Breeder's of Eclectus Parrots,
Timneh African Grey, Great Billed
Parrot, Cape Parrot
Why Did My Bird Bite Me?
The typical scenario is this. You've owned your bird for a year or
so. It has been your darling, adoring pet, never balking at cuddling and
kisses. Then one day with no warning, your bird strikes out and bites.
Most owners express shock and disappointment when their beloved pet
shows such unexpected aggressive behavior. But how unexpected should
this behavior really be?
Most parrots cannot be considered domesticated pets. With the exception
of budgerigars and cockatiels, most species are only a few generations
removed from their wild ancestors. Some birds sold as pets today may
have had wild-caught parents. What does this mean? It means that
instincts rule. If bird owners keep this in mind when training their
pets, they will have a healthier relationship with their bird and there
will be far fewer painful nips.
Keep in mind that in the wild birds can fly high in the trees to avoid
danger. A bird with clipped wings obviously cannot do this. Some will
fly in a panic to the floor, thrashing about. This can be a very
frightening and unsettling experience for both the bird and the owner.
It is best to get down low to where the bird is and not
"swoop" down on it the way a predator might in the wild. Talk
in a calm voice and ease the bird's panic. The other protection your
bird has is to bite. In almost all cases, you will get warning signals.
The trick is to learn how to recognize them before the beak comes down
on your finger (or worse, a lip or ear).
I have discovered a whole repertoire of behaviors with my senegal
parrot. I have learned to pay close attention to them. When Maxwell
reached sexual maturity at around four years of age, his personality
changed. I had to rebuild our relationship on different terms. I had to
learn to recognize when he was over stimulated (it is often called
"overload" in amazons) and likely to snap. Mainly I was the
cause of the overstimulation. We often played a game called "The
Tail Thief", which he loved as a young bird, but at age four he
would become very aggressive if I played the game. I've relegated the
game to memory lane now. Many owners of pet birds become disappointed
when they cannot play with their bird in the same manner as they mature.
It is very important to accept your bird as an individual and not try to
force behaviors just because you enjoy them. I have found that once
owners try to understand their bird's moods rather than trying to change
their moods, the relationship blossoms again.
There are some pretty universal signs when a bird is saying, "Back
off". Your relationship will be the most healthy when it involves
reciprocal "respect". If my senegal puffs himself up and his
eyes start to flash, I don't reach in saying, "Oh it's sooo
cute!" I calm him down first using a soothing voice. Max is very
well trained for stepping up on command, but there are times when I can
tell by his body posture--feathers out a bit (almost arched), individual
feathers a bit on end, some extra loud clicking of the beak, eyes
flashing--that he might just be too stimulated and could bite. I really
don't believe these bites mean he's angry at me, just that he very
excited and can't quite control himself . Sometimes these signs are
subtle, sometimes they're done in an outright "flash" dance.
Below is a series of photos, from a content bird to a visibly agitated
bird. While I can usually calm Max down from this "stance," I
don't just reach in fast with my hand if he begins to show these
|A very content look with wide pupils and a "fat"
|Food soothes the savage beast! Max loves dried cranberries.
|Beak clicking, arched wings, pupils narrow to "pins"
|Feathers "stand up" a bit
|The dipped head is typical of this agitated state.|
The foundation you build with a young bird will make all the difference
in how you can handle him when he reaches maturity. Books on parrot
behavior may help you, but the best way to learn the signs is to watch
your bird and make a note of specific reactions. For example, "When
I move quickly like that he spins around. This means I've startled him
and an instinctive response has kicked in. I need to talk to him
first." One special thing to look for is when your bird seems to be
in a trance-like state. This is a natural protective behavior. In the
wild parrots "take turns" standing watch for the flock for any
danger. They are in a hyper alert state at that time, blocking out all
extraneous (i.e., non-dangerous) stimuli. A sudden movement or
threatening approach during that "trance" can make them lunge
It is important to note that birds that have shown aggressive behavior
should NOT be allowed to sit on your shoulder. A startled bird can bite
your face and do serious injury. Certain species, such as amazon
parrots, should be trained to sit on your hand or wrist, never on your
shoulder. While re-training a bird used to sitting on your shoulder can
be challenging, it is not impossible.
All of your bird's seemingly unpredictable behaviors can be largely
predictable if you accept that they are part of a whole repertoire of
natural instincts. Unfortunately, most people give up after the first
few bites and don't understand why their sweet baby has become a
piranha. By establishing a few basic rules early on in your relationship
with your bird, you can work through these behavioral issues, and your
pet does not have to end up on the adoption merry-go-round.
Note: If you ignore the bird's body
language when it is young it may not show obvious body language when it is
It is important to respect the body language of your bird.
This is the way they communicate; when ignored they are left with fight or
You do not force a bird to 'obey'. Positive
reinforcement works best.