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Top 10 Signs of Sexual Frustration in Birds

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Does your finch seem frustrated? Is your parrot being petulant? Canary acting crazy? If so, it might be raging hormones that are turning your usually tame pet into a feathered beast. Below are the top ten symptoms of sexual frustration in pet birds:

  • Screaming. If your once-quiet bird now cranks at decibels similar to a jet engine on takeoff roll, it’s likely frustrated. New toys and other distractions might quell the chaos a bit.
  • Biting and aggression. When you dare to walk past the cage, do you hear the “thunk” of an angry bird striking the bars in full attack mode? Do you now buy bandages in the bulk size?  “We can see aggression toward people, other birds, animals, and objects as a manifestation of sexual frustration,” said Dr. Byron J.S. de la Navarre of the Animal House of Chicago.
  • Chewing and gathering. Has it been weeks since you’ve used your paper shredder because your parrot now does the job? Feathering a nest is hard work, but apparently those Victoria’s Secret catalogs make luxe linings when properly torn to bits.
  • Allofeeding. Humans take a date out to dinner. Birds share their food through the slightly less appealing manner of regurgitation. If your pet is attempting to feed you, the cat, or a favorite toy, he’s trying to be romantic. Conversely, if you hand-feed your bird, that can be stimulating to the bird. Foods that are sexually stimulating fall into two groups: easily digested sugars, such as fruits and corn, and high-fat food, such as seeds, nuts and fried foods.
  • Feather plucking or chewing. Feather destruction in birds is a complicated syndrome with many possible causes, and is always best evaluated by a veterinarian. However, if everything checks out fine, it’s possibly a sign of sexual frustration.
  • Nesting and incubating. Some birds (male or female) will actually create an imaginary nest and incubate a surrogate egg. Usually this involves dragging a toy or other appropriately sized object into a food dish and sitting on it for hours on end. Removing the object usually doesn’t help because the bird will just find another. Be very cautious about interfering with the “nest,” because your pet will defend it vigorously.
  • Masturbation. Yes, birds do it. If your pet attempts to perform a lap dance on your hand every time you pick it up, it is displaying sexual behavior. Do not react with anger or disgust, or the rejected bird might lash out in frustration. On the other hand, do not encourage the bird because you think it’s cute or funny, because it might escalate to biting and aggression.
  • Posturing and display. Peacocks aren’t the only birds that strut their stuff when trying to impress a mate. Parrots, especially male Amazons and cockatoos, will stalk around with fanned tails and ruffled neck feathers, grunting and growling in a macho manner. Some male finches perform complicated dances, and male canaries sing their hearts out. Female birds usually crouch down, quiver, and stare directly and longingly at the object of their desire. There are exceptions: Some young or submissive males will act like hens, and some very bold females can out-macho the guys.
  • Soliciting and begging. A submissive yet sexual bird will often ask for a “date” (see #4 above) by crouching, quivering, and begging loudly for food or, attention. It’s similar to the behavior shown by chicks begging for food, but in a sexually mature bird it is usually done with a different purpose in mind.
  • Egg laying. Female cockatiels are the most likely suspects here, but all female birds can, and occasionally do, lay infertile eggs without the benefit of male companionship. Some hens will attempt to incubate the eggs, while others show surprisingly little interest. It’s best to leave the eggs with the female until she loses interest, because removing them might stimulate her to lay another clutch.

Another thing to keep in mind is that birds can be sexually stimulated by the length of daylight. After a period of short light (winter), the lengthening day stimulates the hormones of courtship. Birds that exhibit signs of sexual frustration may benefit from shorter light exposure times.

“It’s always best to have the bird evaluated to make sure there is not any underlying medical condition,” said Dr. de la Navarre. “Then just be patient. The hormonal period is somewhat seasonally related, and with time will subside.”

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Greg J. Harrison, DVM, Diplomate Emeritus American Board of Veterinary Practitioners - Avian Practice  
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