Biting: Why They Do It And How To Stop It?

Biting Isn’t “Natural”

It is critical to remember that in the wild, parrots seldom seem to use their beaks as a weapon against other parrots. When necessary, the beak protects against predators like as snakes and raptors (birds of prey), but not against other members of their flock. Competition and/or disagreement between parrots seldom leads to actual violence in their natural surroundings; instead, they vocalise (scream) and/or employ body language by strutting, posturing, and fluffing feathers to make themselves seem larger. Not for biting, beaks are utilised for climbing, feeding, playing (wrestling), and preening.

This indicates that biting is not an instinctual behaviour; rather, biting is classified as a “displacement behaviour.” Natural behaviours meant for survival in the rain forest are often not practicable in a human’s living room, therefore displacement behaviours take their place. These “improved” reactions are not all bad; for example, a parrot’s capacity to connect with a human in the absence of members of its own species, and to accept the people with whom it lives as part of its flock, is a good example.

Why Is The Bird Biting?

When dealing with a biting parrot, the first thing to ask is why —- under what circumstances is this happening? Birds bite for one of two reasons, in my experience: survival or control. The category of “survival” would include a bird biting when it is afraid (for example, when your smoke alarm goes off and your parrot races up your face) or when it is injured. Contrary to popular belief, most animals CANNOT tell when you’re attempting to assist them (e.g., “I was simply trying to extract a broken blood feather, but he bit the @&%$# out of me!”).

A subtle twist on this concept would be hormonal behaviour, which I will cover in more depth in another essay. Suffice it to say, when hormone levels are high, many living forms become more aggressive – just look at many teens! (The comparison I like to use is myself and my bouts with PMS). Learning the bird’s body language can help you avoid injured emotions and fingers at this period, and the advise is simple: DON’T REACH FOR THEM WHEN THEY ARE IN FULL SEXUAL DISPLAY. Allow them to be alone till they calm down.

CONTROL PROBLEMS, or How To Turn A Nice Parrot Into A Biter

Biting in parrots is a displacement behaviour, not an inherent one, thus it is reasonable to believe that the behaviour must be rewarded in some manner or it will cease. In other words, if it did not result in anything beneficial in the parrot’s experience, the parrot would stop doing it. This is critical to grasp: in confinement, parrots are actually rewarded for biting by people who just do not understand how differently parrots view things. Here are a few well-known instances.

“The Teething Stage”

Young bappies (baby parrots) often have no clue what their beaks are capable of, particularly if they have been kept in isolation from other bappies. The bappy is learning to feed and explore with its beak during “The Teething Stage,” and a terrible scenario is often performed out. While investigating with its beak, the bappy comes upon those lovely objects known as human fingers. If the human makes the mistake of using their fingers as toys in the infant’s mouth, the baby will eventually bite down harder than the finger’s owner would want. If the human reacts to this unintentional nip by shouting (as in, “OUCH, NO BITE!!!”), they have unintentionally taken the first step toward training their puppy to bite.

Contrary to popular opinion, parrots like being yelled at by humans. Because parrots often shout for amusement, it is a mistake to believe that they interpret screaming as a rebuke. On the contrary, kids often view screaming as good reinforcement. This is referred to as The Drama Reward. As a result, the infant parrot will pinch again since the human unintentionally praised it for nipping. The experimental nips will eventually cause emotional and bodily harm to the human, and the human’s reaction will be something along the lines of “YOU BAD BABY, YOUR MOMMY (or DADDY) LOVES YOU, HOW COULD YOU BITE YOUR MOMMY (or DADDY)??!!??!! Of course, the bappy has no idea what’s going on; it believes this is a fantastic new game. You know, grasp a finger and your person makes an AMAZING noise!!

