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Expert Question

My Question: My male military macaw is becoming sexually mature. One odd behavior I’ve noticed is that when I am allopreening him, (I try to avoid any deliberate arousal), he now opens his beak and works his tongue in a very specific way, which he never did in the past.

I know that the flehmen response is specific to some mammals, (although many more animals, including snakes, use the vomeronasal organ to locate mates). This is the closest thing I can think of in terms of behavior.

I saw an intriguing reference to male mallards’ changing their reproductive behavior when their olfactory nerves were sectioned, but I’ve never read anything that specifically relates to the behavior I’m seeing.

Any thoughts about this? I never see him doing it when he isn’t in more or less direct contact with me, but he isn’t touching me with his beak or anything.

Nancy Sullivan

Expert Answer

Hello Nancy!  My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Steve forwarded me your question about your Military macaw, and we’d be happy to offer our thoughts.

When parrots in the wild are in the process of allopreening, there are often a number of other behaviors that seem to occur at the same time. These are sometimes referred to as “comfort behaviors”, and include things like scratching, yawning, and stretching. Companion parrots often exhibit the same sorts of behaviors when they are being preened by their owners, and from what you’ve described our best guess is that what you’re seeing is yawning. It doesn’t sound like what your seeing is reproductively related, and it is possible that while the behavior was originally triggered by the stimulation of the preening itself, the “yawning” behavior may now be displayed more frequently either because the behavior itself is pleasurable for the bird, or because there is reinforcing value in whatever reaction he gets from you when the behavior is displayed. In speaking with Steve, he mentioned that he has most often seen this sort of behavior when a bird is scratched near the ears, so we’d be curious to know if the behavior is most noticeable when the preening occurs in this area.

Hope this information is helpful!

Chris Jenkins
Natural Encounters, Inc.

Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., ( a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization.