Ask Lafeber

Question:

June 6, 2022

One Angry Bird


Hello..
I’m 54 and have had happy, healthy cockatiels my entire adult life. I’ve never even had an issue that required a vet visit! (A blessing considering I’ve never lived within 500 miles of one).
What I HAVE done, is purchase and study every avian print I could ever find covering absolutely EVERYthing about birds. From surgical to wing clipping, Im confident I could take and pass, an avian vet exam. LOL. By the grace of God, I’ve not yet had to use 99.999% of what I’ve learned over the years. (And because I am still enjoying my avian loves, I still read and reread all my literature. It’s pretty much on a 5 or so year loop.)

But I’m having an issue now, that I can’t seem to help, much less ‘fix’..

I have a female pearl-ClaraAllen. She’s Approx 6 yrs (she was a gift from my daughter…purchased from Petsmart. They said she was 6 months but there was NO way she was that young. So her age is a guestimate)
My male is a 4 yr Whiteface pied. I purchsed him from a loving, wonderful breeder when he was only 4 months.
For the only time in my yrs of cockatiels, this gal was ONLY one that did not have me choose which one I wanted from the dozens she had..(her entire walk out, very illuminated down stairs was a 1400 square ft free fly aviary. It was AWESOME and beautiful.) She took me down there, made me a cup of iced sweet tea and sat there chatting with me until one of her ‘kids’ chose me!! The first youngster that lighted on my shoulder after about 10 mins, is now my Augustus McCray. Very VERY tame. He fell in love with me the first day..
There was the appropriate time framing when i brought him home. You know, quarantine then intro to Clara then I let them get to know one another at their own pace.
Separate large cages, side by side. One blanket to cover em. It wasn’t long before they were piled up next to eXh other, face to face with their ‘walls’ in between them, when I’d get them up in the morning.
They remained physically close and playful with one another while out. Wasn’t long before they began grooming one another at which point, I built an enormous bird ‘house’ out of a jinormous China hutch I had in storage, and replaced their individual cages with it. They’ve lived happily mated (I THOUGHT) for a couple years this way!!
On rare occasion, Augustus will become a little aggressive with her. Usually in Spring, but nothing concerning. Just grumpy really. They’ve appropriately mated and I even ‘allowed’ her to have a clutch (this was just last spring, so plenty old enough) She was a GREAT momma. Gus, a baaad dad. He became SO aggressive towards her, I felt I had to divide them to protect her and the possible chicks.. I did this by building a screen divider right down the middle of their house. She laid 5 eggs and brood really well, but Gus would screech constantly every second he couldn’t actually see her, which would make her come out of her box and sit with him. Thru the divider, of course. Lol
I ended up putting a reptile warmer pad UNDER her nest box(ruler thick wood floor between it and her) and it kept the box nice and warm. Hoping it might help keep any possible chick’s alive when she felt the need to appease Gus and go sit by him. Other than that, she never left her eggs. Approx week 3, with those 3 weeks of Gus being good THRU the divider, I let him out. He immediately went over and into her side and sat at the door of nest box. Peacefully and quietly. I did this several days in a row , with me watching him like a hawk. He was GREAT. Even brought her some spinach! The last day I allowed this, he’d been out and in her side peacefully, for several hours! I got up to use the restroom. I wasn’t in there 15 minutes MAX..and he started screeching. I ran out here (20 ft away..) and Clara was out of her nest box and out of her room altogether! He had OBVIOUSLY attacked her or something. But ran her out and TWO of her eggs were on the floor of the cage. Cracked.of course. It was then I checked em and none were fertile so I did throw them out. But his devious action just…flabbergasted me. I swear he was waiting until I left the room. My husband thinks coincidence but I have a hard time choking that down. IM the one thats here with them 24/7. You know? IM the one that watches him VERY deliberately trying to sneak into her room when I have him out while she’s in her box. Lol. This might sound cray…but I SWEAR, he side watches me and inches over there. Evvver so slowly. But doesn’t go in. Lol. Until I’m looking away focused on something or doing something that has my attention. Like be on my phone. But the SECOND I look up directly at him, he STOPS…and side steps his way back towards his own side. And we’ll do this the entire time he’s out and she’s in her box!!! Over and over…lol
Anyhow, his aggression has only worsened towards her and they’ve had their divider ever since. SHE still tries to sit next to him and even groom him every chance she gets, but he will have NO part of it. He lunges at her, beak open. And he means business too!
He isn’t just bluffing. He’s hurt her ONCE. I won’t let it happen again, tho he eagerly tries when I have them out together.
The strangest thing is, he still courts her! Constantly in fact. He’s FOREVER starting in on her at the Crack of dawn and every moment they are both in their rooms. He’s singing to her, dancing around with his heart shaped wings..( he ONLY holds his wings like this when hes specifically trying to hit on that!! .lol. )
Back n forth. Up n down. He’s frantic about it it seems. At times! And Clara, on other side of that ‘wall’,, she’s right there, crouching down! But the literal minute, I let them come together? He’s lunging and she’s running !!
What THE heck??
It’s got ME confounded!!
NOW, as of late…if I don’t put something up to block his vision at night, he will sit in there in the dark and screech at her! I’m talking ALL hours of the night too. I’ll here him screeching AND lunging. I hear his beak tapping on the diving wire during the screeching so I KNOW what he’s doing.
You know? Even tho I KNOW he can’t really see her that well!
I sleep in living room in recliner because of RA, so I hear it. I’ll throw a second blanket over them to black it out in there (which I usually only do a dark sheet as he has night fright and has hurt himself several times, so I keep ambient light on. But to make him be quiet I have to dark it out 100%.) And of course, he is awful during the day. Not affectionate with ME as he usually is.
He’s quit letting me even hold him anymore for the most part.
He used to put his head in my hand and BEG me to gently rub his neck!! That’s been gone over a year now. :,,( And poor Clara. She just piles up any where she can find and dozes quietly. Trying to sleep. I can tell theyre both sleep deprived and I can NOT let this continue! It’s VERY evident in their overall behaviour….I cant let it start effecting their health. And I know it will.
Both are still behaving normal in every way. Clara plays with toys in her room as does Gus. (When he isn’t b*%@hing at her!) They both eat heartily. Clara LOVES to bath herself. Gus NEVER has. I have to bath him. He hates it, but it doesn’t happen otherwise and he starts pulling at his feathers from itching.
Point is…everything is as it should be
Health, individual behavior regarding toys, eating, etc.
What is happening to my Augustus??
Do I have to simply separate them permanently and bare the screeching until it passes?? It WILL pass right?? Lmao

