Saturday, November 27, 2010

Look at the Mess You Made!

On May 21 of this year, in my post Hormonal and Nesty Behavior, I wrote of acknowledging the spectrum of behaviors commonly referred to as hormonal-ness or nestiness as opposed to overtly attempting to suppress them. In other words, approaching the annual cycle by allowing Coco to experience the changes - neither directly encouraging or discouraging her natural behaviors, but attempting to create a supportive environment within which she felt comfortable to express them in a healthy manner.

On October 10 of this year, in my post I Always Stay Put, I wrote of Coco's propensity to head to the corner of the room when I entered. This was most likely the beginning of her seasonal hormonal changes. Additionally, in that post, I discussed the role that the fall season's lighting and temperatures changes may play in triggering the hormonal changes. Over the years, I have found February through April to be Coco's 'most' hormonal time, but do feel that when she began to 'corner' in October, this was the start of the seasonal change.

Last year, I experimented by giving Coco an open cardboard box within her main house where she could create a make-shift nest if desired. Unfortunately, I cannot recall exactly when I gave it to her, but believe it was early February. Mind you, giving a female any nesting materials, let alone a make-shift box, is not something generally recommended. However, I have always wanted to do the things I felt were proven to work best for Coco and me even if they contradicted conventional wisdom.

So in preface, I will say that much of what I write about in this post may, and most likely will, fly in the face of advice provided by experts of both the true and self-appointed sort. In that regard, I can only say that my goal is to do what works best for me and Coco. I am willing to continue evolving my behavior and approach as her needs or desires seem to indicate to me as her companion that an environmental tweaking may be in order. That means considering the advice of all sources - including my own intuition.

As I wrote in my May 21 post, I believe that notwithstanding dealing with chronic egg laying, the temptation to attempt to reduce hormonal behavior in birds may emanate more from a human's desire to make the bird a better companion to us, rather than a desire to allow them to be the best bird they can be. And I also believe that in certain (perhaps many) instances, denying a bird the ability to express their natural hormonal behavior, and have it acknowledged in a healthy manner, could actually cause greater frustration and potentially set the stage for behaviors of far more concern - such as relationship issues between the bird and household members or even feather destructive behavior.

Last year I witnessed significant positive changes in Coco as she received the open box and began creating her area. If nothing else, she was certainly busy! So this year, she received the box earlier - within one month of me observing her heading to the corner of the room. Needless to say, she has completely disregarded the room corner (works well for me!) in favor of the more desirable corner within her personal space.

She is very proud of her nest, and seemingly anxious to show it off when I approach. While my being in her area is of no concern, she does show some small signs of boundary issues with my husband. However, since he stops when she begins to become uncomfortable, these have subsided. Last night we had company, and she showed no hormonal behavior or territorialism.

Overall, she has been calmer than ever. When she began going into the corner, she was also doing some regurgitation. However, this has stopped since she got the box. She does very little displaying, and encourages my advances into her space and interactions with her. Naturally, I try at all times of the year, to be very respectful of her space and enter when invited.

Additionally, I aim to be sensitive to changes she makes in the area. If she drops something, I give it back to her. But if she throws something out of her space, I remove it from view. I interact with her in such a manner as to consider what might be 'annoying' to me if I could possibly put myself in her position, and then do my best to react accordingly.

In her overall environment, I am doing none of the things that are often recommended for attempting to "reduce hormonal behavior". Nor am I necessarily doing the exact opposite, but again attempting to take a supportive role. Well... I understand that the experts advise to take away cubby holes and to not provide shredding materials, so in that regard I must accept my maverick status!

As for light, Coco goes to bed with the sun and rises with the sun. I have not reduced her soft foods, but have found that she is presently less than interested in them. Most important, I believe I am giving her an outlet to express and act upon her natural desires, and if it means that I am unable to approach her during this time, then so be it. I would rather her express those hormones, than become frustrated and potentially fall into truly destructive behaviors. To my delight, I have found a much more calm, settled bird than I could have imagined, one that desires interaction and is equally calm around family members and strangers alike.

