In This Chapter
- Distinguishing between normal bird behaviors and real behavioral problems
- Calming, quieting, and taming your bird
- Getting to the root of feather plucking, picking, chewing, and self-mutilation
- Socializing and training your bird
- Bonding with your bird, even through avian adolescence
You love your new bird, of course you do. But sometimes, yes, go ahead and admit it . . . he’s driving you absolutely batty! Birds are wild creatures, not domesticated over thousands of years like dogs and cats, so they have certain behaviors that are undeniably difficult for humans to put up with. They aren’t being bad; they’re being birds. But that’s exactly why so many of them end up in shelters and with rescue groups, waiting for new homes. Add to that a few daunting behavior problems resulting from neglect, abuse, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions that many birds develop, and you have yourself a pretty difficult housemate on your hands.
In this chapter, I explain how you can deal with some of the more common behavior problems in adopted birds and parrots, including the ones that aren’t problems at all but rather are perfectly natural bird and parrot traits. From screaming and biting to feather plucking and fearfulness, this chapter helps you recognize these behaviors and determine when to visit a vet. It also offers you strategies for altering or redirecting these behaviors and helps you determine whether you need extra professional help in the form of an avian behavior consultant. Are you ready to tackle those baffling bird behaviors?
Understanding Bird Behavior
If you purchase a hand-fed baby bird, you start — for the most part — with a clean slate. An adopted bird, however, already has plenty of notations on that proverbial slate, and whatever that writing says determines, to a large extent, how your new bird behaves in your home. Unfortunately, many parrots have some bad habits already ingrained. Or, I should say, they have habits ingrained that aren’t so much bad as they are birdlike and incompatible with life in a human household. But luckily for you, birds are smart, and they can learn from you and adjust some of their behaviors with a little guidance.
But first, consider what so-called behavior problems actually are merely bird behaviors: In the wild, birds squawk. Loudly. They interact with other birds, mate, climb around a lot, and fly a lot. They’re cautious and hyperaware of anything that resembles a predator. And, they have to find their own food.
What they do not typically do in the wild is fight, bite each other, scream nonstop, pluck out their own feathers, injure themselves, or — and this is a big one — live in cages.
In other words, if your pet bird makes noise, get used to it. If she’s a little cautious, flighty (so to speak), or nervous when people stare at her or approach her quickly, she is just being a careful and cautious bird with an intact survival instinct. But if your bird is behaving aggressively, attacking people, screaming all the time, or plucking out her own feathers, you can bet something is wrong.
Think about the unnatural situation that your wild friend is in, even if she was born in captivity, as most pet parrots are today. If your bird is in a cage all the time, especially in a cage that is too small to really stretch out, flap around, and get exercise, she probably will develop some neurotic behaviors. When birds don’t get enough exercise, social interaction, or mental challenges, they make noise and complain about it. Can you blame them?
A bird in a cage can’t fly, climb all around the trees, or work for her dinner. A bird in a cage is largely limited in her movements and has food provided in a little cup, all ready to eat aside from some minor seed husking. That’s hardly challenging. If your bird isn’t challenged by her environment, you need to provide her with other challenges to keep her healthy and well adjusted. Training, interaction, a varied diet, all can help your parrot adjust to her relatively unnatural caged environment — because if your bird is driving you batty, you can probably assume that something is driving her batty, too.
Solving Bird Behavior Problems
So how do you tackle these problems? You can put a Band-Aid on problems by covering the cage of a squawking bird, refusing to interact with a biter, or leaving a fearful bird alone, but these reactions don’t help your bird overcome boredom, unhappiness, or fear. Instead, get to the root of the problem, and you’ll address the issue from the inside out.
The first thing to do with a bird that is exhibiting problem behaviors is visit with the vet. Your veterinarian can check out your bird and run tests to make sure she is not experiencing any health problems. Many bad behaviors from aggression to feather plucking sometimes have a medical cause, so resolve any physical problems first. Once your bird is declared physically healthy, you can begin tackling your bird’s issues with behavioral strategies and training techniques. The following sections explain how.
In some cases, if a bird becomes impossible to handle or dangerous, you may — as a last resort — have to consider rehoming your bird. If you do, please contact the shelter or rescue group where you originally got your bird, so they can find him a new home and a good owner. If you can’t care properly for your parrot, she’s probably better off with someone who can, but please remember how many birds are waiting for good homes. If you can work out your problems and provide your troubled bird with a forever home, you’ll find your bird is a challenging but rewarding and engaging companion for life.
