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Hormone Amplification in companion parrots

Updated: Apr 4, 2023


A parrot’s behaviour changes when they mature. The degree it changes is up to the individuals’ genes, their early experiences and their current environment and lifestyle – if you have prepared for maturity by setting up your parrot with a great environment, confidence, independence and foundation behaviours you will have a smoother ride through maturity than you would with a needy, dependent, overly ‘coddled’ parrot.

Behaviour changes may include regurgitation to their perceived mate (male, female, object, human, hand), displaying/soliciting mating, aggression towards other people or animals approaching their perceived mate, aggressive behaviour around perceived nest sites, development of a nesting site/excavating a nest, calling to their mate frequently when out of sight, to actually breeding and rearing young if they are with other parrots. No longer are they young birds learning about the world, their hormone production has kicked in, it can drive their behaviour towards procreation, and can be a very powerful force.

If your parrot is beginning to bond a little too strongly with a human, you may find that they protect that human against others by attacking, lunging, rushing, fluffing up, or displaying full wings at others to warn them away.

If warnings are not heeded this can lead to bites to the 'perceived threat', or displacement bites. Displacements bites occur to the mate or nearby objects if the parrot does not feel comfortable or is far away from the intended target. You may notice your parrot regurgitating for you, or trying to mate your shoulder or hand. They may begin lurking in dark areas or looking for a nesting hollow. Excessive vocalisation may begin occurring when away from their perceived mate, who they think they should be with 24/7. A female parrot may even lay eggs! In some cases excess hormone production or a lack of fulfilment of breeding needs contribute to feather destructive behaviour.

Many of the ‘problem behaviours’ we deal with as behaviour consultants have at least some degree of hormonal influence with mature birds. This is not to say that problem behaviours are 'hormonal' or caused by 'hormones' but rather that under the right conditions hormones are amplified and this will exacerbate existing issues. Many of these issues can be mitigated largely by setting your young parrot up to cope with maturity by not basing your relationship with them solely on touch. While touch acceptance training is essential for a companion parrot, touch should not become the main way that you interact with them. Try to focus less on ‘cuddling’ your parrot and more on advanced behaviours

that stimulate the brain and put you into the ‘fellow flock member’ category rather than ‘potential mate’.

Young parrots get frequently touched and preened by their parents when they are young, however as they gain independence they tend to only touch another parrots body or get touched when they are pair-bonding… which can give them mixed signals as they get closer to maturity. The head is a safe zone that other parrots can preen in the wild, but try to avoid extended petting or cuddling the rest of the body.

Touch acceptance training should be maintained, but not as the constant that your parrot will expect as the standard of interaction with you. Touching is a very human trait – we find comfort in touching and nurturing – try not to project this too much onto a parrot, who, when mature, will only naturally cuddle up extremely closely to a bonded mate. This seemingly caring human behaviour can lead to unhealthy human-bird bonds when your parrot decides to take you as a mate. Instead train all sorts of useful behaviours, encourage flying to your hand, use novel behaviours to distract your parrot and put them into ‘foraging mode’ when they are beginning to demonstrate breeding pre-cursors. Food based training from an early age can help immensely here as they still associate you with foraging.

It is important that you learn to identify triggers to breeding behaviour and manage them to reduce hormone production. Daylight hours lengthening may put your bird into breeding mode (although some species breed in winter, so make sure you 'know your species', touch may sexually stimulate your bird (especially on the back, chest, vent and under wings), and your diet may have so much excess energy (or a sudden flush of protein and fat) that your parrot’s body is telling them they are in great condition to breed! Another major trigger is access to a perceived nesting hollow. Have you accidentally provided your parrot with what he or she perceives as a nesting hollow? Dark corners, cardboard boxes, dark spaces behind couches, fridges

or bookshelves, or even a nest-box or ‘parrot hut’ that you may have in the cage or aviary could all be triggering a hormone flush in your parrot. Try to avoid access to sites like these where you can, and have strong recall cues trained to call the bird away from them. Unfortunately, once your parrot has decided on a good nesting spot and has started to work it, it can be very hard to dissuade them.

Your parrot will have individual triggers too, some birds we have worked with are triggered when they see a cardboard box, some when petted even on the head, some when given high sugar natural browse. Every bird is a bit different. Learn the body language of your individual parrot. They will tell you everything you need to know to troubleshoot, analyse and manage their behaviour accordingly. If you are not sure book in a consultation with a behaviour consultant, see for Parrot Life’s options. In severe cases, such as a hyper-sexual bird, whose behaviour is negatively affecting their health, their relationships within the household or the condition has gotten so out of hand that environmental management alone cannot manage the hormones, hormone suppressing implants or injections can be quite effective when used in conjunction with environment and behaviour modification, in these cases we recommend you see your avian vet. 

It is important for parrot guardians to be aware of the potential effect hormone amplification can have on their mature parrots behaviour, but to also be conscious of the fact that the environment, lifestyle and interactions we provide are an extremely strong influence on our bird's hormone production. We can manage and modify these factors to negate or reduce hormone influence effectively.

The Parrot Life Team


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