Examples of the colors I produce.
All images are Copyright © 2019 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be used without permission.
Examples of the colors I produce.
All images are Copyright © 2019 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be used without permission.
How do I get added to your waitlist?
How long is your list?
Never ask me this. 🙂
It’s long. What happens is that I get a lot of people messaging me at the end of the breeding season, after everything has already been reserved. These people then make up the top of my list for the next breeding season. But by the time I have a bird for them, their life circumstances may have changed and a good many either don’t respond or are no longer interested. At least half my waitlist drops off.
The other half is often composed of people who want something very specific. Unless you’re looking for the exact same thing, odds are good that you won’t be competing with them for a bird.
So don’t stress about the length of my list, especially for cockatiels and green cheeks. I always have plenty of those.
How does the waitlist work?
I add you to my list, along with the color/sex you’re looking for, if any. When I’m ready to take deposits (usually after I know color and sex of a clutch) I will start going down my list. The more lax your requirements, the faster you’ll get a bird. For instance, if you tell me you want a boy, I’m going to skip over you if all I have are girls. I won’t contact you until I have a bird that matches your description.
Do I need to pay a deposit to be on the list?
No. A deposit is only required once you’ve decided to purchase a specific bird.
What can I do to improve my odds of getting a bird?
Don’t be particular about color or gender. This is my 2020 waitlist for cockatiels (sans names).
Boys are extremely popular in ringnecks and cockatiels, so if you don’t specify sex, your odds are a lot better. Likewise for color. Violet and blue are the most popular colors for ringnecks. “Yellow” is popular in cockatiels (lutino or heavy pied). Many people want lutino males, even though these are difficult to make.
I get a lot of requests for pineapple green cheeks. People know the name, so they ask for it. I’ve gotten ONE in four years. But I get yellow-sided dilutes all the time (which looks similar, but better). If you’re waiting around for a unicorn of a color, you’re going to be waiting a long time.
For ringnecks, get on the list in the Fall the year before you want to buy.
I’d like an Indian ringneck.
These guys are seasonal breeders, December through April here in the U.S. I do not breed in winter, so mine are set up around late February. Ringnecks usually don’t double clutch so I have a limited supply every year. I highly recommend getting on the waitlist the year before you plan to purchase so you’re near the top of my list. Violet and blue are the most popular colors, and there is a lot of competition for them.
I do screen ringneck buyers more intensely. A lot of people think they want them, because they’re gorgeous and they can talk, but what they really want is a conure. Ringnecks are not cuddly and they go through a nasty bluffing stage where they bite a lot. They are not for everyone. I generally send out my information sheet early to potential ringneck buyers, but please do your research on these guys before contacting me.
©2020 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
“How do you know the sex of that chick?”
I post a lot of chick pics and videos on my Facebook page. Many times I will identify a chick as male or female, sometimes as soon as it has hatched, and I inevitably receive this question. The answer is sex-linked genes.
I strongly recommend checking out my more in-depth article on bird genetics before delving in here. This article is a more cursory look at sex-linked genes.
What is a sex-linked gene?
To understand sex-linked genes, you have to understand sex chromosomes. Humans have two: X and Y. In general*, females are born with XX and males are born with XY. Birds use a different system: males are ZZ and females are ZW.
Sex-linked genes reside on sex chromosomes. If you have a gene sitting on the Z chromosome and that bird is a female, there is no corresponding Z chromosome to block out the gene. It will be expressed.
Look at this punnet square of two birds. Visually, both male and female in this pair look normal. However, the male carries a sex-linked gene (shown here in orange) on one of his Z chromosomes. It’s hidden by the fact that he has a corresponding Z chromosome without the gene.
The squares in the middle show you their babies. On the right, you have a normal male (ZZ) and normal female (ZW):
On the left, you’ll see that half their babies carry the sex-linked gene. One, the male (ZZ) will look like his father. He will carry the gene without expressing it (this is known as “split”).
The female (ZW) has no corresponding Z to counter the Z chromosome carrying the gene. She will VISUALLY show the gene.
This makes it incredibly easy to sex babies in the nest, so long as you know the genetics of the parents.
Which genes are sex-linked?
This list is not exhaustive, but here are the most common. Sometimes mutations have different names depending on the species. For instance, in green cheek conures, opaline/pearl is called “yellow-sided.”
If neither parent is visual for the gene, any baby showing the sex-linked gene is FEMALE. This also tells you that dad carries a copy of the gene. It cannot come from mom (if she had the gene, you’d see it). If dad is visual for a sex-linked gene and mom is NOT, then ALL visual babies will be female and ALL normal babies will be male.
