Hormones and Your Parrot: the Triggers and What to Do.

Hormones strike twice a year in most parrots, spring and autumn, turning your bird from a gentle angle into a rampaging monster. Or so it seems!

Upon reaching sexual maturity, parrots have a single driving urge: to find a mate and make babies. It is very simple, and yet also impossible for them. Hand-raised parrots typically choose their caretaker as their mate, which, of course, is a role we can never fulfil – much to the detriment of our captive birds.  (Please note: The answer is not to breed your pets, as this requires a special set up, careful diet planning and expensive nutritional care, and the ability to care for and re-home any babies.)

Greenwinged Macaw

Hormones cause a lot of parrots, including this greenwinged macaw, to be re-homed to rescues and sanctuaries across the world

Parrots in captivity find their hormones stimulated by a four main things:

  1. Light – too much daylight stimulates the hormones by making a parrot think ‘spring’ all the time. Give your pet bird 12-14 hours of undisturbed sleep in the complete dark. Any artificial light does the same thing as the sun in terms of imitating good breeding conditions.
  2. Diet – an enriched diet is part of caring for our pets, but it does also signal constant bountifulness. In other words, feeding a wide variety of nutritionally rich foods says ‘this is the perfect breeding season.’ Pellets are a key trigger – that soy stimulates hormones like nothing else. But sugary and fatty foods can do it too, depending on the individual.
  3. Cuddling – I’ve written about the dangers of too much cuddling before. This is the time of year to stop petting your parrot outside his head, neck, and feet, if you are! It tells your bird that you are about to deliver one thing… sex.
  4. Environment – birds will nest in just about anything. How do you know if your pet parrot is nesting? Is he or she hanging out in a dark, shadowy corner? Is he becoming aggressive over a certain place? Blankets, boxes, shelves, drawers, parrot tents, and shadowy nooks like behind the door or in the closet are all prime nesting spots to your parrot. Letting your bird hang out here encourages hormones.
Ptak and Maverick's Arrival 043

Aggression in parrots is common at this time of year

What can we do?

  • First and foremost, this is a time of year when it is critical not to encourage your parrot to let you think you are his mate. The risks of doing so include attacks on you and your loved ones in the house, plucking from frustration, excess screaming, and even depression in your parrot.
  • Restrict daylight hours – again, 12-14 hours of complete darkness will help immensely.
  • Conversely, fill the actual days with direct sunlight (or a UV-A lamp). This helps parrots process the vitamins from their food, reducing the chance of biting, screaming, and plucking.
  • Swap cage and room contents around regularly to help with territoriality.
  • Give fewer warm, spray showers, as these imitate springtime mistings in nature (again, a signal to breed).
  • Consider a diet change, too, where you begin to feed a lot of chickpeas, leafy greens, carrots, etc., but skip the pellets and other proteins.
IMG_3334

Foraging Senegal Parrot

  • Don’t cuddle your bird, even if he or she insists upon it. Remember, doing so makes a promise you can’t uphold.
  • Do not bob your head, even in play or while dancing. A parrot reads this as regurgitation!
  • Don’t feed warm and/or mushy foods – this is the equivalent of regurgitated food for them.
  • Don’t offer food from your own mouth or hands, as birds take this the wrong way.
  • Instead of cuddles, engage in some trick training – it serves as enrichment – and work on foraging to distract them.
  • Don’t let your parrot play in boxes, have newspaper, shredded material, or cloth to play with (they see nesting material), or hang out in dark, tight spaces.
  • Encourage your bird to fly as much as possible to burn off energy.
IMG_3990

Nesting cockatoo: Knowing your bird and what’s he’s like will help you identify what you need to stop doing (or do).

Know the signs and symptoms of a hormonal parrot:

  • Trembling, with wings dropped low in a ‘begging’ posture (he or she is asking you to feed him as a mate)
  • Panting when touched outside the head and neck
  • Regurgitating for you or its toys
  • Increased appetite
  • Lifting the vent while cuddling (if female)
  • Mounting your hand by gripping your thumb (if male)
  • Masturbating on your or something nearby
  • Egg-laying
  • Showing off and flirting by flinging out the wings, doing mating dances with head-bobbing and hopping/bouncing, or making ‘heart wings’
  • Plucking or barbering feathers
  • Territoriality over the cage, room, you, or a family member
  • Excess aggression, including biting, screaming, and beak-bashing
Cockatiel6

Cockatiel displaying for mate by holding her wings open and singing

What do I do if my parrot is regurgitating for me, or if he displays one of these signs? 

