A few times a year many parrot owners and caretakers see and experience the behavior changes hormones can have with the parrots we live with and love. Are you seeing these changes now? I know I am seeing them with the a few of the birds we have here. I want to share some of the key factors we implement when we see these behavior changes arise.
One of the first things we will do is bump up the training, complexity of training, or amount we are training. Training is the best form of communication we have with our parrots and we all do it whether we know it or not. With each time we walk by a cage, talk to a bird or if the bird can hear or see us, we are training that bird. The key question is “What exactly are we training?” Are we training the bird to lung quicker as we walk by? Are we training the bird to scream louder, longer, and earlier each day? Are we training the bird to run longer distances in chasing us? So many times I see people unknowingly train undesired behaviors and train them very well.
When we increase the interaction through training, at the same time we are also modifying food. By modifying I do not mean taking food away. I mean we observe which foods the bird eats first out of its dish or foraging toys, then we set those foods and other desirable treats aside to be delivered in the same amount throughout the day but as positive reinforcers for behaviors we want to see increase. Why not positively reinforce the behavior of the bird being calm as we walk by the cage? Why not reinforce the bird for doing behaviors other than screaming?
Another major key is to give the bird something other to do than regurgitate on toys or practice other behaviors associated with ‘being hormonal’. We provide choice and complexity into the bird’s environment through foraging and gradually increasing the complexity in the foraging toys as the birds continue to figure out how to get the food or treats out of the toy. Keep those toys changing and keep the bird engaged in and with those changing toys. The same toy can become extremely predictable to a parrot. Studies show that predictability can lead to boredom and when a parrot is bored they will then move on to other behaviors that are usually not desired by us. I always say “If your bird is not engaged with the toy and just walking by them, they aren’t toys. They are objects in their way!” Give them less opportunity to practice undesired behaviors. Do this by replacing the opportunity to practice them with other behaviors.
Flight or other equivalent exercise burns off a lot of built up energy. Flight mixed with training is a great way to give the bird other things to do beside screaming or lunging. Recall train them, meaning train them to run or fly to you when called. Train them to hop to your hand and each time they do, reinforce that behavior. Gradually increase the distance until you are in another room and they are running or flying to you from other rooms. This burns off a lot of energy and mixes all of the above suggestions into one. Training, foraging for food through training by flying to your hand, and flying or running to you.
Keep your birds trained doing the things you want them to do rather than letting them practice behaviors you don’t want them to do. The longer they practice an undesired behavior, the more well practiced it becomes. One thing I have always noticed though, it doesn’t take near as long to change a behavior concern than it did for the bird to learn the undesired behavior in the first place. Keep them used to looking for behaviors from you and reinforce those behaviors.