Rules for Sexing by Sex-Linked Genes:
These rules only apply for the SAME sex-linked mutation (birds can have multiple sex-linked mutations). So if dad is cinnamon and mom is pearl, you can use rule #2 to sex cinnamon babies, but pearl falls under rule #3 (can’t be sexed).
I have a pair of cockatiels (above) where the male is whiteface and the female is whiteface pearl. Every so often I get a cinnamon whiteface baby. These chicks will always be female (see rule #1) and it means dad carries the gene for cinnamon. Males produced by this pair will always carry the gene for pearl (rule #3).
In some cases, you can sex as soon as the chicks hatch. Cinnamon, lutino, and pallid all create lighter-colored eyes. The chicks below are the product of a visual pallid male and a violet female. Pallid is sex-linked, and since the mom is not pallid, we can sex all the offspring using rule #2. All pallids from this pair will be female (hatching with red eyes) and all “normal” (blue or violet) babies will be male (hatching with dark eyes).
Knowing how to sex with this method saves time and money, as you won’t have to wait for birds to molt into adult colors or send out for DNA testing. It’s also more accurate. But you have to know the mutations of your birds.
*Chromosomal anomalies do exist. People can be born with extra chromosomes (sometimes lots of them!) and outward biology does not always match internal chromosomes. Nature is nothing if not complicated.
This article and all of its images are ©2020 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
Cockatiels are dimorphic, which means males and females look different. They’re pretty easy to sex IF you know what to look for. Unfortunately, there’s a plethora of misinformation online. When it comes to sexing cockatiels, mutations matter, and most people simply don’t have the expertise to do it accurately. This is because certain rules of sexing are conditional, and if you don’t know the conditions under which the rule applies, you’re going to be wrong.
Let me give you an example. Pretend you’re an alien studying life on Earth, and one of your fellow aliens tells you that humans are easy to sex. All you have to do is follow two simple rules: Males are tall and have short hair. Females are short and have long hair.
The problem with this blanket statement should be obvious, but in case it’s not:
Likewise, there are a lot of incorrect generalities when it comes to sexing cockatiels. This has led to a lot of well-intentioned people repeating things they’ve heard without any concept of why they’re applying the information incorrectly:
Cheek Patch Intensity/Color
Cheek patch color/intensity is one I see commonly, so we’ll tackle that first. Cockatiels have been bred in captivity for a long time, and while this rule might apply to wild cockatiels, it’s useless for sexing pets, which are likely to carry a number of color mutations and are very far removed from their wild counterparts.
All the examples I give here are adult birds. Scroll slowly if you’d like to test yourself.
Above we have two normal colored birds. Male on the left, female on the right. The rule seems to apply, right?
Okay now what about these two? The bird on the left has a very nice orange patch, just like the male above. The bird on the right doesn’t even have a cheek patch.
The problem here is that these birds have obvious mutations. The right is a pearl; left is whiteface. Whiteface birds can’t produce any yellow/orange color, so they don’t have a cheek patch. To someone inexperienced, it might even look like the bird on the left has a facial mask. There’s yellow there, right? Nope.
This is why knowing the mutation matters. Females keep their pearls into adulthood. Males don’t (unless they’re pied–another rule broken!).
Okay now what about these two? The bird on the left has a much brighter cheek patch than the bird on the right.
I hate to break it to you, but that nice orange patch belongs to a lutino pearl hen. The male on the right has the yellow cheek mutation. There are several mutations that alter the cheek patch color like this. Pastelface is another one.
“No problem,” someone says. “I can just look for the facial mask!”
Go ahead and try sexing the birds below.
On the left we’re missing the distinct facial mask and the cheek patch is dull. The bird on the right is lutino, so it’s difficult to see if there’s a mask there, but the cheek patch is bright. Which one is male and which one is female?
Lutinos are really difficult to sex visually, because a lot of their identifying characteristics, like the mask and tail barring, are hard to see. It’s even more difficult if they’re pied lutino, which you may not even know from looking at them.
I cannot tell you how often I see people claim that a pied bird must be male because it has yellow/white on its head. Mutations matter!
Petrie, the male on the left, is what’s called a dirty-faced pied–he has melanin on his face. Pied males do not get a facial mask, and pied females can have yellow heads. They cannot be sexed visually. Pearl pied males may lose their pearls, but they can also keep them. Pieds should really be sexed by behavior or DNA. Just to give you an idea:
So, how do you sex your cockatiel?