If your bird is trying to mate with you, or regurgitating for you, gently but firmly put your bird down. Walk away, feeling not disgust, but friendly affection. I sometimes tell Maverick, our Senegal, ‘I love you, too, but as a friend.’ My voice lets him know that I am not upset or angry. After he stops, I instigate a hands-off training session so that we can have a positive and distracting interaction. I try not to put us in a position where my birds will become that way, but sometimes it happens anyway.

If your parrot is aggressive, screaming, or being territorial, react with understanding, not frustration or anger. How must he feel, unable to fulfil his most basic instinct? It isn’t about ‘love.’ It’s about the need to reproduce. He isn’t lonely – he’s horny. It will pass.

Catalina mini macaw (blue and gold and scarlet macaw hybrid).

Catalina Mini Macaw demonstrates hormonal behaviour

Why is my parrot suddenly attacking me, or my husband/wife/daughter/son/friends?

When a parrot chooses a mate, they bond for life. Touching another bird is the equivalent of a human cheating on a partner. They don’t do it.

When an intruder comes too close to either a mate or the nest, one of the pair will drive this threat off (which one does this depends on the species). If a parrot feels they can’t drive an intruder off, they turn on their own mate, forcing them away from perceived danger. Thus, it is quite possible that a parrot who is attacking you either sees you as a threat to the nest, or to their ‘mate.’ You may be the mate, or someone else in the house may be.

I’ve talked about cuddling. Only mates preen outside of that head/neck area. Some of the worst places an owner can touch are around the vent (butt) area, along the back, and under the wings. This says, ‘Yes, I accept’ to a clear offer of sex. A parrot can’t understand why his ultra-obvious invites are always ignored, despite your own indications to the contrary.

Parrotlet

Ptak the parrotlet needs and enjoys the sun

A bird will become frustrated after time passes and you don’t deliver. Sometimes it will turn on you, biting you. Other times, it will turn its frustration inwards, plucking out its feathers, or mutilating its own skin. It is truly best not to pet our pet birds the way they so desire. They like a lot of things that are bad (or not so good) for them, and it’s our job to keep them happy and healthy by not giving in.

At this difficult time of year, try to understand that your parrot is doing what is instinctive for him. He is perfectly normal, and, in an oddly reassuring way, healthy! It will also pass. Persevere, and know that in a few months your bird will stop trying to bite you and will calm down once again.

What are your tips for surviving the hormone seasons with your parrots?

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61 thoughts on “Hormones and Your Parrot: the Triggers and What to Do.

    • Sometimes, I doubt my own ability. It’s a tough time of year, and really, it’s the main reason why parrots are not good pets. It’s like a fleeting madness, haha. But it’ll pass soon enough. (Can’t wait, ahhh!)

      • Oh I bet. That has got to be difficult.

        Saw an article in our paper yesterday about a man who rescued a Macaw from an abusive home. I was happy the Macaw was rescued, but my heart breaks for abused animals of all types.

        • I know the feeling! You celebrate every one who gets his loving home, but still feel sad knowing what others go through. Glad the macaw found a good home, though – that sort of news is the kind that always makes me smile. Thanks for sharing!

  1. I had these problems last spring with one of my female cockatiel, even if she has a mate, but never got a nest before that. She kept screaming and popping out unfecundate eggs (over a dozen, which could have ended up really bad), obviously she was pretty much aggressive too.
    I payed attention to lights, but what really worked was letting her brood those eggs without moving the cage. Everything lasted one entire month.

    • Sounds like a rough month! Spring really is just not a fun time. Your poor girl – hopefully this year is easier. I know female birds can find a ‘nest’ out of just about anything when they’re in the mood.

      Good idea, leaving her eggs. Taking out food bowls and replacing them with foraging toys instead made a big difference for a friend, who had similar issues. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. All good advice, I just wish it worked for Charlie, my lovebird. She is determined to lay eggs. She has done it six times in a little over a year. A few times I let her brood the eggs thinking she would get it out of her system, but nope, she just starts up again. I’m beginning to think she is a chronic egg-layer.

