Many behaviors witnessed by bird owners are associated with sexual maturity and hormone fluctuations. At certain times of the year, birds are under the powerful influence of sex hormones and will behave instinctually in distinct ways you have not witnessed before. Sexual behavior may be induced by many factors such as seasonal changes in daylight hours, environmental influences, diet and interactions with other birds, owners or favorite toys and objects. The behaviors will vary with species and individuals. They are not necessarily seen with every bird.
"Sexual behavior may be induced by many factors."
What types of behavior might be seen?
Masturbation behavior may occur in males of small birds (budgies and cockatiels) and larger birds. Male birds may be seen rubbing their cloaca or vent (the underside of the tail) on a favorite toy, perch or mirror, but can also perform this behavior on the hands, arms, or shoulders of a person. Although this behavior is relatively harmless, it should be ignored or discouraged rather than accepted.
How should I react when I see this behavior?
Discourage masturbation behavior using distraction and redirection. Physical hugging or scratching around the head is acceptable, but scratching, stroking or petting your bird around the back, rump, and hind end may cause sexual stimulation. Redirect your bird's attention towards other toys and healthy interactive play with you, the owner. Foraging treats or toys are a great way to help with this. If you cannot distract or redirect your bird, then quietly return him to his cage or play gym.
Your pet should never be punished or disciplined for masturbation under any circumstances. If the behavior seems to be a daily occurrence, seek advice from an avian veterinarian. In cases of over-stimulation, whether caused by the presence of a female bird in the house or a hormone imbalance due to testicular cancer, hormone therapy may be beneficial in slowing or halting the behavior.