There are a few methods. If you’re impatient and want to know now, or if you have a pied or lutino, I recommend DNA sexing. It’s important to note that lutino is a sex-linked gene, and it is statistically far more likely to be female.
The other method is to wait until the bird is at least nine months old and has gone through a molt. Males will have begun to show their standard characteristics by then (except for pieds!). At this point you can use my guide to sexing or ask an expert. If you post in a general Facebook forum, you’re going to get a lot of inexperienced people giving you their incorrect opinions about head/cheek color, which is why I’m recommending a professional forum.
For more about how sex-linked genes work, see my article on Genetics.
© 2019 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
I’m tired of people acting like starter pets aren’t a thing. Cockatiels and budgies do well in just about every household. Cockatoos and lories absolutely do not. Would you recommend a macaw as a first bird? I didn’t think so.
Starter does NOT mean disposable. It means easy to for beginners to keep. Starter pets are your most laid back, your most versatile. They’re the chill animals who go with the flow while their owner learns the ropes, and they’re an essential entry point for budding bird people. So stop acting like “starter pet” is an insult. Starter pets are AWESOME. That’s what makes them starter pets.
What makes an animal a good starter pet?
People are going to make mistakes, even if they are trying their best. No one starts out an expert. Some knowledge is gained better through experience (bird body language for one). Researching everything prior to purchase can still leave someone with conflicting advice, thanks in part to the many armchair experts that give misleading information online.
Starter pets are physically hardy. They’re able to withstand mistakes here and there. Budgies and cockatiels are native to the Australian outback. Their bodies are designed to deal with food and water shortages, and greater temperature extremes. They’re tough, unlike kakarikis, who can pass out or have a heart attack if stressed.
All animals have a baseline of care, but for some, this baseline is higher than others. Starter pets are at the lowest possible bar. If an animal has a specialized diet (lories, eclectus) or needs heavy-duty equipment (macaw), then it’s not a starter pet.
Few Behavior Problems
Why are cockatiels starter pets but cockatoos are not? Because cockatoos turn into a neurotic mess if handled wrong.
Some animals are more likely to develop behavior problems if incorrectly handled. Perhaps they are nippy, flighty, or tend to attach to one person. Maybe they don’t take commands easily and need a person who can handle their strong will appropriately. Such animals do not make good starter pets. Behavior issues are not the fault of the animal, but simply a byproduct of an inexperienced owner reacting inappropriately to certain innate behaviors.
Good with Children
This quality is important if the pet is intended for a family with children or access to grandchildren. Starter pets should be reasonably tolerant of handling, especially as children tend to be overzealous even when coached. You want to avoid species which are nippy when excited (green cheek conures) or bite hard when their personal space is invaded (Indian ringnecks).
Budget absolutely matters. It’s classist to say otherwise. Not all families can afford expensive pets. There’s a vast difference between setting up a budgie vs a macaw. Larger birds have greater long-term costs as well. Working within your means is not a crime. It’s sensible.
This one is hard, as outside of rodents, you’re going to have a starter pet for at least ten years. Some people may find that birds are not for them, and in this case rehoming is best. A longer lived pet is more likely to run into the problem of major life changes. What happens when a child grows up and moves to college? Gets married? Has kids of their own? Moves? What happens if your job changes and you have less time to spend with your pet? What if your bird outlives you?
The longer a pet lives, the more likely it will encounter situations like these and the more likely it will be rehomed. We can’t always plan for the future, but lifespan should definitely be taken into account when acquiring a pet, especially if there’s a good change it might outlive you.
What a starter pet is NOT.
Any time you purchase an animal, even if it is a starter pet, you need to consider your life situation and do your research. While starter pets are a good way to find out if a particular type of pet is good for you, that doesn’t mean they should be discarded the moment you feel like you can move on to something better. This is an animal that is bonded with you and your family. It isn’t going to understand why it is being cast aside, and few pets are rehomed just once. Pets, even starter pets, should be purchased with the intent to keep them for the long term.
© 2019 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
Congratulations on your new baby bird!
Things to do before bringing a bird home:
One of the things I see touted a lot is that you should leave birds alone for a few days to let them adjust. If a bird is a handfed baby, this is terrible advice. Think of it this way. You adopt a young child. You show them to their room. Then you spend the next few days ignoring them so they can “adjust.” No! Birds, like humans, need to feel like part of the family. Your baby is already used to humans. That’s the whole point of handfeeding. Talk to it frequently. Make it feel welcome!
