Petting our bird brings us emotional connection, companionship, and communicates love.
To our birds, petting outside of the head and neck area communicates "let's be mates" and when is "sexy-sexy time" going to happen?
The influence and history of dog ownership has bled into the way many people view the handling of their birds. Pikes Peak Parrot Rescue has in many ways become a parrot educational institution that happens to rescue and adopt birds. It is an odd week at 3PR if a bird owner or someone visiting the shelter does not help a bird masturbate or self-stimulate in some way. Disgusting, RIGHT?
Many people do not realize that, unlike dogs, parrots are very sexual beings, always on the search for a sexual partner. The moment you pet down a birds back, under its wing or let it rub its vent on your ear or head (yes, we see this often), a switch is flipped in the brain of your parrot and when mating season arrives, you are the object of its sexual fulfillment or most times, sexual frustration.
Birds are relinquished to 3PR on a regular basis for just this reason! We had a bird relinquished recently that would immediately lift its wing and turn its body toward a person walking up to say hi. This bird had started to attack its owner and sadly, the owner had no idea why. The bird would scream constantly when alone in its cage with the owner in the same room. This home became unsuitable for this bird because all the bird wanted was sex and the owner had no idea what was wrong.
The scent and presence of a human who has sexually stimulated a bird becomes unbearable for the bird and the human calls 3PR to say, "My bird is driving me crazy, it will not stop screaming!" Birds scream for many reasons, some species more than others, but the scream of an unfulfilled, sexually stimulated bird is unmistakable. The response of many veterinarians is to give the bird hormone shots over long periods of time to try to stop the behavior; the problem is that the human is perpetuating the problem and sadly, the bird pays the price.
So, now that we have THAT down, lets get to the...
3 helpful steps you can take to prevent your bird from mating and nesting behaviors.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, rub, scratch or pet your bird below its head and neck. Holding your bird against your chest with your hand on its back is fine. You can even use your thumb in this position to scratch its neck, just do not stroke its back in any way!
Parrots will often start to spend extended time at the bottom of the cage during mating/nesting season. Remove any nesting materials from the bottom of the cage and leave only the metal grate at the bottom during this time. 3PR observes about 1-in-10 birds that need this adjustment during mating season. We typically keep paper on the metal grate to make cleaning the cage quicker.
DO NOT under any circumstances give your bird a cardboard box or drawer to nest in. This feeds the mating behaviors and hormone levels of your bird are increased to dangerous levels in a companion parrot. One of the confirmations this is happening is that a bird becomes a one-person only bird that we often refer to as a "velcro" bird and it often wants to attack everyone else.
The reason all of this should matter so much to you is because every one of these human actions toward a bird will cause you to lose your bird. Your bird will never want to go back to a normal, non-sexual relationship with you again. Living in a home with this bird will become very difficult, not to mention the plucking and self-mutilating behaviors that will often follow this kind of sexual stimulation.
This is the #1 talk that the amazing volunteers at Pikes Peak Parrot Rescue have to have with customers who do not have ill-intentions, but simply have just never heard about this before. Please reach out if you have any questions in this area that we can address. We often hear from a spouse/partner who shares a home with someone who pets their bird inappropriately because they simply do not believe all of this is true. It is awkward, but we are here with you to help improve the lives of parrots in any way that we can. You can share this image with your loved ones as well.
How do I know if I am sexually stimulating my bird?
On an adult parrot, owners will notice that touching outside the “safe” areas can cause birds to do several things, possibly in combination:
Regurgitate by rapidly bobbing the head and neck
Vocalize with squeaks, clucks, warbling noises, etc.
Drop its wings to stimulate/rub its vent with the tips
Raise its wings to be petted along its sides
Put its vent/tail in the air (if female)
Or, if male, try to mount your hand – or anything else in reach
Masturbate by rubbing the vent area on you or anything else handy
[In the long term] lay eggs (if female)