawk. If he’s “enjoying” one of his toys, I don’t lose my mind and remove the toy. He gets his annual well-bird checkup to make sure his blood cell count is right on target and there’s nothing to worry about, and we wait it out.

He’s just being a bird with the screamy birdy blues. And this too shall pass.

Kelsey Day is an avian hobbyist and author in the Southeast. Her love of parrots keeps her investigating ways to improve their experiences in human care, and ways to incorporate them in works of fiction.