You can start handling your bird on the second day, or the first day if it seems open to the idea. Keep in mind that while the baby is tame, it doesn’t know YOU. Cockatiels are usually accepting of petting immediately, but other species may want you to earn their trust first. If you go in right away for a head scratch you may be rebuffed or even nipped. It’s like meeting someone right away and asking to hug them, hold their hand, or kiss them. Listen to your bird’s body language and respect its body autonomy. Go slowly and work up to it. Your goal is to create a solid relationship built on trust, not to bully your bird into submission.
Set boundaries and use commands to help your bird know what to expect. If you don’t want a bird constantly sitting on your head and pooping in your hair, then don’t allow it to do that. If you want your bird to stay on a play stand while out, return it to the stand whenever it flies out of bounds. Say “step up” whenever you want the bird to step up. Be consistent.
Babies explore with their mouths. They use their beak like a hand and will apply pressure to get a feel for things. Some species, like green cheek conures, will play fight and nip during play. It is important that you do not allow them to mouth fingers, hands, earlobes, moles, etc. Move the target item out of their way, cover it, or distract them with something else (though be careful not to reward inappropriate nibbling). I like to have a bird-friendly snack available when I sit with my birds. It helps with flock bonding because we are sharing a food, and it gives the birds a more appropriate thing to nibble.
Routine, Routine, Routine!
Set up routines as quickly as possible. Birds, like children, love routine as it lets them know what to expect and when. Feed at the time you normally plan on feeding. Let them out when you normally plan on it. This is especially important to reduce the odds of screaming/contact calls. Birds who know when they are normally let out are less likely to scream to be let out at other times.
If your bird has a sleep cage or if you plan on covering the cage at night, you can start doing that from the first day. Birds need 10-12 hours of sleep. If their cage is in a high traffic area like the living room, a sleep cage in a quieter area is a good idea. They can’t sleep well if you’re up late watching television loudly, even if the cage is covered.
Parrots do not normally live alone. They are always with their flock, family, or mate. When isolated, it is very common for birds to do a contact call. This call basically means “Where are you? I can’t see you!” Some people rapidly get irritated with contact calls and do things that can easily slip into animal abuse, like screaming at the bird or covering it during the day. My pet pionus spent years covered and under a back porch, probably because its former owner was frustrated with the noise and kept escalating “solutions.” Contact calls are NORMAL and birds should not be punished for them.
There are a few things you can do to help mitigate contact calls:
The easiest is to have two or more birds. That way part of the flock is always there and they feel less alone. This is best done when the birds are young so that they grow up together and you don’t have to worry about introductions later.
You can make a noise back. Especially if your bird makes an annoying call (like my pionus), you can try to get them to make a different noise. When my pionus yells I either ignore it or answer back with a whistle, which starts him whistling instead.
Ignore it. This takes far more mental strength. If you have a set routine, your bird will eventually learn when you are around and when you are not, and when it can reasonably expect to have time out of the cage with you. When we first moved to this house my Goffin was calling ALL THE TIME. It took maybe two months for her to get used to the new routine, but eventually she stopped calling all the time. Now she only calls periodically when she knows I’m around and should be available.
Give them plenty to do while they’re in the cage. They do need to learn to play by themselves. It won’t solve the problem completely, because the point is that they want to be able to see/hear you. Having them out on a play stand in a common area is another solution.
If You Have Other Birds
Introductions should be slow. Time outside the cage should always be supervised, especially if either species is known for aggression. It is generally recommended that all new birds be quarantined for 30-45 days to ensure they do not bring any diseases into your flock. If you purchase a bird from a breeder with a closed aviary system then you’re probably okay, but quarantine is never a bad idea.
If you can find a good avian veterinarian in your area, I recommend making an appointment. This allows the vet to see your bird when it is healthy and get a baseline for things like weight. It gives the vet something to compare to if/when the bird ever gets sick. The vet can also answer any further questions you have about avian health.
Here are some external links you may find helpful:
© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: This guide is meant to be a very basic overview of these topics. Terms are kept as generic as possible, and some things are vastly oversimplified.
Physical characteristics are controlled by genes. We get two sets of genes from our parents. If our parents both have brown eyes, we will likely have brown eyes too. But what happens when one of our parents has blue eyes and the other has brown? What color will our eyes be? Both genes will not be displayed at the same time. Our body controls which genes show up through gene expression. There are several kinds of gene expression, but dominant, recessive, and sex-linked are the three we’ll worry about.
