Pet Owners Lament
By Debra Maneke
As spring approaches some pet owners will begin to see strange changes in their sweet, loving pets. These strange behaviors may be seen in males and hens alike. Males may start dancing on their perches with his wings spread out at the shoulders, becoming nippy or making loving advances to the mirror in his cage or favorite toy. This problem is not only seen in male pets but our hens too; she may even reward you with several nice white eggs on the floor of her cage. As you read in Keith Jennings' article last month, breeding season is upon us. Your pet bird is not immune to these calls from Mother Nature, even if he or she is the only bird in the house. What you should do to help your pet is one of the more frequent questions pet owners ask.
There are several things you can do to help stop some of these strange behaviors. Removing the mirror will certainly help. The mirror image to your bird looks like another bird; he does not recognize this as himself. Many pet owners will see a big difference in their pet as soon as the mirror is removed. Some males and hens will become very aggressive looking at the image in the mirror, causing them to become nippy or bad tempered. Especially those who are very bonded to their human "mom" or "dad". Some pet owners feel that the mirror will help keep their pet company while they are gone and are very surprised when their once loving pet starts acting strangely. A better choice, if you feel your bird needs company while you're gone leave is to leave on a radio or TV, the noise will amuse him and he may even pick up a new song or phrase.
Diet and lighting are other factors that come to play in this behavior change. As you look at the ingredients on the food bags look carefully to see if vitamin E is added. Many pet owners will also add vitamins to the water, which will also have vitamin E as one of the ingredients. This vitamin in small amounts is an aid as an anti-oxidant nutrient. It helps to: retard cellular aging due to oxidation, supplies oxygen to the blood which is then carried to the heart and other organs, aids in bringing nourishment to cells, strengthens the capillary walls and prevents the red blood cells from destructive poisons, prevents and dissolves blood clots. This vitamin is also used to increase productivity in animals and acts as a breeding stimulant. Other sources for vitamin E can be found in wheat breads, wheat germ cereals and some treat supplements. While a small amount of this vitamin is good, too much coming from different sources can be one of the reasons for your pet birds' behavior changes.
Lighting is another stimulant for egg laying in hens and aggressiveness in males. As the days become shorter in the winter we all feel the need to add more light to our homes. For those of us who breed birds we purposely increase the light our birds are exposed to from 12 hours to 15 hours as we try to encourage our birds to cycle into breeding condition. Increasing the light your pet bird is exposed to will have the same result. Your hens will start laying infertile eggs and your males will become more aggressive.
For those who have a hen as a pet, once she has began laying it is very important that you allow her to sit on the eggs as she lays them until she is no longer interested in them, this may take 2-3 weeks. Removing the eggs as they are laid will cause her to continue to lay, causing problems with egg binding, (from over laying) and depleting her calcium stores. It is also very important that your hen be supplied with a cuttlebone or mineral block to help her replenish any lost calcium. Once she has finished sitting on her eggs discard them.
It is very important that you do not encourage your pet hen to continue to lay by supplying her with a "nesting" area. This would include supplying her with a nest box, a shoebox or any other type of area that she may identify as a potential nesting site. Many pet owners think it is cute to see their pet hen sitting in a shoebox lined with paper, rocking back and forth on her eggs. This however can be very harmful to her. As she continues to lay her chances of becoming egg bound or depleting her calcium stores increases. If your efforts to help your pet hen cycle out of laying condition fails please contact your avian veterinarian for help. In some instances hens will need a hormone injection to help them finish their laying cycle. Once this her laying cycle has been stopped, it will be necessary to decrease her lighting to no more than twelve hours daily and reduce any vitamin E.