Friday, May 21, 2010

Hormonal and Nesty Behavior

Hormonal behavior... Nesting behavior...
A big topic for those of us who live with companion birds. We are likely to encounter it from time to time and year to year as a natural part of the cycle of life.I am no expert in any aspect of the topic. If I could claim to be an expert in any area, it would be nothing more than understanding my birds better than anyone else - simply because I live with them.

I believe we are each the best experts on our own birds. Thus, it becomes our goal to determine what is best for them, often wading through a sea of sometimes conflicting information.Hormonal fluctuations, especially those resulting from nesting and mating instincts, are completely natural and to be fully expected.I have found it fascinating that, through natural cycles of hormones and molting, I have observed nothing I would classify as hormonal fluctuations with the budgie boys.

I have seen no "grumpiness" or other irritability that is reported by many over the course of a year.

I cannot be entirely certain as to what to attribute this lack of observable hormonal or molting changes in them, but I have several theories:
1) A very large space in which to live;2) No female budgie (those with female budgies know of whence I speak when it comes to the change of dynamics a gal can cause!)3) No demand from me for interaction.Often "hormonal" behavior is described in the context of a bird's reduction in desire to interact, or quickness to move to nippiness or biting. In certain instances, forcing interaction, and the resulting negative consequences, may sometimes be attributed to "hormones" or "molting", when they may or may not be directly related. Or, perhaps only play a small role.So, what do we do about hormonal or nesting behavior? Do we want to reduce it? If so, why? If not, why not?One consideration is that we do not want our female birds endlessly laying eggs, potentially becoming egg bound or having other physical issues as a result. That aside, the males do not have these same issues. However, they certainly experience their share or hormones and nesty behaviors!In the wild, males of most species participate in selecting and building the nesting site. They are responsible for feeding their mate, often for assisting with feeding the chicks, and certainly for defending the territory and safety of the nest. While males are not at risk for egg binding, what are reasons some feel that nesting behavior should be discouraged - whether males or females?While a variety might be cited, two I have seen frequently expressed are:(1) The concern that hormonal behavior can lead to feather destructive behavior (FDB); and(2) Biting: A tendency to nippiness, biting, etc.FDB:
If hormones alone were responsible for FDB, I believe we would see it prolifically in the wild as well as the companion bird population. All birds have hormones, and most do not ever experience FDB. That is not to discount the role hormones may play in the overall picture, but that FDB is a multifaceted issue with no singular cause or cure in most instances.
While we can make a case that reducing the triggers that may cause a bird to want to start a family (lighting, temperature, food availability, etc.), such does not necessarily mean a bird has a reduction in hormone levels. The bird simply views the environment as less than ideal for chick-rearing.It would be my guess that, if in the wild an inhospitable environment suddenly became perfect for chick-rearing, our birds would be able to quickly move into family mode. Their survival depends upon that type of flexibility. In other words, it could be less about hormonal levels and more about environmental conditions.

Also consider this: If one day suddenly we notice our bird seems "hormonal" - what changed in their environment? In other words, we may not have actually done anything to bring on the natural cycle of the bird's season, and manipulation of the environment may only have a certain degree of affect on reducing it as well.
We also see that trees and other nesting materials are available to parrots year round. Thus, availability of nesting materials alone is insufficient cause to start a family. In our homes, these materials are also available to our companion birds year around. But often the advice I see is to remove any item that a bird might be able to use or perceive as nesting material. In many cases, this means dismantling their entire environment! The parrot is left staring at a rope perch, a couple of acrylic toys and a skewer of broccoli!Biting:
Notwithstanding a hen laying eggs, perhaps biting and nippiness may actually be a companion's biggest issue with hormones. We must then contemplate if "reducing hormonal and nesty behaviors" is more for the benefit of the bird - or - saving ourselves from experiencing (dealing with) a nippy, biting bird.

Unfortunately, it may be easy to blame nippiness, biting, or a lack of desire to interact on hormones in the early part of the year, and on molting at all other times.
Certainly, hormones may create the propensity for a bird to be a bit more on edge, quicker on the draw, or less tolerant of humans ignoring "back off" body language. This is my observation in Coco. A molting bird may be labeled grumpy when a companion handles the bird in the usual fashion without awareness to the sensitivity of the pin feathers.

Attributing a nip or bite to hormones or molting, can remove the responsibility from the human, and take the focus off the bird's biting as a behavior.
In other words, it becomes easier to look the other way when we classify biting or nippiness strictly as a physiological response due to hormones or molting - one that is beyond our control. The result of this is a greater potential for the behavior to be reinforced and to escalate long after the initial onset.So, imagine this - a bird displays back off body language, it is ignored, the companion gets bit, and classifies the bird as hormonal. Or worse yet - the bird is labeled "a biter"!

Many of its toys are removed (or those that might be used for shredding for example), it gets covered more, more darkness, perhaps a change of diet... all this because the bird's body language was ignored, it nipped, and the companion adjudicated it hormonal. It may not have been hormonal at all - it may have simply had its body language ignored one too many times. Or it may have been interested in something other than interacting with the human, or experiencing hormones causing it to be a bit quicker on the beak-trigger than at other times.

What if in response to all these changes, reduction of toys, and less human interaction due to "nippiness and hormones", it actually did start feather plucking?
It is a lot of food for thought....In the least, the relationship between avian and companion would be affected by all of the changes.

I know that when I am "hormonal", I respond better by having my hormones acknowledged instead of dismissed. While acknowledging my condition does nothing to reduce my hormones or make them go away any faster, dismissing them will escalate things and not win friendship.

So - what about 'acknowledging' hormones, nesting behavior and the natural cycles in birds? While we are reducing their hours of sunlight, are there things we should be changing in our own behavior, approach and mind set that could make this time of year easier on all?

Is there a way to acknowledge hormonal, nesty behavior without encouraging or discouraging it per se?

I have more to share over the coming posts, and hope that you will all feel free to add your comments. For most of our birds, spring time is ending and hormonal, nesty behavior, if any, is coming to a close. What have been your observations, and what has worked best for you and your bird(s)?

I know nothing of these things... keep my food bowl full and my pillows fluffed and all is right in my world!



Jim Stewart said...

Great post with lots to think about. I must admit. A few years back I was guilty of taking the focus off of me when Nino's (blue&gold macaw) behavior or personality changed do to hormones. Like most of us caregivers I wanted the best for him so I did the 'recommended' things that are supposed to lessen the hormones and the behaviors that go along with them. I changed his diet, environment, how I interacted with him, no nesting material, etc. For me it backfired big time. Nino started pulling feathers and I was in total panic! Long story short. I went back to the things we had always done while I changed my behaviors and his FDB stopped. I'm no expert but for my boys it's, let the hormones play out, it's natural, and change what *I* do and expect. That approach has worked good for us these past few years.

Looking forward to more posts. Good stuff!


Arlene said...

Fantastic post Robin. While I don't have a large bird I am relating all this to my two budgies.
The male is molting and gets those terrible little pin feathers. He spends more time in the cage and doesn't care about us humans or his girl.
The female has completely stopped interacting with us humans in the way that we are accustomed. She simply wants to stay in the cage with her man.
I'm sure that if this question were put out for discussion it would be attributed to 'hormones'.
I never have any type of nesting anything in or around their cage. I simply don't want to encourage that.
Or...does it really make any difference. there has never been any type of self mutilation or feather plucking.
I'm going to think about all this you've put out here for us I really want to know more.
As mentioned...":Good Stuff"


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