Understanding and Correcting Biting in Companion Birds
Against popular belief, a parrot’s beak is not a weapon but a sensory organ used to explore and touch. Although some parrots will nip while doing this, most do not bite but when they do, it hurts. One of the first things to teach a baby parrot is not to bite. The goal is to allow the bird to use its beak for exploration while teaching it to be gentle.
Over time, a baby parrot will learn just how much pressure to place on its owner’s skin without causing pain. It is imperative to be consistent during training and to use specific commands. For example, if a bird begins to bite too hard, the word “gentle” can be used as a reminder. Of course, if a parrot becomes excited or over stimulated, a simple word command may not work. At that point, the hand should be removed from the beak area and the bird offered a cotton, knotted toy or vegetable tanned piece of leather instead.
Reasons that Baby Birds Bite
Sometimes, biting is nothing more than a pattern opposed to a natural behavior. Again, while living in the wild, parrots seldom show aggression. Therefore, if a bird is being aggressive in captivity, there must be a reason. Below are some of the more common reasons that baby birds bite:
- As a sign of assertiveness when being asserted into its new human family
- As part of mating season due to an increase in hormone activity. Some species to include the African Grey and cockatoos bite more during breeding than other species.
- To defend territory or a perceived mate
- For recreational purposes in which biting is done for fun
- As a reaction to being scared, over-stimulated, or confused. In fact, it is common for many parrots to bite in relation to overload.
- Approached too quickly or surprised. This is something often associated with stress but not always.
- If someone tries to pick them up while eating
Do’s and Don’ts for Birds that Bite
If someone owns a parrot with a tendency to bite, there are specific do’s and don’ts:
- Teach limits
- Assume leadership over the flock while providing nurturing guidance
- Teach basic commands to include “step up”
- Keep the bird’s body level at or below the owner’s chest level to reduce dominance
- Leave the bird alone until no longer stressed
- Respond slowly and in a quiet voice
- Be prepared to create a distraction with a toy or shaking of the cage bars
- Be patient
- Punish the bird since they have no long-term sense of cause-and-effect logic
- Do not look the bird directly in the eyes
- Be stern but never yell
- Never allow the bird access to the face by being on an arm or shoulders
- Pull the finger or hand away from the bird quickly and hard
- Show fear
- Do not take the bird out of the cage when strangers are visiting
- Do not assume one bite will turn into a habitual problem
It is the owner’s responsibility to keep the bond with the bird healthy and positive. Keep in mind that even non-biting birds may bite. The key is to learn the bird’s behavior and respond accordingly. A bird’s eyes and body language can be interpreted, giving the owner advance warning of a potential bite. Some of these include flashing eyes, ruffled and raised chest, and erect feathers on the head or nape.
Of course, some of the signs may be more subtle. For this reason, a bird owner needs to pay attention to changing moods but also the time of day moods change or situations that cause change. Additionally, when planning to handle or train a parrot, be prepared by approaching gently yet confidently.
During training, distractions should also be minimized and eye contact gentle. Typically, parrots are far more aggressive around their cage so taking the bird to a different and quiet place in the home would be beneficial. If there is any fear in taking the bird from the cage, a T-stand can be used. Bribing with special treats also works great. Finally, a time for training should be chosen that is good for both the owner and the bird.