There are many different behaviors witnessed by owners of birds that are associated with sexual maturity and hormone fluctuations. At certain times of the year birds are under the powerful influence of sex hormones and will behave instinctively in distinct ways you have not witnessed before. Sexual behavior may be induced by many factors such as seasonal changes in daylight hours, environmental influences, diet, and interactions with owners or favorite toys and objects. Wild birds (particularly parrots) normally have a very intense relationship with a mate. Humans may frustrate or confuse a bonded bird with what may be our inappropriate responses to their sexual behaviors. The behaviors will vary with species and individuals. They are not necessarily seen with every bird.
What might I see?
The most commonly seen behavior observed is regurgitation. This is an offering of food that a bird would give to a “mate” during courtship. Budgies, cockatiels and love birds do it the most. These birds may actually “pair bond” to a favorite toy, mirror or other shiny reflective surface. The general consensus is to remove the toy or mirror to reduce the attachment the bird has to an object. Be careful—you don’t want to miss the truly sick bird who is vomiting or regurgitating! Have it checked by a veterinarian familiar with birds.
Masturbation occurs in small birds (budgies and cockatiels) and larger birds. They may be seen rubbing their cloaca or vent (underneath the tail) on a favorite toy, a shoe, or on the hands, arms or shoulders of a person. Although this behavior is relatively harmless, it should be ignored and not encouraged.
Some birds have more extreme behavior changes include territorial aggression, screaming and feather picking or chewing. When sexually stimulated, the bird may strut around, become aggressive and become more vocal. Some will bite and chase people around the house. They may display and become very territorial. Others will actually become more affectionate and loving.
Some birds seek nesting places such as dishes, cupboards, closets, drawers, or other hide-away places. You may observe paper or wood shredding, gathering behaviors and changes in vocalization especially mornings and evenings.
What should I do?
Correcting these behaviors is usually unnecessary as most birds will be “normal” in 6-8 weeks. Clearly, there will be exceptions. Some birds exhibit these behavioral changes persistently or in fact permanently instead of with a normal seasonal pattern. We may actually reward a behavior by paying attention to it.
We should not encourage sexual behaviors as the “problem” may escalate. The behaviors should be discouraged or ignored. Physical hugging and scratching around the head is fine but try to avoid the sexual stimulation of their backs, rumps and hind end. Cranky birds should be left alone. Regurgitating birds can be removed to another location to help diminish the behavior. Masturbation should be ignored and not encouraged. Nesting spots should be rendered inaccessible. Shortening the daylight hours to a winter like photoperiod will deter some birds.
Redirect your bird’s attention towards toys and healthy interactive play with you, the owner. If the behavior becomes problematic, discuss it with a veterinarian familiar with birds or a bird behaviorist.