    I’m alert to all the signals for nesting now but it’s frustrating. I like to give her a lot of out of cage time, but all she wants to do is hunt for nesting places which makes it difficult to keep an eye on her, plus she chews everything except toys I buy for that purpose. Currently she is infatuated with the coffee pot.

    • I know that feeling, of letting them out, and all they want to do is nest! Mavi did it too; he saw the space under my sister’s pc desk and puffed up aggressively. Ptak likes the coffee pot too, haha, I dunno what it is?

      The egg laying sounds like a frustrating problem, but at least you’re onto it and able to help her as best you can. A UV lamp is good for aiding vitamin and mineral absorbtion; have you tried this at all? It has helped hormones in all our birds, actually (and I have a post about it for this week). I can’t recommend UV or direct sun enough.

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  7. I am so upset with my greenwing, the constant biting is getting unbareable, should I leave him in his cage while he behaves this way, he is 12 have had him since 3 weeks old, I have a blue and gold thought it was a boy turns out to be female, she is behaving fine, I put both together during the day in a walk in aviary, maybe I should sepearate them? Should I put them in different rooms? Please any advise would be appreciated, I cannot give up my birds, I am in constant pain and thus the bites seem to hurt even more so.

    • Sorry I missed your comment – I haven’t been on in a long time, so I don’t know if you’ll even need this, but here goes:

      Encourage exercise (flying, flapping, climbing, you name it – every bit will help).

      Reevaluate the current diet, and try adding leafy greens and chickpeas, while reducing fats and proteins. You’ll have to experiment to find the right balance for your bird.

      Add in some foraging and new toys, plus swap your whole room layout around if you can – not just the cage.

      Follow the tips to reduce hormones (more ‘night’ time contrasting with UV-A exposure, mainly).

      Aaaand finally, instigate some training. Start with a chopstick and give him a treat on a tongue dispenser every time your bird touches it with his beak. (Or drop it into a very close bowl.) You can then target him all over the place, once he gets the hang of it. This will give you both a positive experience, as well as a way to get your bird home while focussed on something other than fingers and skin!

      When he bites, I know it’s not *easy* advice, but you should try to quietly turn your back, making as little fuss as possible. If he’s on you, gently set him down on something. Keep doing this for a minute or two. It’s just a quiet, pointed ignore – just like flocks do in the wild.

      Good luck!

    • My Umbrella cockatoo had the same problem, as you can’t decipline them in any way, you are left with only one option, COVER them and let them calm down.

  8. Very interesting article and great information. I agree and advise almost all of the same things you wrote on.

    Do you have research or references backing your claims that pellets (specifically soy) are a hormonal trigger in parrots? I am a technician member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians and have never heard this postulated (or researched) as a contributing factor. In fact, I have heard (and advise) quite the opposite — that it is the soft, warm foods (especially those high in carbohydrates) that can be triggers as it mimics the regurgitation mating pairs provide for each other.

    I would be very interested in any additional references you can provide. Thanks!

    • I actually heard this from the Island Parrot Sanctuary owner years ago. She was very well-researched and well-connected with nutritionalists and vets in Scotland. Unfortunately, my experience is anecdotal… I give my bag of raging hormones (uh, I mean Senegal!) chickpeas nearly every day. Prior to this, we had tried nearly everything short of hormonal shots to calm him down – it had been months. It was bad. Within about three weeks of daily chickpeas (boiled, hidden in things, even whole and plain) he drastically calmed down. I can even touch him again now. I experimented with taking him off them, and within a further two weeks, the aggressive behaviours resurfaced. We returned to our garbanzo regime and all is well again.

      I was surprised, since I also regard warm and mushy foods as a trigger. But for him – and my basket case cockatoo who now lives at the IPS – chickpeas were the deciding factor.

      I will keep my eye out for any literature on this. I think it’s something worth studying!

      • This might come from the misconseption that soy has active estrogen in it. I think plant estrogen could reduce hormonal behaviours, since it is inactive and can bind to estrogen receptors, leaving fewer receptors free for active animal estrogen (at least that’s how it works in humans). I would rather be careful of eggs since they contain actual “pregnant” bird hormones.