The bird that won’t adjust: Fear and anxiety
Because birds have to be ever alert for predators in the wild, a certain degree of caution just makes sense. However, a well-adjusted bird that’s socialized to humans shouldn’t normally be fearful or anxious all the time, and should adjust after a few days to a new environment. Adopted birds that are not accustomed to humans or have bad memories of human interactions can take much longer to adjust. If your bird constantly cowers, flutters madly around the cage whenever anyone approaches, refuses to let you touch him, or begins neurotic self-destructive behaviors like feather plucking and chewing, you may have a fear and/or anxiety problem on your hands.
The following list gives you steps to overcome this problem, so your bird grows accustomed to the idea that you exist in the house and you’re not a predator or abuser:
1. Consider where your bird is located.
If she’s against a wall, she’ll be more secure than when she’s against a window or in the middle of a room, where she may feel like danger can approach from all sides and she has nowhere safe to roost. Move her to a wall or corner, and be sure your bird is in a place that isn’t directly in the middle of all the household activity, but likewise isn’t completely isolated from it, either. Birds like to see what’s going on and are interested in what humans are doing, even if it makes them nervous. You don’t want kids barreling by the cage all the time, bumping into it, and poking their fingers in, but the bird needs to be in a central living area where she gradually gets used to the normal level of activity in your home.
2. Start spending some scheduled periods of time in the room with your bird.
Don’t sit right next to the cage and don’t stare at your bird, which is what a predator might do. Instead, sit nearby doing something other than paying attention to your bird. Read, work on your computer, pay bills, watch television, hum to yourself. Do something that makes little soft noises, rather than something completely silent or startlingly loud. Spend time in the room with your bird every day, preferably at the same time.
Your bird may cower or act nervous at first, but as you do your thing every day without directly interacting with your bird, she should gradually get used to your presence. Depending on the severity of the problem, this bonding can take weeks, months . . . or even longer. But be patient.
You’re rehabilitating a troubled bird, and that takes time. You can tell when your bird is comfortable in your presence. She sits relaxed on her perch rather than flitting nervously around the cage. She may close her eyes and doze, sing or twitter happily, stretch her feet or flap her wings for exercise, and she may eat with her head down in the bowl where she can’t see you. If she does these things in your presence, you can feel confidant that she’s getting used to you.
3. Gradually move a little bit closer to the cage a day or two at a time.
Look at your bird briefly now and then, say a few soft gentle words to her, but don’t stare or move suddenly.
At each step in this process, stop or go back to the previous step whenever your bird starts getting nervous again. Don’t get closer or interact more until your bird obviously is comfortable with your current level of interaction. Eventually, your bird should get used to your presence and the inevitable presence of others in the home.
4. Continue working slowly but surely with your bird, one step at a time, from getting comfortable with you in the room to getting comfortable with your hand inside her cage and getting comfortable stepping onto a stick that you hold in your hand.
For more information about how to train your bird to react to the stepup cue, see “Bird Basic Training” later in this chapter. Adopted birds may or may not ever be able to be hand-tame, but even if your bird never wants to ride around on your hand or sit on your shoulder, she needs to be trustworthy outside of her cage and trained to step up onto a handheld perch so you can put her back in her cage when necessary.
If your bird shows no progress at all, seems profoundly frightened, or is injuring herself despite your best efforts, please consult an avian behavioral specialist who can get information about you and your individual bird and work with you to help your frightened bird.
Probably the chief complaint from all parrot owners — particularly the ones who live with large parrots or the more vocal medium-sized parrots like conures and Quaker parakeets — is the noise, The Noise, THE NOISE! Adopted birds, hand-fed babies, pet-shop birds, the simple fact of their existence is that they all make noise. Noise primarily is a problem with the louder parrots. Small birds like parakeets and cockatiels don’t make loud noises, although they may twitter contentedly throughout the day, which is perfectly normal.
But when it comes to larger parrots, the volume can be pretty high. Although screaming is normal for large parrots, particularly in the morning and at dusk, adopted parrots sometimes may have a particular issue with making noise, simply because they never were taught not to squawk and scream, and/or they’ve gotten used to making a lot of noise until their needs are met.
If your adopted bird came from a home where he was not getting enough attention, was covered up all the time whenever he made normal parrot noises, or was inadvertently rewarded with attention — such as people screaming “Shut up!” — for screaming, he may have a bad habit.
