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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

Understanding Bird Behavior and “Misbehavior”: the Question of Punishment

We cannot hope to understand and appropriately moderate our pet birds’ behaviors if we have not studied their natural histories.  All captive behavior stems from a species’ natural behavior…viewing the topic in that light is the only sensible way to go about achieving harmony with our pets.

Natural Behaviors

Even after decades of working with parrots, I’m still sometimes surprised at the racket they make in their natural habitats.  Free-living parrots are always vocalizing…on the wing, while feeding and in their roosting sites.  Doves begin calling before first light, male canaries sing incessantly in the breeding season,  male peafowl scream… and so on.  To expect otherwise of them in captivity is unreasonable.

Why Punishment is Ineffective

That being said, there are a number of captive behaviors that can and should be addressed.  But birds do not recognize punishment…it’s simply not within their abilities, and never will be.  Many mammals restrain and punish their young…dogs, for example, will respond to punishment, although it is certainly not the best way to train them.  Birds, however, respond to punishment as a threat, or an attack, and will react accordingly.

Yelling at a screaming parrot will usually ensure a vocal free-for-all, with the bird trying its level best to top you!  Squirting water, sometimes recommended in books, is useless…at most it will temporarily frighten a bird, and in the long run will do more harm than good.  Hopefully it goes without saying that one should never strike a bird (well, I pushed a male ostrich once, but he was about to do much worse to me!).

Parrots can often be distracted or their behavior re-directed, but again such are only temporary solutions.  It is important to get to the root of the problem…in many cases, knowing the bird’s history is vital in understanding its reactions and behaviors.

For information on specific behavioral problems, please see my articles Parrot Bonding as a Behavioral Problem  and Help! My Parrot Won’t Stop Screaming


Parrot Bonding as a Behavioral Problem: Parrot Notes


Bonding with people is usually seen as desirable among pets of any kind…in parrots such often results in a friendly, affectionate bird that readily learns to mimic speech.  However, parrots can become extremely protective of the person to whom they have bonded, to the point of screeching at, biting or even launching full scale attacks upon others.  Also, as an extension of natural nesting behavior, bonded parrots are also very likely to become territorial, protecting their cage or larger area from intrusions by all except their favorite person.

Natural Parrot Instincts

It is important to bear in mind that bonding in parrots is a deeply ingrained instinct – one that you may be able to manage but which cannot be eliminated.  Wild parrots of nearly all species form long term, usually life-long, pair bonds.  Pairs spend the vast majority of their time in close contact with one another…even within large flocks, pairs are very evident by their proximity and physical interactions.  Most even fly side by side when moving about within a flock.  Captive parrots, no matter how many generations removed from the wild, are “hard-wired” to behave in the same manner.

Avoiding Problems

Bonding-related aggression can best be avoided by socializing your parrot, while young if possible, to all members of your household, or to those who regularly visit.  The bird will still be “closer” to certain people than others, but may not develop overly-protective behaviors.




An interesting article on the interplay of natural and captive behaviors in parrots is posted at:


Overproduction of Eggs – Avian Health Concerns


All too many birds are difficult to breed in captivity, but the opposite problem – chronic egg laying – is common to some popular species as well.  It is most often seen in cockatiels and budgerigars, but is by no means limited to them.

Health Risks

A hen that produces multiple clutches on a regular basis will be prone to a host of medical problems, the most frequent and dangerous of which is calcium depletion.  Without adequate calcium, egg-binding (wherein the bird cannot expel her eggs) and osteoporosis are likely.

Adaptive Value of Rapid Onset Breeding

It’s no coincidence that many of the species prone to chronic egg-laying are native to harsh environments, where weather conditions or food shortages may prevent breeding for periods of a year or more.  These birds must be ready to lay as soon as conditions are favorable, and so come into breeding condition very quickly, and produce multiple clutches whenever possible.

Such species respond more to the presence of certain environmental cues – i.e. rain or sprouting greens, than to gradual seasonal changes (as do most other birds).  Budgerigars and cockatiels are classic examples of opportunistically breeding birds.

Common Factors Influencing Egg-Laying

We must, therefore, keep in mind the effect of environmental conditions that might not, at first glance, seem important to us.  A high fat diet, too much food, or a very long photoperiod (i.e. if the bird is kept in a room that is lit for 16 hours or so) may signal the arrival of “good times” and function as a breeding stimulus. Even daily misting with a water bottle might be at the root of the problem, functioning as a mini “rainy season”, especially if the bird has not been regularly sprayed in the past.

