Have I Created a Monster? The Tale of a Horny Pionus

Pea, my blue headed pionus, has been with me about a year. As soon as she got here, she started bumping and grinding on her cage door.

I have always ignored this behavior, but it has persisted. Initially, it was almost constant, but it has decreased now to short sessions, one or two times a day.

But throughout this past year, I’ve seen changes in her behavior that tell me that she is over bonding to me, such as flying at, and chasing off, my other birds when they come near me, and shredding the newspapers that cover the grate at the bottom of the cage. She would also run under the bed in my office, seeking a cavity to nest in.

I made some changes to her environment as a result of this. I trimmed her wing feathers – which was not an easy choice. I believe that allowing a bird to fly is important for their physical and mental well-being, but in this case the risk of injury to my other birds outweighs the benefits to Pea. I will let her feathers grow out (it’ll probably take 3 months) and allow her to fly again, if we can get this horniness under control.

I also taped cardboard all around the bottom of the bed, so she could no longer get under there.

I always only petted her on the head, and only when she put her head down to ask for it, and I’ve been limiting that a lot lately too (believe me, that’s a tough one!)

These solutions seemed to work for a little while, but then she discovered the space under my computer desk. Even with trimmed wing feathers, Pea can get down to the ground, and she consistently flies down and runs underneath the desk. Pionus can huff and puff when excited which is normal for the species (it sounds a bit like an asthma attack), and this is just what she did when under the desk. I would remove her, put her elsewhere and give her something to do, but the problem continued.

But then it got even worse.

She now runs under the desk and attacks my feet, dangerous for both her and me. Again, I pick her up and put her in her cage the minute she goes under the desk, but sometimes I am not fast enough.

Needing more help to solve this troubling problem, I did research, and emailed Pam
Clark for her thoughts. As always, Pam is a wealth of information, and here is some of what she shared with me:

“It seems from my observations that parrots actually become incrementally more hormonal as they get older, no matter what we do. . . .Once they start this behavior, it is extremely difficult to get them to stop. One answer might be to make sure that her wings are clipped really well and then to hang a boing from the ceiling that she might not be tempted to fly down from.

“I’ve been giving a lot of thought to diet recently, both because of this almost universal problem with hormonal parrots and because of the pulmonary hypertension and athlerosclerosis we’re seeing in older parrots. I’m now changing the way I feed and have become much stricter. It is carbohydrates (especially simple ones) and fats that are the primary culprits in increasing hormone production. You’ll read that increased protein is a problem too, but I don’t believe that. Protein is used for replacing tissues, etc, and is not used much for energy production. Carbs and fats are used for energy production and this triggers an increase in hormone production.

“As to how I’ve changed things: [my parrots] have their Harrison’s available all the time, but I do measure it so that I’m providing an amount consistent with the recommendations on the back of the bag. If they finish that during the day, they don’t get any more. (I do agree with Dr. Fern Van Sant that the overall amount of food can be a problem also.)

“In the morning, they get their salad, but fruit is limited. Every other evening, they get a few Nutriberries and Nutri-An cakes, and on the evenings in between they get Quinoa Pilaf or a combo of cooked whole grains and roasted veggies. I am also, though, limiting amounts more than ever before. I’ve also decreased the size of the nuts and things I put into foraging toys.”

Pam also recommended: “As you know, it’s imperative to keep her out of any ‘small, dark places,’ i.e. under the desk. Access to such places can cause very swift hormone spikes. If I were you, I would quit giving her any physical attention at all.”

I had been recently offering Pea a small chicken bone, a coveted treat of my Moluccan cockatoo and African grey, but this too is a no-no.

“Absolutely stop the chicken bones and evaluate her consumption of pellets. This is the best ‘barometer’ I know for figuring out if a parrot is getting too many carbs and fats in the diet. If she’s not eating many pellets, then it’s time to reduce any other food sources for carbs and fats – the categories of foods that will increase hormone production.

“You might try a very structured training approach. Teach her to station. Work with a perch that is as hard to get down from as possible. Reward her frequently for staying put with a small, but highly valued treat. As soon as she gets down – no conversation. Up she goes back on the perch. 2nd time, same thing. 3rd time, back in the cage she goes.”

I also used cashews as a reward when Pea did something special, like poop on command. Since cashews are among the highest in fat of all nuts, I’ll have to find something else that she will work for.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and please share any ideas you may have about this common problem with all of us.

Thanks as always, to Pam. Her excellent advice can be found at http://www.pamelaclarkonline.com

 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Have I Created a Monster? The Tale of a Horny Pionus

  1. I want to ask about a word in a sentence of this post: “boing” (“One answer might be to make sure that her wings are clipped really well and then to hang a boing from the ceiling that she might not be tempted to fly down from.”)
    Thank you, Ellen

    Like

  2. Hi Ellen, A boing is a coiled perch that hangs down, either from the ceiling or from the top of the inside of a cage. It’s usually made with cotton braided around wire.

    Like

  3. Personally, I do think that clipping wings in this situation can make things even worse. A flying, active parrot consumes a lot of energy, energy which a clipped bird can use to e.g. sexual behaviour. If the bird doesn´t want to fly by itself, it´s often an easy thing to teach with a clicker and a target stick for example. On the whole, trick training and foraging are excellent methods to avoid a bored or sexually overstimulated parrot and even other unwanted behaviours.
    Another thing that can help when dealing with parrots full of hormones is to make sure they get 11-12 hours of good sleep each night. Just my 5 cents on the subject. 🙂

    Like

  4. I understand where you are coming from, and do like to give my birds flight when at all possible. However, when they are flying at and attacking other birds (as my pionus was) it’s time for the wing feathers to go and for some resocialization. I always recommend this in cases where the safety of other birds (or people) is at stake. Wing feathers usually grow back in a few months, when (hopefully) the hormonal cycle has passed. I also agree about trick training and foraging as vital, and lots of other environmental enrichment to encourage independent play. However, the hormonal surge is not easy to curtail – I’ve been dealing with it for the past few months, and tried all of the things you mention above and many more. My pi is still very ramped up!

    Like

  5. Interesting read. My Peanut is 4 now, and she is very much attached to me. I note taht she is more so inclined towards dark hiding spots when she is just growing new feathers … will look into her diet. Really i think she just needs a boy bird. DO your’s sing to you?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s