If you have a bird that’s a screamer, the first step is to consider exactly what makes your bird scream. After you’ve ruled out any health problem, ask yourself:
– Am I paying enough attention to my bird? Birds often shriek out of boredom or to get your attention. Try spending more time with your bird, and letting her out of her cage more often.
– Am I rewarding her screaming? When your bird screams, think about what you’re doing at that express moment. Do you go to the cage and yell at your bird? Doing so may sound to your bird like you’re joining in on the screaming fun. Do you take your bird out of her cage and give her plenty attention when she screams? Attention is great, but if your bird discovers that screaming is the fastest way to get the attention she wants, then she’ll learn how to do it and she’ll do it often.
One simple but concrete concept can keep you from reinforcing your bird’s screaming: Reward your bird only when she’s quiet, not when she’s screaming. Take your bird out of her cage and pay attention to her frequently, but never when she is screaming. Ignore screaming completely. Leave the room. Don’t yell; don’t even look at your bird. But, the minute she stops, praise her, give her a treat, take her out to play. Birds are smart, and yours will get the idea quickly if you don’t reward screaming.
If you aren’t able to get a handle on your bird’s noise level, please talk to an avian behavioral consultant who can provide you with information about your individual situation and give you customized strategies for reducing the noise level. But remember that all parrots make noise some of the time, so to some degree, you just have to get used to it, if you’re committed to living with a parrot.
Biting and aggression
Despite Alfred Hitchcock’s portrayal to the contrary, birds in the wild generally are not aggressive. They don’t exist in groups with a pecking order, they don’t try to challenge the dominant bird, and although they sometimes squabble over mates or territory, fighting and biting each other are not a normal part of life as a bird.
In captivity, however, things can be a little different. Here are some reasons that adopted birds may bite:
– Sexually mature birds may bite the object of their affection, which often is a human, when feeling threatened by a change in the environment or a stranger in the room. Sometimes an adolescent bird, for no apparent reason at all, may try to bite her partner. One theory indicates that such partner biting may be a protective mechanism intended to prompt the beloved to fly away.
– Some birds that are stuck in a cage all day may grow overly territorial and suddenly bite anyone who gets near their territory. Birds can be protective of their territories and will try to nip and bite anyone who gets near it. And sometimes, birds turn on the person they most enjoy for no apparent reason.
– Adopted birds that have been abused may bite out of fear or because they’ve had bad experiences with human hands in the past. Some birds can become extremely aggressive. These biters should never ride on anyone’s shoulder or be held near the face, because they can cause severe permanent damage. Cockatoos in particular have been known to rip off parts of ears, noses, cheeks, and even fingers.
The solution to biting is not to stop handling or paying attention to your bird. Instead, the solution is just the opposite. Don a pair of leather gloves and handle your bird more often, but in a gentle, calm way. Putting your bird in the cage – in essence, removing your attention from the bird — is a good way to keep from reinforcing bad behavior. But when it comes to biting, do not reinforce biting by yelling or putting the bird back in her cage. In this case, you teach her that biting gives her the power to make you do whatever she wants. Instead, if she bites you when you’re holding her, ignore her. But when she stops, praise her good behavior. Meanwhile, keep the bird away from your face, bare skin, and certainly away from children.
When your bird discovers that biting gets her nothing and that when she stops biting, she gets rewarded, she learns not to bite. However, if her biting is caused by extreme fear or anxiety, deal with this problem first (see “The bird that won’t adjust: Fear and anxiety” section earlier in this chapter). Don’t be too eager to handle your bird if she’s afraid of you.
Large birds can bite extremely hard and can injure you severely, so please check with an avian behavioral consultant whenever you have an aggressive biter and you find that:
– You’re afraid of or unable to handle your bird at all, including getting her back into her cage when she’s out.
– You feel your bird has control over you.
Feather picking and chewing
Feather picking and chewing are tragic behaviors that happen when a bird is so bored, upset, fearful, disturbed, or in such discomfort that she plucks and chews her own feathers. Some birds even give themselves wounds. If your bird is exhibiting these symptoms, get to the root of the problem. Sometimes the solution is easy. Consider your answers to the following questions:
– Is your bird healthy, or is he having a skin problem? Something as simple as itchy skin or mites can cause plucking. Check with your vet and get a health clearance first.
– Is your bird eating a healthy, complete, and varied diet? Nutritional deficiencies often are a cause of plucking, picking, and self-mutilation. See Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird to be sure you’re feeding your bird a high-quality, complete diet.
