Ask Lafeber

Question:

February 10, 2021

B&G Macaw and hormones


I have a wonderful blue and gold macaw who is just getting into puberty (almost 4 years old!)… we always cuddled when she was young and she still loves to cuddle (head pets only of course), and i help her preen the pin feathers she can’t get on her head. Is this sending her the wrong signals now that shes becoming hormonal?

can having food too easily available make a bird more hormonal?

my b&g macaw gets extremely upset when i leave the room and calls after me, how can i help her calm down when leave the room?


Answer:

Hi Melissa,

One thing to keep in mind is that 4 years old is much too young for a Macaw to be hormonal. However, captive raised parrots tend to become sexually mature at a much younger age than they would in the wild. Or possibly, they aren’t accepted by a mate until a later age in the wild. This is one of those mysteries we don’t understand yet. But in the wild, Macaws start reproducing around 10 years of age at the earliest. In captivity, I explain it is much like teenagers. Your young bird might be sexually mature, but she is still developing physically and most importantly, emotionally or mentally. This is the age where you need to be cautious about stimulating her too much. A young hen is at a higher risk of becoming egg bound which is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. So that’s why even when a young bird is capable of mating a laying eggs, it is best that they do not. You should be good with sticking to the head and neck pets. One sign of a hen getting hormonal is she might lower her front half and raise her tail, even turning it towards you. So if she is just sitting still with you, enjoying her head grooming, then that’s fine. But if she starts trying to present herself, or gets vocal such as “purring” or other new sounds, then it’s time to stop and divert her attention to something else. Dr. Lamb’s suggestion of teaching tricks or behavior modification is a good way to interact with a macaw. They are very smart and can learn plenty of parlor tricks to impress your friends! Behavior modification is simply giving a command to a natural behavior, or modifying a natural behavior to turn it into a trick. She mentioned waving. Parrots are right handed or left handed like us. If she holds her food with her left foot and steps up with that foot, she is left handed. Approach her as if you want her to step up, and as soon as she lifts her foot, say “Wave”. Praise her and repeat. She will soon connect the command with the action. Next try keeping your hand a bit too high for her to step, but when she puts her foot in your hand, hold it gently and say “shake hands”. Macaws love to lift their wings, so when you see her stretching both wings up, raise both your arms and give a command like “pretty” or “wings”, then reward her. Macaws like to pick up objects or put them in things, so this can lead to teaching her to put something in a cup, or take something out. Again, praise and a food reward if that’s what she likes. This can be a lot of fun, and really builds the trust and bond you have without hormones being involved. As she progresses, you can try more complicated behaviors or tricks.

As to the food, the more common hormonal trigger when it comes to foods is offering a lot of fresh and human foods, especially foods with a lot of protein, calcium and fat. So if you feel she is being hormonal, stop offering fresh foods or reduce the offerings to a couple of times a week. Maybe even give her less food at a time. We all over feed our birds, which is why they waste a lot. In the wild this serves a purpose by reseeding the environment and feeding ground dwelling creatures. Give her less food at a time, and give her more when she finishes it. This can reduce your waste by a lot. As long as her food is nutritionally balanced, she isn’t going to overeat if she has a lot of food, but she will eat more selectively and waste more.

As to leaving the room, the more you try to calm her, the more you are reinforcing the behavior. Tell her you are leaving and will be back. Don’t go back to her until she is quiet. Reward her and try it again later. Never make a big deal about leaving or coming back, but do give her praise or a treat if you return when she is being quiet. We do have a new monthly webinar on behavior, with our February episode taking place this Friday. Chris Davis has covered the leaving the room issue, so you can watch her previous webinars for more information and you might want to watch live and ask Chris if you have more behavior questions. Whether it’s a cockatiel or macaw, the advice is pretty much the same. I’ll post the past webinars below and the link to the page to register for the free webinar. I’m glad you have such a sweet girl! Chris and I are both partial to B&G’s and each had a sweet female.

Webinar: Heart to Heart: Pet Bird Behavior Q&A with Chris Davis

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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