Dominant and Recessive Genes
A dominant gene is expressed no matter what. If your body contains a single copy it will show up visually. A recessive gene can only be displayed if BOTH the genes received from the parents are the same recessive gene. Think of it this way: a dominant gene is like the sun and recessive genes are like the stars. If the sun is in the sky, the stars cannot be seen even though they are there. Likewise, when a dominant gene is present the recessive genes are all hidden. But if there are no dominant genes around we can see recessive genes.
In humans, the gene for brown eyes is dominant and the gene for blue eyes is recessive. So if we received one brown gene from dad and one blue gene from mom only the brown gene would be expressed. Our eyes would be brown.
The only way to get blue eyes is if you get TWO copies of the gene for blue eyes.
So far all of our examples have carried two copies of the same gene. Not all parents are like this. When a brown-eyed person and a blue-eyed person have a child, even though that child has brown eyes they still carry the gene for blue. What if that child decides to have children? Which gene will they inherit? Luckily, there is an easy method to find out.
A Punnett square (below) is a quick way to find out the chances of a child inheriting a certain gene. The father’s genes are each entered at the top and the mother’s genes are entered on the side. The four boxes in the center are the possible combinations of those genes. Let’s try one together.
First, draw a square like the one below.
Our father here will be a man with brown eyes who carries the gene for blue. Mom will have blue eyes.
Enter the information on the parents. We use capital letters to symbolize dominant genes (in this case a capital “B” for brown), and lower case letters to symbolize recessive genes (in this case a little “b” for blue).
Now we combine the parents’ genetic information in the boxes to find out how the children will look.
The results out of four children:
Let’s try some more. What if both parents have brown eyes, but carry the gene for blue? You’d get the following:
Now let’s see if you can do some on your own:
Give yourself a big pat on the back if you got them right. Now we can move on to the third form of gene expression…
Sex-linked genes act just like recessive, except they also bow to the will of the sex of the child. To understand sex-linked genes, it helps to know what they look like. Genes are just sections of DNA code that tell the body to do something. DNA itself is coiled tightly and contained in a structure called a chromosome.
Most people already know that in humans the man has an X and Y chromosome and the female has two X chromosomes. This is the reason that the only the man can determine the sex of the child. Women can only provide X chromosomes while a man can provide either. The X chromosome is physically bigger and can carry more genetic information on it than the Y chromosome. This is where sex-linked traits come in. Because the X is bigger it means that some genes carried on it are not carried on the Y chromosome. These genes can be expressed even without a corresponding partner on an X chromosome. They also cannot be blocked out unless there is another X chromosome carrying a dominant partner.
One human sex-linked gene is hemophilia. Hemophilia is a disease that keeps a person’s blood from clotting when they are cut. Because hemophilia is a sex-linked disease, most of the people who have it are men. Women can carry the gene for hemophilia but will not be affected by it because their second X chromosome will block it out with a healthy gene. Women must have two copies of the defective gene to be affected by the disease. Inheriting two copies is highly unlikely. Since a man only has one X chromosome (from his mother), if he gets a copy of the gene he will have the disease. Mothers carrying one gene for hemophilia have a 50% chance of sons being born with the disease. Here’s how it works:
As you can see, at least half of her children (boxes 1 and 2) will inherit the gene. One, a daughter, will only carry the gene. The other, a son, will have the disease hemophilia. The last two children (boxes 3 and 4) will carry healthy genes. Of course these are only the possibilities of what her children could end up with. She could very well end up giving it to all her children or none at all. It’s just a matter of chance. Now let’s take a look at what will happen if this woman’s hemophiliac son has children with a healthy woman:
ALL the man’s daughters will be carriers and all of his sons will be safe. The daughters could end up passing it on to their children. It is in this way that sex-linked genes can disappear and reappear from generation to generation.
Not all sex-linked traits are bad. Many of the colors you see in birds like lutino, pearl, and cinnamon are controlled by sex-linked genes. But before we can get into bird sex-linked traits there’s something you need to know: BIRDS DO NOT HAVE X AND Y CHROMOSOMES. Birds carry different sex chromosomes than humans. Instead of X and Y, they have Z and W. That’s not really important and we’ll stick to X and Y for our examples here. What IS important is that in birds the male carries two of the same chromosome (like XX) and the female carries two different (XY). This means that it is hens who determine the sex of the chicks in birds and that they are more likely to show up with sex-linked traits. The punnett squares and such all work the same way, you just have to remember to reverse the X and Y’s from that of humans:
Let’s try another punnet square, this time for birds. I have a lutino male and I want to see what I’ll get if I breed him to a normal hen. In order for a male to display lutino he has to be carrying it on both X chromosomes. We’ll color the lutino X’s with yellow to tell them apart.