– Is your bird’s cage large enough? Is she getting enough exercise? Birds that are stuck in claustrophobic conditions with little to no time spent outside of the cage and no opportunities to exercise and expend their formidable energy stores sometimes turn that energy against themselves. Take your bird out more often or get him a bigger cage with plenty of toys to play with and room to climb around.
– Is your bird getting enough mental stimulation? Birds have plenty of opportunities to solve problems and interact socially in the wild. A large parrot has the I.Q. of a young child, and you probably know what happens when a toddler has nothing to engage his curious brain. If all your bird does is sit in a cage all day with nothing to engage her, she may develop the neurotic behavior of self-mutilation. Give your bird more things to do — things to chew, interactive toys, swings, and of course, attention. Turn on a television or a radio for your bird, or move her cage to an area of the house with more activity.
– Speaking of attention, is your bird getting enough? Maybe she is pining away with loneliness. Praise her and play with her and tell her she is beautiful, even if she’s plucked like a chicken, poor thing.
– Is your bird fearful or anxious? If so, be patient and work on helping your bird overcome these anxieties as described in “The bird that won’t adjust: Fear and anxiety” earlier in this chapter.
If you can’t determine a cause and a vet has proclaimed your bird in perfect health, please check with an experienced avian behavioral consultant for help determining the nature of the problem and developing customized strategies for dealing with it.
Finding an Avian Behavior Consultant
Many pet bird owners are relatively inexperienced and can use a little help from someone who has been around the block when it comes to birds. People who have kept, dealt with, and trained birds or who have advanced educations in bird behavior and training frequently offer consulting services to pet owners who are having problems dealing with behavioral issues.
Sometimes a solution to the problem you and your bird are experiencing is simpler than you think, and when you explain your situation to someone with experience and an objective eye, he or she can advise you about exactly what to try. Sometimes, even with more advanced problems, an avian behavior consultant works closely with you and your bird to come to a workable solution.
These trained professionals are devoted to the welfare of birds and the people who are committed to keeping them responsibly, so don’t hesitate to contact them for help. The more advanced a problem, the harder it may be to solve, so even if your bird behavior issues seem small, give a professional a call. To find one, ask your veterinarian or call a nearby vet school for information about avian behavior consultants in your area. Or, ask friends with birds or local bird breeders who they recommend.
Bird Bonding: Bringing Out Your Bird’s Best
Your adopted bird is a social creature and wants to interact with the environment. Birds need socialization so they gain self-confidence and can take human interaction in stride. Birds also are smart, and they like rewards, attention, treats, and praise. That’s great for you because that means you can train your bird with relative ease.
Animals — even the human kind — get smarter and better behaved with attention, interaction, and physical and mental challenges. That goes for any pet, and it certainly applies to your adopted bird. Spending time with your bird and training him every day brings out his best side — his intelligence, his affectionate nature, his health, and his innate beauty. Praise your vain and lovely friend, keep him healthy, and teach him about interacting in the human world. Punishment doesn’t work well with birds, because they usually see any kind of attention as positive, and besides, physical punishment can severely injure and traumatize a bird. Focus, instead, on rewarding the good, ignoring the bad, and refusing to let your bird run the show. Remember, it’s your house. You’re in charge, and you’re a benevolent dictator when it comes to managing your adopted avian pet. Rule with a firm but gentle hand, and you nurture your new pet’s confidence and outgoing — if a little bit wild — nature.
Bird Basic Training
What can you train your bird to do? The answer may surprise you. Birds can learn to sit on your finger, hand, arm, shoulder, or even on your head. Many birds talk, and some often groom you, follow you around, and do tricks like waving on command or even using the toilet. Training a bird is similar to training any other animal, including a dog, cat, or rat. Birds even respond well to clicker training. (For more information about clicker training, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Dog
Treats or rewards are another means to good bird training. Just remember that too many fatty treats can make anybody fat, regardless of your species, and keeping the treats that you give your bird small also is a good idea, especiallyif you’re giving your bird a lot of them. In fact, to avoid overfeeding your bird, you may even want to decrease the seed content of his dinner. Smaller, healthiertreats not only keep birds in good shape, they also can be consumed more quickly. When your bird is in training, the last thing you need is to have to wait for your avian wonder to munch through a huge treat. Depending on your bird’s size, a sunflower seed, or even a half of a seed, is a fine treat. Another good option is half or even a quarter of a Cheerio.
