Inappropriate Behavior

THE CONCEPT: “Inappropriate conduct” is defined as any activity that interrupts the connection or makes pleasant interaction with the bird difficult. Some instances include general biting, biting specific family members, refusing to perform as instructed, yelling, and plucking.

Because of the broad topic areas covered and the overwhelming number of cases, scenarios, personal perspectives, habitats, bird species, and intensity of behavior patterns, this article must be written in broad strokes. Approaches to behavior issues must be adapted to the specific caregivers and birds involved. A lot has been written on how to remediate incorrect behavior. It is one of the common misunderstandings that everything said on this topic is worthy of our attention. That is not correct. Some of the current information was created years ago, and since we learn more about parrot behavior every day, some of the previous “wisdoms” are plainly counterproductive and no longer applicable. Recent books and articles by specialists such as Sally Blanchard, Pam Clark, Sam Foster, Jane Hallander, Bonnie Munro-Doane, and Bobbi Brinker give insightful analysis and sound guidance. It is highly advised that the serious reader take use of this material.

“My bird’s conduct is unacceptable. What should I do?” A crucial, and often urgent, question. What we consider unacceptable conduct is crucial, but the “why?” is much more so. Remember that improper conduct is never the fault of the bird. Please keep in mind that pet bird behavior patterns are typically created because they are “trained” by the carer, sometimes unknowingly.

There are two types of “wrong” behavior patterns that might occur: the developed pattern and the abrupt pattern.

My “Baby has always been very lovely, and now it is biting, agitated, or anxious. It refuses to leave the cage, refuses to enter the cage, and is plucking its feathers “These are only a few instances. Sudden behavioral changes may occur for a variety of causes, the most common of which are drastic changes in the environment. There might be medical or hormonal causes for this. In all circumstances, we must uncover the underlying reasons and keep in mind that remedial action involves a great deal of patience, respect, and understanding. The ancient adage of “showing him who’s boss” has mainly been proved incorrect. Sally Blanchard advocates for a good teacher-student connection. Kindness, patience, and gentle “coaching” will achieve much more than confrontations or the completely futile idea of punishment in any form.

Please keep in mind that POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT is the single most critical and ONLY tool for changing our bird’s habits.

DEFINITIONS: Positive reinforcement refers to incentives that are exclusively provided for desirable behavior. These incentives might take the form of favorite delicacies or lavish praise. (I like the compliment.) It strengthens communication between my birds and myself by explaining WHY the bird is meant to perform what I want him/her to accomplish. In my perspective, a treat achieves the same aim but conveys the incorrect message.) However, there are several exceptions. For example, if you have a bird that often steps on your hand. You could try to train it to take a reward from your hand first. After that, you continue to give him the reward, but you have him walk over one hand to get to the hand containing the goodie. After a time, he’ll walk on your hand without a reward. It is critical that in all circumstances, praise be also provided. It is also critical that the whole activity be accompanied with calm, gentle “up” orders.

Most importantly, feel at ease and calm while interacting with your bird, and the bird will reciprocate. (Blanchard, Sally)

Negative reinforcements are “rewards” for negative conduct. While the term “reward” has a certain connotation for us humans, the bird sees things differently. Raised voices, confinement in a cage, a loud “NO,” the “earthquake” response with a biter—anything that expresses disapproval, wrath, or disagreement. Negative reinforcement encourages incorrect conduct rather than eliminating it. It will also harm the trust that must be developed between the bird and the caregiver. There can be no behavior change without trust. Ignoring undesirable conduct should be the ONLY response. There is one unbreakable rule: NEVER discipline a parrot!! More on this in one of Sally Blanchard’s excellent articles: Report on a Pet Bird Punishment

To summarize, training wild creatures such as parrots is a duty we take on when we decide to adopt him/her to our family. It requires a comprehension of his/her personality, as well as patience, love, and, most importantly, respect. Respect for a species so unique and wonderful that we, as humans who believe we are at the top of the evolutionary “pyramid,” sometimes struggle to imagine a parrot’s cerebral and perceptive abilities.

EXAMPLE: Dixie is a 3 year old DNA sexed male sulphur crested cockatoo. He is a true gentleman, and his family loves him. He is handled, preened, and adores being rubbed beneath his wings. He suddenly begins fighting and biting his loving mother. What exactly happened? Dixie is overpowered by hormonal urges; he acts instinctively, and his mother quickly realizes there is nothing she can do. She stopped touching him behind the wings since it arouses him, and she did not give him the opportunity to attack or bite her—she left him mostly alone to come down from his hormonal “high” on his own. He did. It took nearly three weeks, but Dixie is back to her old self. If we know our birds and learn to identify their body language, we can diagnose hormonal biting quite easily. Hormonal biting is highly prevalent in Cockatoos, Amazons, Greys, and Conures. The “treatment” is simple and needs the mentality of not taking the bite personally and giving the bird space and time.

LESSON #1: Study your bird’s “body language.”
LESSON #2: Don’t give a biting bird a chance.

Sam Foster provides informative materials as well as a personalized counseling service for Cockatoo behavior modification: ‘Excessive Detail’

There are several causes for rapid behavioral changes in birds when something in their local environment changes dramatically. This is particularly true with African Greys.

