Biting Birds

Biting is perhaps the most dreaded and caused by the bird’s owner of the “Big Three” behavior issues (screaming, plucking, and biting). All behavior issues have one thing in common: a bird that is not bonding with its family or getting suitable instruction. It is often another displacement tendency that has been fostered by poor handling approaches.

Biting is often initiated as a frightened reaction. Birds are prey animals, not predators, and utilize their beaks for defense very seldom, nearly as a last option in the wild. Inadvertent reinforcement, like the other behavioral issues, swiftly converts nips into a biting habit. Birds learn to bite to be left alone, to be returned to their cage, or to their favorite human. A Senegal I know enjoys socializing with everyone he meets before transforming from adorable and cuddly to flesh-ripping, blood-drawing biting. Because his father constantly jumps in to save the victim, the bird has learnt that biting is the quickest way to go back to his father while he is out meeting new people.

Birds are incredibly empathic and can sense our emotions. I promise you will be nailed if you approach a bird with anxiety and the certainty that you will be nailed!! It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take a deep breath and approach the bird with confidence and calmness. Birds usually grab for things with their beaks first, and before stepping up, they examine the stability of the surface they’re on. People who reach for a bird and then recoil and back away as his beak approaches are begging to get bitten. In dealing with biting, trust is essential, as it is in other interactions with parrots.
If I’m dealing with an angry or untrustworthy bird, I normally employ a hand-held perch before surrendering my flesh! You may also divert the bird’s attention by holding a little item in your other hand or presenting a wood block to chew on. Make sure you’re not mixing up “beaking” with “biting.” Baby birds, in particular, go through a “beaking” period as they learn to utilize their beaks. This is the moment to remind him to be kind and to explain what is appropriate. Pushing your hand into the bird rather than withdrawing away frequently causes the bird to release his grasp, despite the fact that this is against normal human nature! “Wobbling” your hand before a bite may occasionally distract the bird and avert the bite, but it is useless after the bite has occurred. Maintaining excellent eye contact is advantageous because the bird will then stare at you rather than at the “target” he is aiming for.

When bitten, NEVER hit the bird or toss him to the ground!! Aggressiveness breeds more aggression and promotes fear, which heightens the impulse to bite (remember, it’s often a FEAR reaction). Dropping or tossing the bird breaks trust altogether. I know Amazons who have never recovered trust having being abandoned once. Pointing and waving your finger in your bird’s face generally results in a bite. Don’t irritate your bird!

Some bites may be avoided by watching for indications. If your bird begins blinking, tail fanning, blowing feathers, or, in the case of Macaws, flushing, he may be overstimulated. Birds perched on shoulders are more likely to bite owing to territoriality and authority. When Amber gets aggressive or clamps down on my finger, I typically hold her low, near to my knees (not to the floor, but to a more submissive position), give her the “evil eye” (stern look), and say “Gently – No Bite!” Avoid protracted “drama sequences” since they may reinforce the bird by offering a reward – it’s entertaining to see people jump up and down, shake their hands, and go “Owww!!!” It’s another another situation in which you wish to (nearly) disregard the behavior. Address it as gently and concisely as possible to let the bird know what is unacceptable.

If the bird continues to bite and does not calm down, you should return him to his cage or stand, but only after some behavior de-escalation. If you quickly put him in “time out,” you may tell him that’s how to be left alone, so give him some time while offering instruction first.

A word on “major human” biting – it’s very rare for an upset bird to bite its human “partner” when feeling scared or overwhelmed – it may seem perplexing, but if you look at natural behavior in the wild, you’ll feel less wounded by your closest friend’s apparently inexplicable reaction. When a bonded pair of birds is out in the jungle and danger approaches, the natural instinct is to fly away. If your obstinate friend does not budge and escape the danger, a parrot would peck or bite him in an attempt to encourage him to fly away to safety. Amber began biting me while we were out in public approximately a year ago. It was summer, and we were attending all of the music events in Waterfront Park, which was bustling with people and action. Amber enjoys this, although she feels uneasy with numerous children aged 6 to 8. We were at a “oldies” performance packed of children who all wanted to look at, speak to, and touch her. She was alright for a while, but then she became exhausted and overwhelmed. When an intoxicated mother persisted on bringing her four kids up for hands-on involvement, I attempted to locate a quiet location for us to regain our breath. I told her to back off since Amber was “on beak,” but she continued, and Amber ripped my index finger open. She was only trying to encourage me to hurry up and get us both out of there – NOW! Amber’s biting episodes suddenly made sense to me, which helped me address the situation.

If your bird is biting, focus on trust-building activities with him on a regular basis. Make sure he’s on a perch lower than your head – waist level is usually optimal. So there were some “step-ups,” “laddering” activities, and the towel game, all with tons of praise and positive reinforcement. Work in small bursts to keep him from becoming weary and irritated. If necessary, start in a neutral environment to even the chances. Going back to square one is sometimes important to get back on track. Examine the problem to see whether it’s hormonal. Is it late and the bird exhausted? Is there a significant alteration in the house? Be patient and keep an eye out for warning flags. Working with a bird that is visibly upset or overstimulated is pointless. Wait till his timing improves and he has calmed down.

Clients are often astonished that I don’t just approach their bird, put my hand in the cage, and step him up the first time we meet. I respect a bird’s territory and want to give both of us an opportunity to get to know each other first. Just because I work with birds for a job doesn’t mean I like being bitten!! On the contrary! So move slowly, create trust, provide praise, and, if necessary, seek expert assistance. We don’t have to spill any blood to coexist with parrots!

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