Biting

Biting is one of the most common behavior problems noted in pet parrots.

Why do birds bite?

Birds may bite for a variety of reasons but it is important to distinguish true biting from normal use of the beak. For example, a parrot may test a new perch by reaching for it with its beak to make sure the perch is stable.  If the perch is your finger and you pull away when the parrot is testing it with its beak, it may not trust you the next time you ask it to step to your hand.

The major reasons a bird bites are:

  • Fear
  • Conditioning
  • Territorial behavior
  • Attachment to mate
  • For protection and to guard resources

Before You Start

If you have a biting parrot, it may be lengthy process to overcome.  It will take pateince, commitment, and confidence for you to build a trusting relationship with your parrot and eliminate the biting behavior.

Things To Tell The Veterinarian or Bird Behaviorist

In order to understand why a bird bites, it is important to have an understanding of what is going on around the bird at the time it bites.  Take a few minutes to gather the following information:

  • Description of the bird’s environment -- Where does it live in the home, when do people get up and when do they go to bed, the size and type of cage, any other birds in the home, what kind of toys does it have, what does it eat, does it get natural sunlight or artificial ultraviolet-B light, and so on.  A few pictures are very helpful!
  • Description of the different social interactions the bird partakes in daily -- Who feeds it, who cleans the cage, who plays with it, who is first up in the morning and who is the last to go to bed at night, and so on.
  • Description of the aggression -- What exactly happens?  Does the bird flash its eyes first, ruffle feathers, and then bite? Does it give any warning sounds?
  • Description of the aggression and what seems to provoke it -- What was the person who was bit doing before the bite? What was anyone else doing? Were there triggering sounds like dog barks or car horns? Is the person wearing something like a certain color shirt, hat, or glasses?
  • Description of people's reactions to the bite --Do people laugh, scream, or move a lot afterward?  Does anyone yell at the bird or squirt it with water or anything else?

For example: A person who screams and jumps around after being bit is actually putting on a show for the bird and rewarding the bird for the behavior!

FEAR BITING

WHO

  • All parrots (Psittacines) are susceptible
  • African Grey Parrots are known to develop fear of humans
  • There is no age or sex predilection

WHY

  • Fear biting is often out of self defense
  • Abuse may lead to fear biting
  • Painful injuries from hitting the floor following very short wing trims may cause birds to be fearful of leaving the cage
  • Inadequate socialization when young can lead to a fearful bird
  • May develop as a result of early environments such as hand-raised birds that are kept in restricted environments

WHAT and WHEN

  • Fear biters bite when caught or cornered
  • They may attack or chase
  • Vocalizations that indicate fear: growling, screaming
  • These birds are often reluctant to leave their cage
  • Birds may be fearful of a particular person, gender, behavior, physical characteristic, or new object or situation
  • Owners who jerk their hands back away from a fearful bird may initiate a bite
  • Warning signs of a bite: horizontal stance on a perch, flared wings and tail, and dilated pupils

HOW TO CORRECT

  • The bird must be gradually desensitized to the presence of people or unfamiliar situations
  • Training should take place in a neutral area that is away from the cage
  • Desensitization is a slow step-by-step process
    • Start by rewarding the bird for remaining calm in the presence of a feared individual or object
    • When the bird consistently remains calm then eye contact and vocal interactions can be made
    • Once calm with eye contact and vocal interactions handling can be attempted
    • Use a favorite food as a reward good behavior or as encouragement
    • At first the reward should be placed on a surface near the bird and not given by hand
    • Each time the bird receives a reward the hand should be kept closer to the bird so the bird has to approach the hand to receive the treat
    • Sometimes a hand perch or glove is required during the initial phases of training and the bird must be desensitized to these new items
    • This can be accomplished by laying the items closer to the cage each day while rewarding the bird for calm behavior with a treat
    • Do not use gloves if they have been used to restrain the bird in the past
  • Do not punish biting, only reward good behavior
  • The outlook for fear biters is fair