I say all this through the veil of understanding that Coco is not a chronic egg layer (has never even laid one egg), and that I am quick to alter her environment if in the context of our relationship I see that it would be for her good. It is about meeting her needs, not mine. Therein, I am not recommending or advising this course of action for other bird companions, but simply detailing my experiences with Coco especially over the past two annual cycles.

I do believe that introducing the box in November instead of February has made, and will continue to make, a great deal of difference in her overall mental health and interactions with me and her environment. I also point out that the 'box' is not a traditional nesting box or an enclosed cavity, but simply a simulation that I hope allows her to express her natural and instinctive nestiness in a supportive environment, while I remain keenly aware of my responsibility to respond to her unique and changeable needs and desires.



Jim Stewart said...

Nice post, Robin. It's good to read how other caregivers deal with hormonal birds. I too have done things that aren't by the book, so to speak. That's OK with me as long as it works for me and the boys. As Dr. Susan Friedman teaches, it's a study of one. Thank God for that saying. If it wasn't for believing in and doing just that Nino, my blue and gold macaw, may be a bald and neurotic bird now.

Anonymous said...

Great article, good to see there are people giving up their time for good causes.

Arlene said...

Fantastic post Robin. Just watching their behavior gives us such insight into their world it always amazes me. It's great to see her happy with her nest and I imagine she's as proud as a peacock to show it off for you.

Is that her little "baby" in the box? :)

Robin Cherkas said...

Oh, Arlene - you don't miss a thing, do you! :D I think that is her baby, but so far she's not said a peep about it - lol!

HungryBird said...

My birds hate boxes. I tried putting on it for them to shred but they were afraid of it!

I am about to move and was thinking of attempting to create a cage free environment. I would move slowly as I don't want any of my birds to get hurt while no one is there. I was wondering if you had some pointers on how to acclimate birds to a cage free lifestyle. I have two cockatiels and two parakeets if that makes a difference. I really admire your set up.

Robin Cherkas said...

For me it was a gradual process starting when Coco was just a chickling. Every bird is different, and some take to it better than others. I began with a lot of opportunity for choice - for example, when she first had a cage I left the door open all the time and gave her the option to come and go as she chose, and even sleep on top of the cage if she wanted to rather than inside. She began to become accustomed to a great deal of choice and freedom, and also developed a sense of her 'space'. Then that expanded to losing the cage and gaining the custom designed fort area, but she still retained a sense of her space although the borders were invisible.

Lorac said...

I have a 10 yo YNA that I adopted last summer. Because I give boxes to my GSC Cockatoo all the time, I gave one recently to Benni, the YNA. She has been shredding the paper inside. Your post made me realize that it is probably some nesting behavior. I've decided to allow her to continue, watching for obsessive behavior (so far none), extreme crankiness to me (so far not), or other behaviors that may cause me to rethink. She's never laid an egg (she was a "he" when I got her). So thank you for your timely post.

In contrast, my cockatoo is a box shredder, no matter the time of year, and has "laid" (more like dropped from her sleeping perch) 2 eggs each year for the last 4 yrs. What a lousy mom she'd be. LOL

Robin Cherkas said...

That is so exciting, Lorac! Wow - a little jealous, because I love YNA's sooo much! We are on the cutting edge of helping our birds be the best birds they can be. I would love if you could update us on how she progresses. Coco continues to maintain status quo and is showing no signs of undesirable hormonal behavior. She is, however, very proud to show off her 'nest'! Now, she has so completely shredded the box that it hardly resembles one. But I have decided to leave it just like she has created it... my human tendency is to want to clean up her area and provide her a fresh box to chew up. I'll write an update post on it - but for now, I'm going to let her keep her house up anyway that she likes - messiness and all! Lol at your cockatoo - makes you wonder about them, doesn't it?! I've seen other birds that just dropped them from the perch as well!

Post a Comment