EXAMPLE: Rosie, a female Congo African Grey with DNA, is around 3 years old. She seems to be a well-adjusted bird, and despite her lack of socialization, she adores her mother, steps up like a good girl, and tolerates the rest of the family. Her cage is against a wall in the living room, with a “view” of the rest of the home. All hell breaks loose one evening. Mom returns home, her heart full of love, and Rosie refuses to interact with her or anyone else. She refuses to leave the cage, cowers on the highest perch, and exhibits behavior that may be described as frantic when approached. What should I do? Mom is devastated and wonders what happened to Rosie. What occurred to Rosie was a shift in her surroundings that was little to us but life-changing for her. Mom had purchased a life-sized marble statue of Hermes. It had arrived, and Hermes was now standing next to the sofa, directly in Rosie’s line of sight—Rosie felt intimidated. Her environment had shifted, and she was unaccustomed to abrupt changes and was unable to deal with them. Rosie could be persuaded that the scary ghost was now past when Hermes was taken and placed in a location where Rosie could not see him, and after several loving dialogues and patience. Mom now introduced Hermes in stages, very carefully, over a period of weeks, in order to restore him to his seat next to the sofa. Rosie can’t wait to pay him a visit and defecate on his head.

There are various lessons to be drawn from this:

Lesson #1: Never, ever blame incorrect conduct on the parrot, because it is not.

Lesson #2: Never take any unpleasant behavior patterns personally, especially if your fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fidgety fid It’s not you, it’s the hat (and perhaps the fid’s disapproval of your bad manners).

Lesson #3: Try to identify the causes of this behavior and then address them first.

Lesson #4: Never reprimand the bird, never keep him in the cage until he “cools down,” and never get in his “face.”

Lesson #5: Be patient. Behavior change takes time, a lot of time.

It is not always so simple.

EXAMPLE: Ulysses, a four-year-old Congo African Grey with undetermined sex. He is a cherished member of the family and has complete control over the home. He has completed his flying training. He has a fantastic 6 foot tall play gym in the living room, as well as another on top of the cage. His family adores him and feels that they are providing him with the greatest life imaginable. There’s only one problem: Ulysses refuses to go inside his cage when he’s supposed to, and he refuses to come out when Mom or Dad ask him to.

In reality, he seldom performs what is required of him and mostly makes his own judgments. He attacks flock members out of nowhere and even got a tight beak grasp on Dad’s ear. Dad was terribly upset in more ways than one, and he is now certain that Ulysses no longer loves him. This is a classic example of incorrect conduct being “taught” accidentally. Because Mom and Dad did not prepare themselves for the new arrival, they had absolutely no clue how to lead and help him develop into the lovable and lovely family member he can be. They did not abandon Ulysses; instead, they sought assistance. It was decided that Ulysses should be “reigned in” a bit more. He had his wings cut in order to restrict his movement. To lessen his “perching” height, the gym atop his cage was removed, and the 6′ tall gym in the living room was replaced with a 4′ tall gym. Ulysses was also taught the boundaries of his “theatre of operations”—he was allowed on the cage, the gym in the living room, but not on Mom and Dad’s shoulders, the furniture, or to walk about the house on his own. Although Ulysses did not enjoy the new regulations, he learned what was required of him with tons of gentle positive reinforcement, praise, and the odd nutriberry. He is now more happier and more secure. Ulysses also acquired the step-up command to round out his behavior adjustment efforts. He and Mom and Dad had a lot of fun with it, and he has transformed into a new birdie, with the whole family becoming happier and wiser as a result. It is crucial to mention at this point that the whole process took the better part of six months, but everyone agrees it was worthwhile. There are many lessons to be drawn from this example:

Lesson #1: We do not always display our affection for our birds in “human” ways. Permissiveness is a symptom of ignorance and weakness, not of love.

Lesson #2: Our birds need strict “territorial” boundaries. Contrary to popular belief, the “run of the home” mentality may cause uncertainty and irritation.

Lesson #3: Our birds, with their inherent group behavior, want reassurance about their “place” in life. A loving and slightly strong caring atmosphere with restrictions offers them with the security they need.

Lesson #4: When teaching your bird, use positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is effective.

EXAMPLE: Bud is a B&G Macaw who is 8 years old. His “parents” are in distress. He mutilates himself by pulling his feathers. They were at a loss for what to do and sought assistance. They were instructed to send the bird to a reputable avian vet immediately for a thorough examination that included screening for heavy metal toxicity, nutritional deficits, and recognized bird illnesses. It also finds out that Mom had the bird before her marriage and that they spent a lot of time together. Then there came the new spouse, and the bird was admittedly neglected. His current food was a parrot mix with a high sunflower content. In this case, the recommendation is to change his diet to include a nutritious pellet and fresh fruit/veggie mix, as well as to give Bud with an emotional support system consisting of the contact to which he was used. This is not to argue that Bud should be the only one. It means that he deserves and needs interaction with his flock. He needs to be a part of the family and make a commitment to meet his emotional needs.

Lesson #1: Most of our birds are flock birds. They have an emotional and natural urge to be a member of the flock as flock birds. They have a RIGHT to it.

Lesson #2: When people lose their sense of “flock cohesion,” they become insecure, dissatisfied, and unhappy. We are their herd!

Lesson #3: An avian vet should be consulted if a bird is plucking or self-mutilating.

Lesson #4: There are no shortcuts when it comes to the bird’s nutritional needs.

Plucking is one of the most important issues for parrot caregivers. It is now thought that medical or nutritional reasons account for at least 75% of all plucking incidences. To assist individuals interested in plucking birds, a comprehensive and well-written website ( has been built, with Pam Clark as one of the key contributors. Anyone with a plucking bird is welcome to attend.

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