I know this is a novel already, but I feel the need to say; I feed them NurtiBerries exclusively (as in no other seed mix except millet for treats) fresh spring mix chop of whatever is seasonal fresh. Every day. Neither of them will TOUCH fruit of any kind. I still give it to em! Including mixing in Fruit Nutriberries here and there. Neither of them HAS EVER touched them. Lol. 5 YRS now…but I STILL l give em it. They are fed the very best. I keep their house very tidy with a weekly deep clean of soaking everything in the tub with a couple cap fulls of peroxide, a good scrub, hot water rinse & fully dried.
I change their rooms around, swap out toys..etc. Everything I KNOW to do to have the lifetime of happy, healthy tiels that I’ve had!! Lol
But this has me stumped!! I have NEVER even heard of a pair UNmating!! But I swear that’s what has happened!!!
Is this possible??

Thank you in advance for your time. In reading this book AND any reply I may get.

Much love from Montana!

Oh man. I forgot one thing. I’m so sorry…
Augustus HATES the water and getting baths and is the MOST ungraceful flyer..lol. Clara is almost silent when she flies. Gus sounds like someone’s rattling a paper bag …lol. always has been.
Clara will take good and long baths and her feathers are the same as any tiel I’ve ever had, after them. A bit wet looking upon the chest and patches here and there where there is down but nothing resembling ‘wet’ even. Much less soaked! I’ve NEVER had a bird look ‘drenched’..
But my poor Augustus does. It seems his feathers do not have the natural powders that tiels feathers usually, and are supposed to, have. Another more pressing reason for his getting baths. Even tho he HATES water.
I also use an aloe/distilled water spray I make for my birds..on him more often than ClaraAllan.
When he gets wet, he looks like a…like a new chick or something. His feathers get SO wet (so quickly too) that he looks like a month old chick! Skin baring and all. After them, I HAVE TO put him in his room, turn on his warming lamp and put his sheet up until he dries. I worry he’ll catch a draft and in this wet state, it might kill him! so I’m ultra cautious after baths. He certainly goes thru the appropriate preening motions 25% of a day, but his feathers definitely don’t seem to have that barrier to water. I began letting him sit and preen on me more than I normally would as riding my shoulder is a ‘good boy’ thing for him, not an anytime he wants. You know? But I let him so I can observe his dander/powder dispersion and there certainly seems to be no issue there! Lol. And it’s appropriately waxy feeling.
Idk. I don’t understand this either.
Any opine?

Guess i DONT know all their is to know huh!! Lol.