All of the babies will be carrying a gene for lutino. The cocks, however, will only be “split” (carry the gene) and will not show up lutino. The hens will all be visually lutino because they have no second X chromosomes to block out the gene.
Let’s try one more. This time I want to mate a cinnamon hen to a cock split to cinnamon (carrying but not displaying). She will only need the one gene to show the color.
Half of the babies will be cinnamon (both sexes), one will be split (a male) and one will be normal (female).
One of the great things about sex-linked traits is that they may allow you to sex birds very young without having to DNA test. A male that is carrying lutino, when mated with a hen that is not lutino, will always have lutino daughters. If he is lutino himself then ALL his daughters will be lutino. If he is not visibly lutino then any lutino you find in the nest will be a hen for certain.
Sex-linked genes allow you to get visual colors much faster, as you only need a male to be carrying a single copy. This is why Pineapple green cheek conures are more common than colors like turquoise. Pineapple is a combination of two sex-linked colors, while turquoise is recessive. However, it also drives up the price of males who show sex-linked traits. Hens are far easier to come by. To get a visual male you need two copies of the gene.
Well that’s it for now. Congratulations, you survived part one!
All articles and images contained on this site are ©2017 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
Step 1: Quarantine
ALWAYS QUARANTINE FIRST!
New birds can potentially bring disease into your flock. Diseases can range from mild an annoying to very expensive and possible deadly. Quarantine is your first line of defense. How does one quarantine? You need to keep the new bird(s) isolated in an area away from your other birds for at LEAST 30 days. Sixty days is better. During this time, new birds should be tested for diseases and observed for signs of illness. I recommend testing because many of the nastiest diseases, like PBFD and Avian Bornavirus, can go for years without any clinical signs. Quarantine birds should be fed last. Generally you also want to wear different shoes while in this area, or go through a foot bath of disinfectant when exiting. Disease testing kits can be ordered here. More detailed quarantine procedures can be found here. Once quarantine is over you can safely move your new birds into the main bird area.
Step 2: Introductions
How you do introductions depends both on your set up and what species you keep. If you are a pet owner, your birds are likely housed in (relatively) small cages where each bird or birds has an established territory. If this is the case, side-by-side introductions are best. The new bird is placed in a separate cage within sight and sound of the current birds. There will likely be some curiosity or even aggression through the bars of the cage. Over time, bickering should diminish. At this point, birds can enjoy SUPERVISED time out together. Accidents can happen in an instant so be on alert, especially if the two birds are not friendly toward one another. Try not to let birds crawl onto each other’s cages, as even a mellow bird can defend its home turf. If you hope to eventually house the birds together, they should be placed in a new, neutral cage at the same time only after they’ve shown an interest in one another for awhile.
If you have large cages (I mean LARGE, like full flights or walk-in aviaries) with many different birds, adding new birds can be done immediately after quarantine, providing you keep species that are NOT super aggressive.
If you’re introducing many new birds at one time, it is usually safe so long as the cage is neutral. A lone bird coming into established territory is at far greater risk.
In the above picture, we have a single new bird being introduced. The cage on the right contains six ringnecks, which came from three different sources. They were all introduced at relatively the same time to this cage, which means there was no fighting. However, this grey male is a late arrival. These birds have already been in this cage for a few months- more than enough time to become territorial. Ringnecks can be very aggressive, so he must be introduced slowly.
Some birds are independently aggressive, and you won’t know who until you put birds together. I recently tried pairing a green cheek hen with a male in a neutral cage. She immediately began to attack him. This was a large cage. I scooped her up and removed her, and tried a different hen. No issues. However, the first hen continued to do aggressive displays towards the introduced male, who was now in a neighboring cage with a friend of hers (the other hen). I had to place barriers at the back to help neutralize the aggression.
Barriers are definitely something to consider if there is excessive aggression. When a bird feels threatened it will make aggressive displays. This is stressful to the birds, and should be curtailed if possible. When I introduced Lando to my Goffin, Loki, she was very agitated and yelling constantly. I kept cardboard between their two cages for a few days until she settled down. He was an invader of her space and it took time for her to get over that. Introductions are fine, but you don’t want the birds to be overly stressed.
© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.
If you want to know whether your bird is a male or female, there are a few different ways to go about sexing. Considering that hormonal behaviors can cause issues it can be important to know how your bird will react to certain stimuli.
