The important stages (key milestones)
Parrots, like us, go through several developmental stages during their parrot life. We must realize, and certainly not expect when adopting a baby parrot, that it will remain as is for the rest of its life (without evolving or maturing). All of the various stages in the life of a parrot are exciting experiences and a marvel to live. It is fascinating to observe a young parrot evolve, learn, explore, discover, have adventures, and gradually attune its behaviors.... That is what growing is all about!
The parrot is a dependent animal. It is born totally naked, blind, and for most parrot species, deaf. It will begin its life as a parrot completely dependent on its parents (for a greater or lesser period of time depending on the specie) and will continue throughout its life to depend on the cooperation of its social group.
Small to medium size parrots will have their feathers by the age of 4 to 6 weeks old, the bigger parrots by 10, 12 and even 15 weeks old. From that moment, the young bird will have the same size and the same appearance as its parents. It is the beginning of its social life, beak pointing out of the nest; the young one will begin exploring under the benevolent supervision of its parents.
That is completely ludicrous. The exploration period starts well before weaning, since in its habitat, the young parrot will need to develop flight techniques, exploration's abilities, and many other skills before coming to the period of complete independence. It is just the logical process in its evolution. The weaning stage is at the beginning of the period when the parrot will become independent, thus it will happen later. This process must be gradual. The young parrot must first be introduced to the full range of eating habits of its specie (research, identification, preparation and consumption) and develop its social skills before becoming independent. While Junior is acquiring experience, Mom and Dad continue to support it and to supervise the feeding process of their offspring.
That part of the weaning stage is particularly stressful for the young parrot. It is a gradual transition from a totally dependant state to an independent one. The young parrot will have much to learn. It is also the time of the acquisition of many social skills; the moment when the young parrot makes its "debuts" among its parrots fellows.
It must learn how to recognize the cries (dialects) of its social group (in captivity, it will learn how to associate some sounds of the human language), detect and avoid predators, find a safe place to sleep; all of the skills needed to ensure its survival and the security of its group. It is through the observation and imitation of parents and peers, that the young parrot will acquire and refine its survival skills and its social competencies.
Socialization is the process by which the bird acquires its social experience and survival skills. For the baby parrot to become a balanced adult, the same level of attention must be given to its psychological development then its physical development. The young parrot needs to receive an acceptable level of socialization to be able to evolve in its environment.
With the help of its parents and the members of its group, the young parrot will gradually accumulate new experiences until it reaches the time to be able to assume its independence. It is a gradual process for the young who will go through several levels of independence before reaching maturity. One of those levels is.... the not well-understood period of puberty.
You know that Junior has entered the pubertal stage when.... suddenly you get the impression that he has decided not to cooperate! This stage comes at different ages depending on the species. Medium parrots between 2 to 4 years old and large parrots between 3 to 6 years old. At puberty, the parrots have a very high hormonal activity, but make no mistake, this is in no way sexual maturity. Like humans, the difficult age for parrots would rather be the sexual immaturity. During this period, as it is the case with humans (again), the social contacts are much more important than sexual contacts. At this age, the parrot really starts to interact independently with other individuals of the social group, outside of its immediate family. It is a time of intense competition, externalized by very strong vocalizations and various parades. This period may seem to us as one of challenges and provocations. In a captive setting, it is at that time that the young parrot may detach itself from the parent figure (the human that has fed and weaned it). It is best to be aware.
We should not ignore this stage of the development of the bird. It is time for some humility and attempt to work with it...! Junior's attitudes are changing and it is normal (it will not remain a baby forever), it will increasingly resemble a genetic combination of its ancestors. In many species of parrots, this period of puberty occurs relatively late. Human have a tendency to confuse these new behavioral attitudes (naturals) with "behavioral problems". It is often at this stage that young parrots are abandoned to shelters (for the wrong reasons). After three to five years with a parrot (without any problems), most parrot lovers are not prepared to live through the hormonal maturation of their little "angel", because it arrives so late. They simply do not know how to react and often do not even know that "it" will happen. In addition, humans are used to living with pets (dogs and cats) that have been sterilized before puberty, so they do not know how to behave towards their feathered teen.
If the young parrot has been poorly socialized from the beginning, it will certainly not get better at puberty. During that period of its life, the young parrot may seem to be literally out of control. Even a "green-well-socialized" parrot will not resist the urge to "test" its human environment. At that awkward age, we are faced with a youngster trying to assert its independence and seeming, furthermore, to develop an opinion on everything! Suddenly, it refuses to play the games of its youth, develops new habits (food, behaviour, etc.) and especially... begins to explore its environment and, incidentally ends up goofing off, just for fun et for the pleasure of discovering! We have at that moment a young bird (a blank page) that needs guidance. It is up to you, the responsible human adult, to remain patient, coherent, comprehensive, constant and above all...to keep calm and maintain a sense of humor.
