June 19, 2010

The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Syndrome

As a breeder who has owned and raised grey cheeks for about 9 years, I have had a chance to observe and puzzle over their seemingly inconsistent behavior. Several individuals have even returned grey cheeks to me because of this, and as a result, I have compiled some useful information from my observations to help new and current grey cheek owners comprehend their bird's behavior.

I think it's very important to understand the maturing process of grey cheeks and some of the personality changes that occur as sex hormones kick in. Whenever I sell these birds, I try to educate people about the changes they may see, since as the bird matures, they frequently do not understand the changes, and the bird is then abused, neglected or worse.

Here is a quick summary of what I have observed and learned by reading every bit of information I can find on grey cheeks:

As they mature...

0 - 12 months - Babies are generally very tame and cuddly, sweet. Some bite occasionally, especially the dominant personalities.

12 - 24 months - Sexual maturing process takes place. Behavior I see is:
  • Continued sweetness, but bonding with certain individuals occurs. May see some biting and aggressiveness towards "competition."
  • Dominating and territorial behavior begins. They can get very noisy if strangers come near.
  • Biting may start, especially in or near the cage (the bird's home). Note that I have had some birds (out of about 60) that never or rarely bite, but most of them do--it's part of their way of communicating and controlling their environment.
  • Like people, cats and dogs, their adult personalities will range from naturally passive and sweet to overbearing and aggressive. Note that you can train them to minimize aggression. I have never been able to predict how a baby will turn out.
18 months and older - Maturing continues.
  • They are a lot like Amazons and can be moody and testy. I have had several mateless birds start plucking all their feathers as hormones arrive, and they need mates. Biting can be frequent and appears random, but I do not believe it is. I think it's for at least one of several reasons:
  • The bird is simply trying to dominate you to show who is boss.
  • It may be competing with someone else for their human mate's attention. In the wild, birds will bite/strike their mates to drive them away from another bird trying to horn in on their mate.
  • It is mating season (from about March to September for grey cheeks), and their natural instincts make them more territorial and aggressive than usual.
  • It is protecting its territory. Usually you see this near its cage or when you are its territory (like your shoulder).

One grey cheek owner shared a video on YouTube about their grey cheeks defeating the slipper demon.

    The fact that your grey cheek is biting does not mean the bird does not like you. If anything, it means it likes you very much and wants you for a mate. It helps to remember that wild grey cheeks live in large flocks and compete all the time for food, mates, and the best nesting places. They appear to take on long-term mates and bond very deeply with their chosen ones. They also get in bad moods and just want to be left alone (PMS?). When my pairs are nesting, even my sweet guys will bite me hard if I come near, and they can get me. They then revert during the off season.

    Here's how I handle biting with fairly good success:

    Like dogs, you have to establish dominance over your bird--you must be the boss! When one of my birds bites me--and it hurts, I hold the bird in one hand and grip its beak firmly (do not squeeze your bird too tightly as they still need to breath) with the other for up to a minute while saying "No!" Basically, it makes the bird helpless, which it does not like. Do this consistently every time it nips or deliberately bites, and after a while, you should see the biting diminish or disappear (at least with you--it will probably still be vicious with others).

    I love grey cheeks and hate to see them mistreated as they age and their owners do not know how to adapt to them. If you keep control over them, most grey cheeks remain some of the best companions I know.

    Written by Kathleen Mandis

    Article has been reprinted with the author's permission. This article may not be reprinted without written consent from the author.

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