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Are Your Bird's Hormone Levels Increasing Because Of The Foods She Eats?

Hormones can make pet birds aggressive and broody, but the foods you feed might be making the problem worse. Find out why.

Pamela Clark, CVT

Female Eclectus

There is one link between diet and behavior in parrots about which experts seem to agree. There is a large body of anecdotal evidence to support the idea that a diet high in simple carbohydrates and fats, or a diet that provides too much food, causes an increase in the production of reproductive hormones and the behaviors that result from this.

As Scott Ford, DVM, who operates the Avian Specialty Services of Alaska clinic, explained in his article, "Balancing Your Parrot’s Lifestyle,” "An overabundance of food, foods high in fat and calories, and too many food choices can all ‘turn on’ your bird’s reproductive desire.”

The behaviors that often result from such a diet include intense bonding with one person in the family, cavity-seeking behavior, paper shredding, loud demanding vocalizations and fierce territoriality. While it may be cute initially when a parrot becomes obsessed with getting into dark drawers or closets, or wants to be with its favored person constantly, these behaviors, over time, become problematic.

While these behaviors may occur only seasonally in the beginning, they can progress in some individuals until they occur year-round, developing into problems such as feather picking or feather barbering, self-mutilation, chronic egg-laying, egg binding and cloacal prolapse.

Jamie Lindstrom, DVM, of the Animal Clinic of Northview in North Ridgeville, Ohio, sees an additional problem. He explains that, "as we provide these high-energy, high-carb, high-lipid diets, we’re also providing these birds with high energy. If the parrot has insufficient opportunities to expend this energy, it leads to some of the aberrant behaviors, such as screaming and biting, that we see in these birds.” Often, eliminating these foods from the diet results in a much calmer parrot.

According to Fern Van Sant, DVM, of For The Birds Clinic in San Jose, California, there are two key issues that we have missed when deciding what and how to feed our parrots. The first is that parrots in the wild are normally reproductively inactive during most of the year. The second is that the "surroundings of abundance” we provide in captivity often have the effect of keeping companion parrots reproductively active throughout the year.

In her article "Hormonal Behavior,” Van Sant wrote, "As pets, the conditions of abundant food, bonded owners, comfortable cages and considerable physical contact seem to initiate breeding behaviors that become long-term drives. Without the naturally occurring environmental pressure of dwindling food supplies, changing conditions and competition for resources that limit breeding behavior in wild populations, breeding behaviors and hormonal drives persist unchecked.” These captive conditions result in the behaviors described above.

Want to learn more about birds and hormones?

Deal With Amazon Parrot Spring Hormones
Is Your Bird Laying Too Many Eggs?

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Posted: February 21, 2014, 4:00 p.m. PDT

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Are Your Bird's Hormone Levels Increasing Because Of The Foods She Eats?

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Reader Comments
Good article, it would be nice to have a list of some of these food items that are considered too rich for parrots...which things to avoid.
SE, International
Posted: 5/24/2016 11:42:33 AM
Nice article.
Donna, San Tan Valley, AZ
Posted: 5/17/2016 9:42:10 AM
I had a test done on my parrots which is 8 in all including 3 conures. And I was using soy products in their foods, then removed ALL soy from their diet. And I found my birds are less hormonal and the problem behaviors have been reduced greatly.
Here is the reason why I have tried this route LINK , and now as for pellets I use " totally organic"
Kathy, Albany, OR
Posted: 3/5/2014 7:53:48 PM
Interesting concepts which make a lot of logical sense. Much as we hate to admit it, the difficulty in accurately replicating the natural environment certainly argues against keeping our parrots captive.
Carol, Silver spring, MD
Posted: 2/25/2014 3:44:08 PM
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