Answer:

Hi Julie,

This type behavior is not uncommon with some male cockatiels in captivity. He will suddenly turn on the female and not allow her back in the nest box. He can get quite aggressive to the point that her life is in danger. In those cases, we recommend removing him and then letting the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs – one sits during the day, the other at night. In some cases, the male settles back down. In some cases the male doesn’t start this until the eggs hatch. Rotating the parents generally works, but once the chicks are weaned, we recommend not letting the pair have another nest box. Without the nest box, the pair generally stops trying to breed and they get along. Why the introduction of a nest box triggers this, we do not know. Most likely it is because of the confusion the owner inadvertently causes by trying to pair and mate tame birds. Most breeders will refuse to take tame birds to breed.

To better understand this, you need an understanding of wild bird behavior. Regardless of how many generations cockatiels have been bred, they are still considered a wild species. There is no such thing as a domesticated parrot of any kind. They are domestically bred, but that is no different from any Zoo animal that is bred in captivity. They may not have what it takes to survive in the wild, but they still have enough of their natural instincts to make behavior issues challenging. Unlike domestic dogs, they have not been bred to please humans or be trained. Their natural behaviors can be modified to a degree, but they will never obey you like a dog will. Add hormones to that, and you have the cause of most behavior issues in pet birds.

Wild parrots only have one mate once they reach maturity. They live in flocks for protection, and juveniles interact and learn from each other, but once a mate is chosen, they stop having physical contact with the rest of the flock. Any bird that comes too close is viewed as a rival, and chased away. During breeding season, the pairs distance themselves from the flock and each pair has a territory, which varies by species. But there is an invisible line that when crossed, causes an instant attack. If the rival won’t leave, the male will turn on the female and attack her to force her back to the nest.

So Augustus has all of this hard wired into him. But he is also a White Faced, which are from fairly diluted genes to get that mutation, plus he has the pied mutation on top of that. He is a mess of mixed up wires in his genetic make up. Clara is a Pearl, which is one of the oldest known mutations, and is probably more genetically sound. The White faced were hastily bred when the mutation was first discovered, and it involved a lot of inbreeding, and no matter how responsible his breeder was, the history of how white faced were achieved makes him more likely to have genetic hiccups. Augustus loves you, but then he bonded with Clara. Then hormones were thrown into the mix so instead of having 2 flockmates that he hung out with, he has a mate and his instinct is to not let another bird near him. You aren’t a bird, but in his mind, he still feels a connection. His loyalties are torn, now there are eggs and Clara loves the eggs. And now you have one short-circuited male cockatiel. That’s the best way to look at it.

As for how to deal with him – there is no easy solution. He might settle back down if you keep nesting out of the mix. I would try to settle his hormones down. The best way to do this is make some daily changes. Limit their light to 8-10 hours by covering their cages early in the evening. Discontinue the fresh food just for now. No more nests or boxes or anything that could be used as a nest. Distance yourself from both birds. Ignore his rants or unwanted behavior. Try to give them privacy and keep things calm. Give him a couple of weeks like this and see if you notice any improvements. If he settles down, start giving him small amounts of the fresh foods about 3 times a week. When a male is like this, it’s as if they are stuck in a hormonal state. With females, this results in chronic egg laying. There are hormone treatments that work with the females. But they really haven’t found a way to settle down a hormonal male, other than to remove breeding and hormone triggers. By giving them some space, his split loyalties might also settle down. He can’t decide who he wants and who he needs to defend against. So he has basically turned on both of you. But he still wants both of you. Now you see why this is such a hard issue to deal with. You are going to have to try to find a balance where hormones don’t become an issue again.

As for the feathers, cockatiels do not have an oil gland – they have natural powder down feathers which distribute protective powder on the feathers when the bird preens. I would stop using the aloe – you should only use water on powder birds. And powder birds should not be bathed too often. Give his system time to adjust. It could also be that his powder down doesn’t work as it should because of genetic issues. But you still should only use water on him. Stop with any baths unless he chooses to take one. Give him a few months and see if his feather condition improves. It might take a molt or two to see any real improvement. But he should eventually get a light powder coating and that is what protects his feathers. It won’t be the same as species that have the oil gland.

I know I have mostly asked you to make some changes and then wait and see, but with parrot behavior, patience and understanding is generally needed. As long as both birds are in the same house, you will face challenges. But if you can keep his hormones under control, things might get better. Re-homing one of the birds might help – from the sounds of things, Clara would adjust better without him, than him without her. In other words, if you re-homed him, she would probably be a good pet alone, but if you just kept him, it’s really hard to say if he would go back to being a good companion. It’s a difficult situation, so one step at a time.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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