The first thing to determine is if your bird is dimorphic- in which males and females do not look the same. The above Eclectus parrots are probably the most striking example of sexual dimorphism. In most species it isn’t quite so pronounced. Budgie males have a blue cere, while females’ can range from white to tan to crusty brown. In cockatiels the male has a yellow head and the female does not. Indian ringneck males have a ring around their neck. Kakariki males are about 15 grams heavier than hens, have a stockier body, and wider beak. Even if a bird is dimorphic, if it is not the wild type color then sexing may be difficult. For instance, in cockatiels you can rarely sex lutino, albino, or pied birds visually. Lutino ringnecks can still be sexed, but pieds cannot. You need to know not only the species but the color mutation in order to accurately sex your bird.
If a bird cannot be visually sexed, or if it is too young (most need to molt into adult coloration before sexing can be done), then you need to use one of the methods below.
DNA sexing is easy and non-intrusive. Avian Biotech is the company I use. You can go on their website and ask for a testing kit. There are a few different methods: blood, eggshell, and feather. I prefer blood collection, as you can easily do it while grooming and it doesn’t involve plucking (yes, plucking!) 5-7 feathers.
All you need to do is restrain your bird as you would for grooming (see instructions here). Make sure you have Kwik Stop or flour on hand to stop the bleeding! When you clip a toenail, clip it a little further up than normal. You’re intentionally trying to clip the quick. When it starts to bleed, touch the nail to the circle on the blood card. You don’t need much. Mail it out, along with payment (currently about $25) and you’ll get your results back within a day or two after they receive the sample.
This method is usually requested by breeders who want to know the actual health of the gonads and other organs. The bird is briefly anesthetized, a small incision is made and a scope is inserted into the body to allow a veterinarian to observe the internal organs. After the bird is sexed, a tattoo is placed on the wing corresponding with the sex. Males are tattooed on the right and females on the left.
Sexing by behavior is not always accurate, especially if you are a pet owner with two birds of the same sex, in which case one may potentially exhibit more opposite sex characteristics. That said, I’ve found it very useful in sexing my own birds. Cockatiels and Indian ringnecks can usually be sexed long before they molt into their adult coloration. This is the Indian ringneck mating display. Both sexes demonstrate very specific body language and behaviors (in both videos the hen happens to be yellow). This is male cockatiel behavior. It takes experience though as you need to know what to look for in a particular species.
Hormones can be the cause of many behavior problems in birds. As a breeder it is very easy for me to identify mating behaviors for what they are. However, most pet owners do not breed and are therefore unfamiliar with typical mating behaviors and their common triggers. Instead they anthropomorphize such behaviors and let things escalate too far. It is essential that you learn everything you can about the particular species that you own- including how they breed. Even if you never plan to breed, those behaviors are embedded in your pet’s DNA. You need to understand what’s going on in order to prevent unwanted hormonal behaviors.
What happens when mating behaviors are triggered in pet birds?
Behaviors like the above often lead to rehomed pets. Back when I first got into birds, you could flip to any pet classified section and see ad after ad for birds around 2-4 years of age. Depending on the species, this is when puberty hits. After years of receiving mixed messages, the birds were finally ready to mate. The problem was that they wanted to mate with their favorite person and started lashing out when their owners weren’t responding predictably.
Plucking, while not usually dangerous, can easily become a habit that is very difficult to break.
Excessively egg laying can be dangerous, particularly if the hen isn’t on a proper breeding diet (most pets are not, nor should they be). When an egg becomes trapped inside the body there is a risk it will rupture, causing a life-threatening infection. Preventing hormonal behaviors in pets is especially important for hens. If your bird is already laying excessively, please see my article on egg laying in pets.
The following are some common ways that breeding can be inadvertently stimulated. Please keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Every species is different and it is important to understand how your birds would normally nest.
Dark, Enclosed Spaces
Most parrots are cavity breeders- they nest in tree trunks. Pairs will seek out a good cavity, clean it out, and possibly enlarge it. In the modern home any dark, enclosed space will be viewed as a potential nest site. This could be under the couch (see below) or dresser, inside a Happy Hut or tent, a shipping box offered for chewing, or under a blanket. It is important never to offer any item, particularly inside the cage, which could be viewed as a nest site. Troublesome areas (like under the couch) should be blocked off or made off-limits.
Above: (Left) A gap in a couch is a tempting nest site, and potentially dangerous as this couch reclines. (Right) Moving/shipping boxes may offer chewing fun, but they are also seen as nest sites. Loki kept attempting to enter this one.