Birds are prone to stress, and too much of it when you’re trying to train your bird can make him act up, shriek, pull out his feathers, or even get sick. With that in mind, you need to keep a close eye on your bird as you interact with and train him. If he becomes agitated, pull back a step or two and just sit with him, talking gently. Making your bird happy about his new memories of humans and his new home, in turn, makes your bird happy and well adjusted overall.
Socializing with your bird
Socialization isn’t a complicated process. It’s simply getting birds accustomed to interaction with and handling by humans. To socialize your adopted bird, start slowly and progress according to your bird’s comfort level. Every bird is an individual that learns at a different rate. Different birds have different barriers to learning based on past experiences and personality. Therefore, much of training a bird is a matter of gauging your individual bird’s reaction to what you do. Start by simply sitting next to the cage.
Some birds are not stressed out much by the presence of humans. They may be used to people and happy for the company. Others may be fearful, shy, or even angry when you approach them. During your initial encounters with your bird, move slowly, speak softly, and behave calmly. Try to relax and enjoy the experience yourself. You may try reading a book out loud while sitting in a chair beside your bird or offering him a treat through the bar. Don’t be surprised if he’s afraid to take it from your hand at first. Spend time with your bird each day, and pay attention to how he reacts to your presence. If he’s scared or aggressive, don’t be in a rush to touch him. Just bide your time every single day beside his cage, calmly and quietly going about your business. Maybe that means working on your computer, reading the newspaper, or talking on the phone.
After a few days or so, depending on the type of bird you have, your bird may seem comfortable and interested in your presence. Some birds may take a few weeks, or even longer, but you can tell that comfort level has been reached when your bird:
– Comes forward to see you as you approach
– Hops over to the side of the cage nearest you
– Looks at you and makes chirping — rather than shrieking — sounds that seem to be directed toward you
– Pokes his beak through the bars of his cage as if trying to play with you For some calm, collected birds, acceptance may simply come in the form of relaxed sitting on a perch, looking at you with interest.
Start hand-training after you find that your bird is comfortable with your presence (see the previous “Socializing with your bird” section). Begin by opening the door and putting your hand inside the cage. Start slowly. Don’t try to persuade your bird to step on your finger, just get him used to the nonthreatening presence of your hand in his cage. Do this step a few times every day for just a few minutes.
When your bird is used to this process — after a few days, weeks, or longer; don’t rush the process — you can start encouraging him to explore your hand. He may or may not step up on your finger, but continue to move slowly and watch your bird for stress and progress as he grows more comfortable with your hand. If you scare your bird, you may need to back up a step and just sit by the cage for a few days again.
When your bird voluntarily steps onto your finger, hand, or arm, don’t move at first. Let him explore you. If he nips at you, say “No!” firmly and loudly but don’t flinch. When he explores you without biting, see whether he will take a treat from your other hand. If you’re afraid of being bitten, wear a leather glove when you put your hand in the cage and keep progressing a step at a time, until your bird is ready to learn the step-up cue (see the next section), or voluntarily steps onto your hand or finger.
The step-up cue
The step-up is the most basic bird cue. Its purpose is getting the bird to step onto your hand or a perch on cue. After birds know how to do this simple move, you can build on it, teaching your bird many different tricks and behaviors.
Some birds need virtually no training to learn this move, because birds naturally step onto branches — or perches — that are put in front of them. When your bird is comfortable with your hand, practice putting your finger or hand (or a hand-held wooden dowel or bird perch) directly in front of him, touching his chest). If your bird steps right up, say the words “step up” as he’s doing so and then praise him and give him a treat (see Figure 19-1). Repeat this process many times each day, and your bird quickly learns what the cue “step up” means. If stepping up means he gets treats and attention from you, your bird is motivated to do it as often as he can. Remember, your bird wants to be with you.
Figure 19-1: Train your bird to step up.
If your bird doesn’t automatically step up, he may need a little practice. Watch him closely, looking for opportunities to put a perch in front of him. If he is climbing around in his cage, perhaps toward his food bowl or otherwise on the move, put your hand-held perch in front of the one he is trying to step onto, and then say “step up” and praise him when he steps onto your perch instead. This exercise may take some practice. Try not to become frustrated if your bird isn’t getting it or won’t step on the perch or your hand. For some birds, step-up training takes a long time, even though others do it right away. Remember, every bird is an individual, and your adopted bird needs your patience and regular training to understand and thrive. Even if you work on the step-up cue for only a few minutes a day, do it every day. You’ll feel so proud of your feathered friend — and yourself — when he finally steps up consistently.
