Territorial Behavior in Maroon-Bellied Conures

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Q: I am currently breeding a pair of maroon-bellied conures. I have owned them for approximately one and a half months. I am confused about their behavior of rubbing their beaks against the inside of the nest box. This has resulted in the female wearing away her beak. As if the outer layer were rubbed off the normally black beak now exposes a light-blue layer. Why are they doing this? I have observed copulation, however, there have been no eggs as of this writing.

A: The actions that you describe are engaged in as threat behavior in order to delineate territory. In human terms, it could be compared to drawing a line in the sand and threatening harm to anyone who dares to cross it. This behavior is also common in macaws. The behavior is natural and normal, but not to the extent that you describe. When it becomes obsessive, there is a problem that is seriously affecting your birds’ feeling of well being.

Pretend that you are sitting at the entrance hole of their nest box, and take inventory of all that you can see. Hopefully, you can key in on what has the hen so unsettled. Look for things such as other pairs that have higher perches than those in the maroon bellies’ cage. Make sure that the sides of the cage are blinded off from other cages in the area of her nest box. Perhaps she can look through a window or doorway where there are unpredictable things going on.

I had a similar situation occur more than 20 years ago. My wife and I were headed to Florida to search for a place to build an aviary. When we left Boston, we gave the superintendent of the apartment building our keys so he could water our plants and feed our birds for the week that we would be gone. We left complete and explicit instructions of everything that was to be done. The list we gave him described every shelf with plants and every individual cage of birds in our small basement aviaries. It explained exactly what we wanted him to do at each of these points.

We had painstakingly turned our dark, dingy basement apartment into a lush, little jungle with the use of grow lights and a lot of care. We didn’t want to see it all go down the drain as a result of our search for a Florida location. We asked that he follow the list religiously and not diverge from the order. He agreed, and we confidently went on our way. After all, the list explained where every T needed to be crossed and where every I had to be dotted.

When we returned, we were greeted with a smiling face that assured us that all of our instructions had been carried out to the letter. We walked into our apartment and immediately went back to the bird room. Something was very wrong. All the pairs seemed very unsettled, and all of our plants had gone berserk. The plants had (grown straight up to the grow lights with leaves that were three times their normal size. Some had begun to fall over due to the weight of the oversized leaves. My pet scarlet macaw was sitting in the front of the flight with his mate and was frantically rubbing the side of his upper mandible back and fourth on the perch. When he saw me, he lifted his head up and exposed a large area where he had worn through his beak to the pink under layer.

“My God, what has happened here? Everything has gone crazy!” I exclaimed to the superintendent.

He turned and while nodding in agreement said, “You’d go crazy too, if the lights weren’t turned off for a whole week.”

I couldn’t believe what I heard. “You never turned the lights off at night?” I asked in dismay.

He reached into his back pocket, pulled out the list and exclaimed, “The list doesn’t say anything about turning the lights out!”