Cleaning the nest cavity is a normal part of nest preparation. Some breeders have even found that introducing large chunks of wood into a nest box will help stimulate their pairs. In pets, stredding can be a prelude to nesting. Lovebirds in particular use nesting material. Leaves are tucked into the rump feathers and transported back to their nest site. Quakers build huge communal nests with sticks.
Birds should never have access to the substrate in their cage, but nevertheless may try to shred everything they get their beaks on. Shredding is fine and destructible toys are good, but during the breeding season you may want to offer alternatives if your bird is prone to nesty behavior.
Longer days simulate springtime. Many owners keep their birds up after dark, making long days even longer. Birds need at least 10 hours of sleep and I would extend that to 12-14 if they are getting hormonal. Cover your bird’s cage or give them a separate sleep cage in a quiet area to ensure they’re getting enough darkness.
Feeding Soft, Warm Foods by Hand
Bonded pairs regurgitate to one another. Offering treats by hand when training is fine, but try to avoid hand feeding warm, mushy foods. Feed them in a dish. If your bird regurgitates don’t encourage it.
Too Much Protein
Chicks require a lot of protein to grow, and providing birds with too much protein signals that it’s a great time to raise a family. If you have a hen that is already laying eggs you do want to continue offering protein and calcium (especially calcium) so that she is less likely to deplete her own reserves. If your pet is not laying eggs then continue to feed a good diet but do not make a habit of offering a lot of protein. Calcium in the form of pellets, cuttlebone, or mineral block should be offered year-round, especially to hens.
Providing Sexual Stimulation
Mating usually involves the male doing some sort of display- head bobbing, pinpointing eyes, flaring tail or wings. When the female is ready to mate she droops her wings and raises her rump. The male typically mounts her (some species will mate side by side) and they rub their cloacas together. The cloaca is the opening underneath the base of the tail. It is used for passing feces, uric acid (bird equivalent of pee), eggs, and for transferring/receiving sperm.
Many of the ways you touch your bird could be interpreted sexually. Mutual preening (head scratching) can be done by flockmates but it is more common in bonded pairs. Petting your hen on the back can be stimulating, as she feels like you are trying to mount her for mating. Touching the cloaca should definitely be avoided. Some birds get excited when pet under the wings.
Always be aware of your bird’s body language while petting them. If they are exhibiting postures like those in the picture above, stop petting them as they are getting sexually stimulated. Males will usually pinpoint their eyes, dip their head, and raise their wings at the shoulder a bit. Hens will raise their rump, drop their wings and coo or shiver. Give them a period to calm down before petting again.
It is entirely possible that your bird will try masturbating on you. This may involve mounting your hand and rubbing the cloaca (in males) or backing up against you and rubbing the cloaca (in females). Masturbation should neither be encouraged nor discouraged directly. If your bird is trying to mate with you, simply move it to another location or place it back into the cage for a while.
Sometimes the object of affection is a toy. Never offer your pet a mirror or fake bird. Birds can become very attached to these items and defend them aggressively. If, however, a bird is masturbating on a wide variety of objects/toys I would be less concerned.
My Goffin is actually trying to self-stimulate as I write this. Observe:
This may seem innocuous to you- most pet owners would probably think so- but pay attention to her body language. Her eyes are half-closed, beak half-open, and she has a blissful expression. Where is her back? It’s pressed up against the underside of my desk. She’s using the desk to simulate a male mounting her. It’s more obvious from this angle:
It’s not full on masturbation, but she’s definitely aroused. Were she to start making clucking or cooing noises I would remove her from my leg and place here elsewhere.
Everything I do is stimulatiing!
It’s not as bad as that. I once read an article that basically said touching your pet bird in any way ever was going to stimulate them, and while that’s semi-true, if you’re careful about stopping petting when your bird is getting aroused, and limiting other factors then you should be okay. I’ve had my Goffin for over a decade and she’s never laid a single egg. Nor has any other pet hen I’ve had since I became a breeder. Part of being a breeder is knowing how to shut your birds down effectively, especially when you handle species designed to bred any time adequate food is available.
My goal in writing this is not to scare you, but to make you aware of how many different things might be stimulating your bird. Again, the key is to educate yourself on their natural lifecycle and body language. Much of this comes down to your ability to correctly interpret body language and provide healthy distractions (toys! exercise! training!) when they’re becoming too aroused.
Some birds get very hormonal every spring and no matter what their owners do, they can’t seem to get things under control. If this is the case and none of the above has worked, I recommend visiting a competent avian veterinarian about hormone therapy. There are certain injections they can do these days that will help limit the surge of seasonal hormones.
© 2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.