Teaching your bird to behave on your shoulder
When your bird gets used to hanging out with you, he may enjoy riding around on your shoulder. Many birds think doing so is great fun. They can groom you, play with your earlobe or earring, get a good view of your world, be by your side, and generally feel like they’re communing in a social way with the leader of the flock. However, you don’t want your parrot on your shoulder if he’s going to gnaw violently on your earlobe, rip out your earring, pull your hair, climb onto your head, or squawk with a deafening volume directly into your ear.
Birds love rewards. When your bird is on your shoulder, give him many rewards of attention, praise, and tiny treats when he’s behaving himself. If, on the other hand, he bites you, squawks, or otherwise misbehaves, put him back in his cage immediately. Leave him there for five to ten minutes. Then you can take him back out and give him another chance. If he bites you right away, back into the cage he goes. If he’s good, reward, reward, reward. Figuring out what kind of behavior lets him stay up there on his very favorite human perch won’t take your bird very long.
Most birds enjoy spending time outside of their cages, but if your bird isn’t behaving while enjoying his free time, then you must show him which kinds of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. When you let your bird out, play with him for at least the first few minutes. Talk to him, give him toys and treats, and generally interact. Then, step back and do something else. See how your bird behaves. If he squawks, jumps down on the floor to follow you around, nips at your ankles, or tries to dismantle the woodwork, say “No!” and immediately put him back in his cage. Let him stew in there for five minutes. When he’s quiet, take him back out and try again. Every time he misbehaves, back in his cage he goes for five minutes. When he is quiet and good, let him out again. He will quickly understand what kind of behavior warrants freedom.
Parrots can learn tricks — even very complicated ones — with relative ease. Simply break the trick down into steps and teach the steps one at a time, rewarding as you go. Read the chapters on training dogs (Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management) and training cats (Chapter You Really Can Train a Cat). The same strategies apply beautifully to birds. For more about training parrots, check out Parrots For Dummies (Wiley) by Nikki Moustaki.
Mating Season and Avian Adolescence
Oh no, suddenly your adorable juvenile bird is a teenager. Birds go through adolescence at varying ages, depending on the species, and adolescent birds, like adolescent children, sometimes can be a real challenge. If your bird doesn’t have a cagemate love interest, he may consider you his — or her — mate. Some birds are lovey-dovey, but some birds aren’t always sweetly romantic to the ones they love. Instead, a bird that thinks you’re his life partner may behave aggressively, nipping and biting you, preening you a little too roughly, even upchucking on you — a huge compliment in bird terms but not particularly appreciated by humans.
Adolescents also become territorial, guarding their cages or perches and nipping intruders. This common behavior nevertheless should not be tolerated in pet birds. Wear gloves and don’t let your bird intimidate you. A territorial bird needs to be handled and shown that he may not be aggressive in guarding his cage, which is, after all, your cage, too. You paid for it, right? A misbehaving free bird needs a timeout in his cage. An aggressively amorous bird also needs to be shown that biting and terrorizing his beloved is unacceptable. Keep those gloves on, and keep your bird away from your face.
For birds with cagemates, mating season can be a disturbing time for onlookers. Whenever birds are fighting or being too rough, they may need to be separated, but affectionate birds, or even those that are quite blatantly getting it on, don’t need be separated. Unlike dogs and cats, birds can’t be neutered because avian anatomy makes the surgery much riskier. Many birds bond well with same-sex cagemates, but even in mated pairs, birds won’t reproduce if you don’t provide a nesting box or any nesting material. Even if they get amorous, they won’t produce any baby birds. In a few rare cases, birds may go into a superbreeding mode, trying desperately to nest. If that happens (suspect this if your bird tries to build a nest out of anything she can find, squats or sits on a corner on the bottom of the cage, or acts very agitated), just decrease the amount of light to which your bird is exposed every day to less than 12 hours. Doing so impedes the nesting instinct. For more about this topic, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird
Birds thrive on companionship, so fear of breeding is no reason to keep birds alone in a cage. Just maintain regular contact, training, and gentle discipline with birds during the difficult breeding stage. If you’re the object of your bird’s affection, don’t be bullied, but don’t ignore your bird, either. It’s a little like raising teenagers — sometimes it isn’t fun, but it’s worth it when you behave like a responsible and caring parent.
by Eve Adamson