  9. This may be a dumb question but how long does the hormonal time last??? It feels like my male parrotlet has been exhibiting these signs for almost a year. He is constantly banging his perch against the side of his cage or clinging to the front of it and screech chirping as loud as he can. Once he is out he is usually as sweet as can be. I really think it was about a year ago he started going to the bottom of his cage and ripping his paper towels on the bottom into shreds and making weird trilling noises while he does it. He also regurgitates a lot to my fingers and tries to masturbate on my hands and one of his toys. He is the horniest little bird hahaha but seriously he is driving me crazy. Is this just his nature??? Would a hormonal time just never end??? He’s definitely been like this before the spring and past autumn 😦

    • Hi, Hannah! My parrotlet is just the same, and I have to pretty much religiously instigate all of the tips I mention in the article to help him. Depending on the environment, you can end up with a hormonal bird all year long. The biggest factor for Ptak is giving him lots of foraging, as well as offering him new toys, and swapping the cage AND room contents around often. Then there’s diet – which you can experiment with to see what works. But mainly, distract! Try to keep his mind off mating if you can.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks so much!!! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one being driven crazy by my little bird. Just out of curiosity what are the dimensions of Ptak’s cage? Sometimes I feel like my Sonny’s cage is too small to fit him AND enough things to distract him.

        • I find that more cage space is always better, if you have the room! Ptak is in a Prevue cage that’s like 2’x2’x4.5′. His ‘brother,’ Tayir, is in a somewhat smaller version of the same cage (the cockatiel size), and I want to upgrade when I get the funds. Of course, if your p’let gets lots of time out, the need for a bigger cage decreases… But honestly, the birds seem to use every inch!

  10. I just adopted a Amazon she’s been in heat for 20 years I’ve been told, she 24/7 tail up ready to bite, got me once so far, how do I stop 20 years of this?

  11. My conjour is shredding it’s hut where it sleeps screems alot wants xtras in food so you’re saying she is nesting

  12. Hi,

    How do you deal with two birds of different species trying to get it on?
    I have two male birds, a love bird (Ivan) and a GC Conure (Cheeko). My love bird is infatuated with my GC Conure. When Ivan gets into the ‘mood’ he will start to do his horny dance, try to regurgitate food for him and try to mount Cheeko. Luckily for Ivan, Cheeko isn’t really aggressive when pushing him away. It has got to the point where my Conure knows when Ivan wants to regurgitate food for him and actively encourages the behavior 😦

    They live in a large cage together and pretty much do everything together, but this behavior only happens when they are out of the cage.

    Should I separate them?

  13. Hi, I too have a male parrotlet who seems to be hormonal most of the year, but it is worse during the summer months. He has always had an aggressive streak, particularly with others but is much more affectionate with me as I think he sees me as his mate.

    Unfortunately I have not helped matters as I’ve been doing many of the things that you say we shouldn’t, such as tickling his head, stroking his back (too soft to resist!), feeding him from my mouth etc. He tries to masturbate on my hand also.

    It is also difficult for me to restrict his daylight hours. I start work at 7am so uncover his cage before I leave for work. I get home around 4.30pm but cannot let him out of his cage until we have had dinner because we’re open plan and it’s far too dangerous for an inquistive little bird! So he comes out for some exercise and company around 7pm which is when I should really be covering his cage. I think he sleeps a bit during the day so he always has lots of energy at night and often doesn’t go back to his cage until 10pm, sometimes later. And if I try to put him in before he’s ready, he will fly away or bite me.

    Occasionally he becomes ‘possessed’ and attacks me viciously, far beyond his normal bitey behaviour. It is normally triggered by something I do, like making a drink or washing up. He charges me and tries to bite my face, neck or ears. When he attacks, I put him straight down onto the nearest worktop and he continues to look at me with his beak open in an attack posture, poised to bite. He attacked me several times last night and have no idea what it means, or what is causing him to do this.

    If I stop all of my own bad behaviours, do you think it would put a stop to these nasty tantrums? But if I withdraw from him more, is it going to upset or distress him?

    • Hi there! I feel your pain – my Senegal is often the same way! If more sleep’s not an option, I’d definitely play with diet and enrichment. More foraging, more exercise, and more veggies and healthy grains, less high-fat seed. A lot of times they get this pent-up energy that has to come out somehow… And it may be in a less than fun way for us humans.