The presence of a possible mate or nest site is an important factor…please bear in mind that an imprinted hen may very well see her owner as a mate, and be stimulated to lay by normal daily contact.  Females isolated from males may also react to birds of other species, or even to toys.  Nesting material or nest sites work very well in inducing reproduction – budgerigars may lay at any time of the year when provided with a cavity or nest box.

Correcting and Treating the Problem

Sometimes, the problem can be resolved by removing the egg-laying stimulus, i.e., shortening the photoperiod.  In some cases, hormonal therapy (i.e. human chorionic gonadotrophin injections) may be necessary.

Chronic egg laying can quite easily lead to your pet’s early demise…if all else fails, removal of the ovaries and uterus (salpingohysterectomy) will prevent ovulation.  This was formerly a quite serious operation, but can now be performed endoscopically on most bird species.


You can read more about avian calcium deficiency at:


Dealing with a Prolapsed Cloaca: Avian Health Concerns


Cloacal prolapse can occur in any bird species (as well as in reptiles and amphibians) and is evidenced by moist or dried tissue protruding from the vent.  It is frequently associated with egg-laying, and may occur before, during or after the process.  A calcium deficiency is usually at the root of the problem…the muscles, weakened by the lack of calcium, cannot contract as forcibly as is necessary, and the resultant straining pushes the cloaca outward.  Weakness in other muscles, i.e. the sphincter, adds to the problem.  Less commonly, a prolapse may be caused by an infection in the uterus or cloaca.

Emergency Care

A prolapsed cloaca is a matter for your veterinarian, but there are some steps you can take to alleviate the situation.  Most important is prevention – assure that your birds, especially breeding hens, are in good health and are receiving optimal amounts of calcium and other minerals and vitamins.  

Upon noting a prolapse, you can try lubricating the tissue with a water-soluble product, such as KY Jelly.  The bird should be kept warm, as its metabolism will be functioning poorly, and may have difficulty generating enough heat.  Liquid calcium might be an option, especially if it will take some time to get the bird to a veterinarian.  Plan ahead and ask your vet to suggest a product to keep on hand.

Veterinary Care

Your veterinarian may place a suture in the vent while the cloaca heals.  Antibiotics will usually be given, as an extruded cloaca is susceptible to infection.  If all else fails, or if too much time has elapsed and the tissue is beyond repair, surgery may be necessary.  Such is usually successful for birds of cockatiel size or beyond, less so for smaller species.

The importance of calcium and Vitamin D in parrot metabolism is discussed in an article posted at:


Fetch It Pets Polly Wanna Piñata Product Spotlight: Behavioral Enrichment for Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Cockatiels and other Parrots


Behavioral enrichment came into vogue in zoos in the last 10 years or so, and is now a “buzzword” throughout the industry.  Of course, good zookeepers and pet owners have long known that captive animal health (and, as concerns bored, screaming parrots, captor sanity!) is aided by the provision of opportunities to explore, forage and otherwise behave in a somewhat normal fashion.

An Early Zoo Experiment

I recall being involved with an early attempt at spicing up the lives of galagos (small primates) at the Bronx Zoo, which resulted in the invention (not by myself, my mechanical skills are horrendous!) of an air-powered cricket dispenser.  Cricket were propelled into different parts of the exhibit at varying intervals, keeping the waiting galagos very alert and ready to leap on a meal at all times.  Zoo visitors were no longer confronted with motionless balls of fur, and the galagos became noticeably more active and vigorous.

Stimulating Interest in Foraging

Of course, parrots benefit greatly from interacting with people and other birds, but foraging behavior also rates very high as an enrichment activity.  Locating and gathering meals takes up a great deal of all birds’ lives, and is infinitely more absorbing than picking food from a dish.

Fetch It Pets Polly Wanna Piñatas are supplied either empty (to be stuffed with food at home) or filled with a variety of nutritious parrot treats.  Parrots of all types enjoy shredding them (and would even if the piñatas were empty!) and working at getting to the dried fruits secreted within.  The stimulation your bird experiences will be evident by the vigor it puts into dismantling this unique product.

The piñatas are especially useful for parrots kept in smaller cages, as hiding treats in such situations is usually more challenging for the parrot owner than is finding the treats for the parrot!


A New Zealand Journal of Ecology article discussing the complexities of foraging behavior in parakeets is posted at:


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