Ask Lafeber

Question:

September 16, 2021

Cockatiel behavior


Thanks Brenda. My male cockatiel wants to mate with my male and female budgies. It is scary as he is very aggressive and tried to rape the female budgie. I have three birds. The cockatiel is 24 hours cage free. The only reason the budgies have to go in their cage is to protect them from him. Cockatiel is hand tamed. I tried to get this eight and a half month old cockatiel a two month old friend. Seemed it was a male chick. He was scared of the older one and the older one became super hormonal. Sweden laws suggest birds should have another of the same species so I am trying to figure out what to do as I don’t want breeding and I don’t want two males mating either but my bird is only wanting to mate. Been trying to make him sleep 14 hours. It is rainy season here and he gets to see the outside world from a gallery and observe other free birds. Very stressed as to how to get him right bird companionship. Other sites say two birds will give two pets and not reduce their pet like quality. Not sure. Is it possible that those pet owners experience is valid. Is your statement that two hand tamed cockatiels will not want human company from personal experience as a pet parent? My two budgies don’t mate with each other but are good friends. Before the male budgie and cockatiel were a bit friendly but after I brought the two month old male cockatiel for three days. They have become aggressive to each other


Answer:

Hi,

This is going to be long, so I apologize now. LOL I can definitely understand your confusion. I’ll try to help you have a better understanding of bird behavior so that you know why they are behaving the way they are. I do give advice based on what most birds do, so of course there can be exceptions.

Parakeets and Cockatiels are both a species of parrot, and parrots mate for life – which means for the life of either bird. A parrot will choose another mate if its mate dies. In the wild, parrots generally live in flocks, mainly for protection. Juvenile birds interact physically, engaging in mutual preening which is limited to the head and neck. This is the only time in their lives that parrots have “friends” or “companions” that they have some physical contact with. But any grooming below the neck is reserved for a bonded mate when they are old enough to have one. Once a bird is mature enough, it chooses a mate and the pair will engage in preening each other on the head and neck as well as the body. Once bonded, any friendly physical contact with other flock members ends. Other flock members are now considered rivals, and if one attempts physical contact with another bird’s mate, the mate will attack the rival. Generally it is the male defending his mate, and if he feels a rival is too close, and he can’t reach the rival, he will turn and attack his mate to drive her away from the rival, or back to the nest if this happens during breeding season.

All parrot species raised in captivity are still an exotic species – they are not domesticated like a dog or cat. They are driven by natural instincts and we need to understand this in order to have a good relationship with our pet birds. We need to be a flock member, without sending the wrong signal that we are a mate. Any petting should be limited to the bird’s head and neck and hormone triggers should be avoided. This is why the law to have two of a species is misguided. Instead of being better for each bird, it creates conflict, because each bird is torn between having a bird mate or a human companion, when instincts tell him he can only have one mate.

If you cage two birds together, they will generally remain tame at first, but once hormones kick in, the birds will almost always end up bonding and no longer want human companionship. Of course there can be exceptions, but generally there are still conflicts. In some cases, especially with Cockatiels and Parakeets where the males tend to be better pets, the male will remain tame but the female will not. This creates conflict because you are now a rival, yet the male still wants contact with you. This can result in the male attacking the female at times or attacking you at times. It can also be very stressful for the female when you handle the male. If you keep the birds in separate cages, allowing some interaction outside of the cage, the birds typically will not bond. However, each bird may be jealous of the other when you handle it. But overall, the relationships are better because hormones are not involved.

There are a lot of videos online showing multiple pet birds interacting, often several species. Usually these are younger birds, and within a few years, the birds start getting hormonal and fighting starts and a lot of time birds get seriously injured or killed. By understanding their behavior, this can be avoided by not mixing species in the first place. Species rarely mix in the wild, and when they do, each species tends to keep some distance from the other.

This brings us to your birds. It’s time to keep the Cockatiel and the Budgies separated, because your budgies are literally in danger of being seriously injured or killed by the larger cockatiel. And truly it’s time to set some boundaries for your Cockatiel. At 8 months, you are just seeing the beginning of your problems with him. By allowing him to roam free all the time, he is 100% independent, as well as feeling that your entire house is his territory. Pet birds need to have some level of dependence on us. It actually gives them a sense of security. Right now, your cockatiel is living like a wild bird, with all the freedom he wants, but he doesn’t have a flock to keep him in line or teach him. That is your job. He should have a large cage with plenty of toys, and he should understand that he only comes out of the cage to interact with you. When you are not home or not in the same room to supervise him, he should be in his cage. He should have a set bed time, where he goes into his cage and gets enough sleep. I explained that there is a breeding season in the wild. Unless we make changes indoors, breeding season is year round for most pet birds. We have to take away the hormonal triggers, otherwise the poor birds get in a constant state of being hormonal and this causes the bird a lot of stress as well as causing behavioral & health issues. He can actually end up with a cloacal prolapse, which can be caused by constant straining due to wanting to mate or too much mating with toys or other objects. With female birds, it can cause chronic egg laying, which will eventually kill her. So by setting boundaries and limits, establishing his dependence on you, and avoiding hormone triggers, you will help him by settling his hormones down, which gives him less stress and saves him physical and mental anguish. The same goes for the budgies, because they almost certainly will end up going from being friends to being bonded and wanting to breed. I will give you a list of changes that will help you a lot with limiting hormonal behavior, and we also have several webinars that address pet birds and hormone issues. It isn’t that hormones are wrong, but they get overly hormonal, too often, because of being indoors where we maintain a perfect environment year round. Wanting to constantly mate isn’t natural and it doesn’t happen in the wild. A bird would get taken by predators if he spent all his time trying to mate with everything.

And to explain why the older and baby cockatiel behaved the way they did. An older cockatiel has no use for a baby. He can’t breed with it, so he will get frustrated. Even an older female will get frustrated with a baby cockatiel. The frustration then becomes aggression, and the older bird will attack and even kill the baby. The baby recognized this instinctively and this is why it was scared. Your male seemed to become more hormonal because he may have thought he had a potential mate, and then realized it was just a baby. It’s never good to have too much age difference between two birds of the same species.

Hormones are triggered by breeding season, which brings longer daylight, warmer weather, abundant food, and the birds need a quiet, private environment. Your goal is to reverse or avoid these conditions for your cockatiel and budgies.

Limit their light to 8-10 hours by covering the cage early each evening

Do not give them anything to use as a nest – no bird huts or tents, no box, bowl, etc. If any of the birds start sitting in a food bowl, remove it and replace with smaller cups.

Do not give them anything to shred such as paper or cardboard.

Rearrange the toys in the cage, often, to keep things from feeling too stable.

Move the cage to a different place in the room. Move the cage about once a week, or whenever they shows signs of nesting or becoming hormonal.

When out of the cage, do not let them get in any dark cozy places.

When you handle them, limit any petting to the head and neck – do not pet the body.

If there is no metal floor grate, then do not use any bedding or paper in the cage tray – leave it bare and clean it daily so they do not try to make a nest.

Here is our playlist for Pet birds & hormones webinars:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmhX6UrcJC1lN1FogOGJea0CXd_6IISqg

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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