The Wishy Washy Pick Up

This situation frequently occurs when an unskilled owner’s signals to the parrot are unclear. A rookie owner, for example, is sometimes unsure of himself/herself while providing a hand for the bird to come up… hence their hand gesture is hesitant. The bappy may want to climb on, but like a worker uncertain of the stability of a ladder, it reaches with its mouth (in this example, the beak serves as a hand) to stabilise the human perch. Fearful of the beak, the person withdraws their hand. The bappy is now perplexed!

When the human’s hand is extended tentatively again, the bappy grips it with its beak to keep it stable so it may climb on —- and the human pulls away. The infant is unaware of what has occurred, but if the incident is repeated (as it frequently is), the bird will learn that its beak causes its person to disappear. The bappy doesn’t truly want the person to go, but it’s exciting to manage one’s pet human, so the behaviour will repeat again. Once again, the parrot has no notion what it has done wrong.

Fear = Lost Control

If the person is terrified of getting bitten, he or she will often subconsciously draw away as the bird reaches out with its beak. The parrot will now utilise lunging and biting as an effective method of controlling the human, and the bird will maintain control for as long as the human stays fearful. Parrots can detect when someone is scared and take advantage of it every time. If the individual cannot overcome their terror reaction, they will most likely never be able to manage the bird.

Other Mistakes To Make

So, what else are you NOT doing? Under no circumstances should you use violence towards the bird. If you do, even if you don’t physically harm him, you will permanently harm your relationship with him; as I previously stated, violence does not appear to be a routine flock behaviour, and your parrot will simply not understand your use of violence against him; as a result, he may never trust you again.

There is a lot of old and false information out there concerning biting parrots. People are often advised to seize the bird’s beak, shake it, and cry NO!! This is ineffective for two reasons. First, we’ve discovered that gripping a parrot’s beak [what specialists term “Beak Wrestling”] is considered parrot play behaviour. Second, as previously said, parrots like the drama of someone shouting. So, once again, we have only succeeded in rewarding parrots by providing negative feedback.

It also doesn’t generally help to punish the bird by putting it in its cage since by the time you get him there, he’s probably forgotten the link between biting you and being locked up. He can’t bite you again since you’ve removed him from your presence, but you haven’t taught him anything about NOT BITING.

So What SHOULD You Do?

Enough discussing all the things that don’t work; what actually works? It’s really fairly straightforward. If you have already created a connection of Nurturing Dominance with your parrot, then he already considers you as leader of the flock and he is already taught to step onto your palm when you say, “Up”. You simply need to conduct the following things right now to fully scold the bird.

First, express your disgust to the bird by giving it a REALLY DIRTY LOOK (“The Evil Eye”). I’m serious about this: treat it as if it were the lowest of the low, or pond muck, or something you could find stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Parrots are very empathetic birds that attentively observe human facial expressions. If you give him a really filthy look, he will comprehend your annoyance.

Then, while talking, have him walk from one hand to the other again.

“Up,” said in a forceful but not shrill voice (remember the Drama Reward). Do this three or four times in a row and you will be astounded at the difference. Because parrots recognise this as a rebuke, this is a non-aggressive, caring way for giving negative feedback to the parrot. This is known as “laddering,” and it is a control method that reminds him that YOU are the alpha in the flock, not him. Reminding him of this helps bring him back under control if you are tough and constant. And without the previously unintentional positive feedback, the biting should stop.

It is also pretty straightforward when dealing with a bappy in the Teething Stage. When the infant bites too hard, shout No loudly and give the baby a filthy look. The bappy will recognise your dissatisfaction and will make every effort not to repeat the behaviour. You should not shout under any circumstances.

My favourite laddering parrot anecdote came from a customer called Debbie, who owns a three-year-old Yellow Naped Amazon named Charlie. To recover control, Betsy laddered Charlie over and over with the Up command until he calmed down, then she placed him back on his perch with the Down command and went about her business, exiting the room. She returned a few minutes later to see Charlie marching back and forth on his perch, yelling Up! Up! Up! in an EXTREMELY irritated voice!

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