Yes, parrots do cycle, and they tend to be reproductive during a certain time of the year; just when depends on their location and other factors. Some birds, like chickens and cockatiels, are light dependent, meaning that increasing light (as the days lengthen) stimulates their reproductive hormones.
1. Mood Lighting
In summer, there are about 12 hours of light and dark. As fall and winter approach and the days shorten, we humans tend to come indoors, turn the lights on and stay up to watch the news or something else. While the outdoor day has shortened, your bird experiences the increasing artificial light; and the increased light can signal that it’s time to breed. That is why it is important to give your bird regular sleep time and not interrupt it with light. This doesn’t mean just making sure the light switch is off, but also making sure that light from the TV or computer doesn’t stimulate your bird — even briefly flicking on the light can be interpreted as part of a long day. A bird’s brain, and specifically its pineal gland, “sees” that light and interprets it as increased day length.
2. Abundant Food
But what other factors stimulate parrots to go into breeding mode? For one, offering abundant, high-energy food, which we humans sometimes provide, can have unintended consequences. After all, we like to eat – and we like variety. And we love our birds! So we don’t want to give them the same old thing day in and day out like our cats and dogs getting the same old kibble! That is part of the fun in owning a bird — cooking and doing things like making platters of food.
However, in the wild, during the non-breeding months, the selection of foods is limited and may also be sparse, so the energy content is limited as well. There is not a huge selection of fruits ready to be consumed each day during the non-breeding season. Birds in the wild don’t have platters of fruits — like banana, apple and grapes out there with their high content of sugar. The fruiting bodies and other fruits that are present in the wild are more fibrous, tough to open and have a much lower energy content than what we buy for our feathered friends at the grocery store, especially if we feed dried fruits. The brain of your bird interprets ample sugar and a wide variety of food with conditions that occur after the rainy season: it’s time to breed!
Proper Foods: Well, how then can we enjoy our birds and not tell their brains it is breeding time? We need to think about what things are like in their environment during the non-breeding season. They do not have a huge variety of foods, and they spend a large part of their day foraging to obtain the necessary foodstuffs. For this reason, you should provide a quality pellet and/or Nutri-Berries and Avicakes (to the amount specified on the package insert; generally six to eight Nutri-Berries per day) as the mainstay, and then provide a small portion of veggies and other foods that have reduced levels of starch and sugar, like green beans and chard. Walnuts and flaxseeds are also great to enhance their levels of omega 3 fatty acids.
Foraging: Your goal is for your bird to eat these nutritious foods through foraging. This means that you need to teach your bird to forage. When they are able to forage using one toy, up the ante, and make the foraging experience more complex and diverse! Your goal is for your parrot to forage for all of its foods in a day and not use a food bowl filled with treats. You want to link chewing to foraging or food as a daily activity.
Chewing food through foraging will not activate the desire to breed, but chewing other items can. You do not want your bird to chew (paper shredding, tearing up boxes or piñata toys, chewing on wooden blocks) too much, especially if your bird is showing signs of nesting, as chewing in these instances is just what a wild bird would do in making a nest box! Chewing to chew is stimulating the right environment for breeding.
Avoiding the Cage as Nest Box: The chewing experience is a difficult problem. We want our birds to be active in the day and use their brains. Part of their normal repertoire of activities is to chew – for foraging and for nesting. But then we put them in a cage and we often then put a cover over it and – voila- the Taj Mahal of nest boxes is created. We have this big “box” with its privacy cover and plenty of things to chew!
Birds chew inside their nest boxes as a way to put fibrous material or wood chips in the bottom so that they are constantly raising the surface to keep their chicks clean and healthy. And those chew toys we bought and the paper to tear up are all great nesting materials!
So how are we to avoid this? Don’t cover their cages at night for starters. As I said above, link chewing with food and that means plenty of foraging. Provide exercise and get your bird out of its cage as much as possible. You might try moving the cage about every other week or as soon as they get comfortable in one location, move it. Parrots were meant to fly and so get them to fly or at least do flapping daily or even multiple times in a day. Work up to it, particularly if you have a couch potato.
Just like with foraging, flying has to be learned as well — actually landing is the large part of the learning curve! Shaping of the landing experience is a must after getting your bird to flap. Another idea is to bathe your bird as often as daily by misting it. It rains daily in the rainforests during the rainy season, which is generally the non-breeding season.
We love to pet our pets. But if you have a bird, and you find yourself petting it not just occasionally on the head but along its back repetitively, your bird may get a very different message than just “good bird.” Your actions can inadvertently stimulate reproductive behavior. A short quick touch means I am your friend while a long stroking pet means “I want to be your mate!”
Signs of Reproductive Behavior
And what could be some of the telltale signs that love is in the air? Your bird’s personality might change. They will tend to want to defend their “nest box,” which just happens to be the cage! Your friend may turn to being a foe as you don’t interpret their signals correctly and they warn you — you may get a bite on the finger. The droppings get larger and looser. While the first one of the day is always bigger, there may be fewer but bigger droppings throughout the day. They might tend to hold their droppings until they get out of the cage, as no self-respecting bird intends to soil its nest box regardless of its sex. Large, loose droppings will occur in both male and female birds.
And don’t think that a single hen bird will not lay an egg without a male around —remember chickens do that every day. Some species may not lay an egg without a male or need to have multiple pairs in the same environment before laying. But it is common for a hen parrot to not lay an egg for many, many years and then out comes an egg! This type of bird is often found down on the bottom of the cage and straining. The egg may get stuck or may pass normally, so you need to be watchful if this happens as you may need veterinary assistance!
As a great bird owner, you now are equipped with more information to make your relationship with your bird more meaningful — one that stops breeding and focuses on non-breeding natural behaviors.