In nature, it is during that time that it will begin to practice a form of relative dominance (grouped in pairs) towards some peers; it will establish its place in the group. In a captive context, it will challenge some of the family members, firming its choices of relationships by becoming more exclusive. This is normal behaviour.
At that age, the parrot plays rough with its human. It may become overexcited, noisy and sometimes aggressive. It is affirming itself and exploring possibilities. You must be patient and not take things personally. Your parrot does not attempt to drive you crazy... it just happens incidentally!
Fortunately, not all parrots in the puberty phase react the
same way. Puberty may take various forms.
This is the time where the parrot will establish its place within the social group and each parrot will inevitably go through this stage of development. If we are aware of it, all the better, if not...beware, you are at risk to be shocked!
At puberty, the young parrot seems to have "forgotten" the good manners learned during its early ages. Sometimes, his memorie will need to be refreshed. At puberty, it is necessary to encourage creativity and exploration behaviors. The young bird needs stimulation and to burn pent- up energy more than ever.
This is absolutely not the time to cut its flight feathers! In fact, it is never the time... It needs to explore, to be challenged, to learn, create and make choices. At this age, apprenticeship are quickly integrated. The socialization of Junior is not established yet, and it would be wise for us to "refresh" what was acquired in the tender years. The environment must be challenging (there is nothing worse than a bored pubescent bird).
The end of the puberty reveals itself with our parrot seeming more tolerant, more peaceful, and more thoughtful, more mature in fact! At the end of this rock and roll period, things will go back to normal, but... our parrot will no longer be quite the same. It will have aged, just like a good bottle of wine ages.
Most people who had a parrot for less than four years fear this period of sexual maturity. I do not know where this avian legend took place that suggests that when a parrot becomes an adult parrot, it loses its pet qualities. Rest assured, it is true that at this stage of development the parrot changes but it is for the better. At maturity, the parrot becomes more self-assured and interesting. It is the stage where it implements. From that point on, all the natural behaviours (innate) are in place and Polly's personality is stabilized.
Of course, what most interests a sexually mature bird, at least at certain times of the year, is....sex!
A healthy parrot'sex drive is very strong and, if no partner of its own kind is available, it will turn its affections surprisingly towards us.... Most parrots on the market come from breeders where hand feeding is practiced and are thus systematically human imprinted. Since its filial imprinting (sexual) is human, at maturity, the parrot will develop the same kind of relationship with the human that it would with a parrot companion; and it will be so for the rest of its life (parrots being monogamous).
It will demonstrate to its favourite human, all of its charming and very varied sexual behaviours and will expect the same in return.
On this last point, during the hormonal period, try to avoid initiating sexual behaviors yourself with Polly: caresses under the wings, the tail region, and the beak. It is normal that it will exhibit mating behaviors: the rubbing on the hand or shoulder or any part of our anatomy, and you really should not reprimand him during these demonstrations of affection.
Sexual seduction, regurgitation, courtship, finding a nest, masturbating and egg laying behaviors are not unacceptable behaviours. They are instinctive behaviors in response to seasonal stimuli and ...there is nothing to do but ... wait until it is over (and it will pass).
Often you have heard me say that parrots living in captivity should have a companion of the same species. It should be understood that I speak here of companionship, not breeding. I do not believe that parrots are more satisfied in a reproductive role than as a pet. Much depends on the quality of life at home or the quality of the human mate. It would be wrong to believe that a parrot begins to mutilate its feathers (picking) due to sexual frustration. I think rather than a lack of socialization and the inadequacy of environment are the causes of the problem. Do not make the mistake to imagine that the mere fact of placing Polly that plucks in a breeding program could (magically) inhibit this pathological behavior. It is quite possible that this action will only exacerbate the behavior of the parrot. A bird very tame or imprinted to humans can react strongly when, suddenly, it is moved out of its safe and cozy home and inserted into the high stress environment of a breeding program.
Of the three major stages in the life of a parrot, the most interesting in my opinion is the period of maturity. I have a lot of fun cuddling baby parrots (other's baby parrots), but I love negotiating with a mature adult parrot that has finally realized its full potential.
© Johanne Vaillancourt 1996 - 2009
1 et 2 Caporale, blue and gold macaw (ara ararauna), Alexandra Reynaud
Recco, blue and gold macaw (ara ararauna), Annie Bevilacqua
Lilo, blue and gold macaw (ara ararauna), Cristina Marques
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