      I think if you limit the behaviours you mention, and spend time encouraging him to play with toys and fly, it will also help! It may also be that he is trying to drive you away from a perceived threat (perhaps a family member?). Or – although very bonded to me – my parrotlet will also try and keep me from anything he feels is his nest/nesting material. Paper is a big one for him, so while he’s out, I just hide the stuff that gets him riled up. Could it be some object he’s possessive of, like a shiny coffee pot?

  14. I have a conure who likes to hide under my shirt and just lays there grinding her beak contentedly for as long as I let her, usually this is about an hour before bedtime. Should I discontinue allowing this behavior to help ease her hormones? Please let me know,
    Rebekah

    • No! Your parrot is not acting in a sexual way anymore than a cat rubbing your leg or a dog wagging their tail while you pet their neck. What your bird is ding is call “surfing”. This is where they rub their face and neck on a object or person. It serves two purposes; it is a sign of affection and it helps the bird in their feather maintenance.

      IF\f you want to ease her hormones, buy something called Avi-Calm. It is completely safe and herbal. It is dried green tea leaves but it helps sooth the parrot during their mating season. Cooled Camomile tea fed to the bird has a similar effect.

  15. All of the observations listed are quite sound. However; I received my 21 year old GW in August, after he was in a rescue for 6 months. He’s great. My only concern is his constant regurgitating. He does it several times after every meal or snack. He does it when he returns to his cage no matter how long I’ve kept him away from the cage after a meal. He does not reguritate on me or any toys in particular. If nothing is handy he’ll do it on his perch, go to the bottom of the cage and eat it again. I worry about his nutrition. Thank you

  16. Thank you very much extremely informative. My polo (double yellow amazon) thinks he’s a pimp.lol

    • Hi Dale, I’ve read this article and understand the usual reasons they reguritate. My case doesn’t fall into the category of love/hormones. When I received him in August the rescue team said he did this at their home as well. They got him in February. He seems to be doing it for the pleasure of doing it but I’m concerned about his weight. Surely God didn’t mean for them to do this forever, without a mate to court or babies to feed? I pet him appropriately and will now give him less showers. Thank you for your input

  17. WOW this article was so helpful to me because I think I was doing all the wrong things such as petting all over, accepting regurgitation as a compliment etc. and now my GW has chewed all the woodwork in the closet and made a sawdust type nest and he/she stays in there. I didn’t know this was not a good thing, I figured he/she was making a man cave and it was not a problem. Now my GW stays in the closet and goes to bite me if I get too close. I swear I never had any problem in the 16 years I have him/her. It shocked me when last week he began humping my fuzzy slipper which he now has in his man cave. I guess he is a late bloomer. I will purchase some chickpeas tomorrow but I am wondering should I forcibly remove him from the closet floor and put him in his nighttime cage? AmeriKiss has a nighttime cage, a large open aired play gym and a large outdoor cage. The routine has been broken with this new behavior and he has not been outside for a week now. So should I just increase the darkness time, add chick peas and hope for the best?? I miss playing with my friend, AmeriKiss.

  18. My Rainbow Lorikeet (female)…just over 2 years old started attacking me & my partner on Christmas Day…drawing blood. I was told by the bird expert at the pet shop that she was going through a hormone change & possibly jealous of my partner…too late, he chucked her out the garden…5 minutes later, she was gone. There are lots of wild Loris around the neighbourhood. Has she taken off with them & will she ever come back? We miss her terribly and watch out for her everyday when we hear those Loris come by. She wolf whistles & says hello …do you think she will still remember that if she has taken up with the flock? I’ve called her name, Budsie, but haven’t any response as yet. It;s been just over 4 weeks now. How can we win her back (she glared at my partner before she flew off the hedge where he left her). I kept her when she landed on my shoulder 2 years ago when I was outdoors doing some shearing. She had a whole verandah enclosed & dedicated to her. Wish I had seen your articles earlier…very informative, thank you.

    • You might consider tossing the husband out in the garden. I don’t think I could ever forgive or trust my husband if he did something like that.

