Pet Bird on Lap

Q: My bird will lean her tail feathers against me and flap her wings. While she’s doing this, she makes clucking noises. What’s going on?

A: What you’re describing sounds like bird reproductive behavior. Reproductively active birds (both males and females) will demonstrate their desire to breed by performing a variety of activities (including clucking and flapping) designed to attract a mate, often while simultaneously masturbating on a perch, a toy or even an owner’s hand.

When birds are raised singly in captivity without other birds around, they commonly bond to their human caretakers and may attempt to mate with them in the same way they would with another bird. This can sometimes be very frustrating to birds when they are not able to mate and may lead to self-destructive behaviors such as feather picking and skin chewing.

If these signs occur, ask a bird-savvy veterinarian about how to best help the animal, as these behaviors can be signs of underlying conditions other than sexual frustration. If your bird does become sexually frustrated, she may just need other activities to keep her distracted. However, if sexual frustration leads to severe self-mutilatory behavior, your bird may require hormone shots or implants to lessen the behavior.