  19. 14+ years with my patty (patagonian conure), he’s more “lovely” on spring but has never been a real problem (just demands some more attention). he DOES think we are his mates, but doesn’t really act on it. even though we’ve always done all the things we shouldn’t do.

    yet now, I have a pair of lovebirds. they were supposed to be two males, but… long story short, one of them is a female. a horny one, at that (thing just arrived TODAY at home, and already proposed to the male – who has been home for 3+ years and has always been an hormonal mess; especially on autumn but he also feels the spring coming already). I don’t really want them to breed… yet, how do you discourage a PAIR from breeding?

    I’d feel really bad changing her for a male, but… sigh. it’s gonna be one “funny” spring.

    PS: I’m not really looking for advice – your post has enough of that, haha. I just wanted to share my experiences…

  20. I have a 5 year old peach face love bird. He was sick a couple months ago and we took him to an aviary vet. He went through his medicine course but has learnt the trick of regurgitating. The vet says he has matured and all this is hormonal but now every single day he regurgitates on his branches and bottom of the cage (we changed his cage, and clean his cage twice daily). Another annoying habit is he masturbates on my pony tail or flat hair if I don’t tie my hair back – he did that very occasionally before and we used to take him off, but now the only thing he wants to do throughout the day when he sees me is to climb my head and do his business. I wear baseball caps or cover my hair trying to discourage him. Everything else is normal for him – eating habits, sleeping, playing, not being aggressive (he loves to meet/play with new people) etc. Just the regurgitating and masturbation bother us. Any suggestions to cure this are welcome.

  21. Rubbish ! Showering your companion with warm water during hormone season actually calms them and does not stimulate them in 29 years of fixing parrots with plucking issues – this is entirely false rubbish

  22. Rubbish ! Showering your companion with warm water during hormone season actually calms them and does not stimulate them in 29 years of fixing parrots with plucking issues – this is entirely false rubbish

  23. Hi, I have two tiels about 12 months old….
    In a huge parrot cage together…
    My make has started being very vocal, but she’s not really interested…
    She’s more interested in kissing my husband lol…
    Any solutions….and will a uv lamp make a difference, thanks

  24. I have a 20 year old male CAG, has only lived with me for 20 months. He is constantly hormonal but admit he is worse at the moment. He is always aggressive toward me at different levels and does not play with toys, occupies himself destroying the house. He does not eat any of the food I prepare for him, steals what he wants so never food warmed up.

    I am now wondering what I can with him, lock him in a cage all day? because I have just about reached a point where I can not do any more.

  25. Thank you. I have a female scarlet macaw. About 20 years old. Loves her toys. Just recently she started sitting on the small wiffle ball. Had experience with female cockatiel just not sure about macaws. Not breeding, imagine surprise when cockatiel started laying eggs, no male present. Vet laughed and congratulated me(your a daddy). Didn’t know they could do that. I removed balls but her other behavior is right up what you described. As she is a family pet, explains aggressiveness towards other females as I take care of her. She even rolled on back to play with me. Look forward to newsletters. Thanks again. 😉

  26. My maccaw is regurgitating right after he eats with undigested food. I have changed his food to Harrison’s. Also trying pluck no more for excessive feather plucking and was told by king cages to spray the bald areas twice a day. He has also got more aggressive while playing….. Am I doing too much at once..

  27. Thank you so much. This one article has enlightened me and now I wont be so frustrated with my Umbrella. I now know it will pass and its just natural.

  28. This really helps a LOT, where as many years as I’ve been researching this goes even further! I only want to add that it’s also normal to see drool while doing the “horny” dance as I call it. Oh my Quaker, coming up with a new thing to his hormone list every year.
    Thank you again!

  29. I’m so glad I found this article before things got out of hand with my young lovebird!
    We humans just don’t know the struggle our captive bred parrots have in life! My poor Theodore, I’ve been giving him the wrong signals and it’s springtime!
    BiG changes ahead! 🙂
    Thanks so much!! xx

  30. Wow! Why even have a bird then? Don’t do this…don’t do that. Is this article for real? I have owned parrots since 1984 and have never followed any of this silliness. Never had issues for over 30 years parrot ownership. Never.

    • Mr Grey who has lived with me for 2 years, has 11 or 12 hours sleep per night, UV at least 4 hours per day, no cuddling, will not let me even tickle his head is, is now in his 3rd cage, is only OUT of “the mood” for 1 month a year. His “birdy girl” today is his large s.s. bell, but he did unhook her first.

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