Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)
Why does my parrot bite?
A wild bird rarely uses its beak as a weapon against another in the flock - only against predators and other threats. So it is important to understand that the bite or heel is not in the nature of the bird, but is largely a result of poor / lacking upbringing by the owner!
A domestic bird will typically bite in one of the following situations:
- As a defense e.g. if it gets frightened by sudden noise or motion or something hurts.
- In case of no upbringing, the bird may bite to control the situation.
- During the breeding season there may be too many hormones in the body and the bird may become so eager that it forgets its normal good behavior
When a bird bites, most bird owners will often shout off the bird and scold it out. But consider this: You are at work all day and your parrot sits in a small cage and is bored. When you get home you maybe neclect the bird because you are too buzy preparing food for the children, cleaning the house etc. The parrot is bored. It may start screaming to attract your attention. When you finally puts your hand into the cage to take it out you make a sudden move by mistake and instinctly the bird bites you. Next you start screaming and dancing around. Hey - that was great fun, he made a funny noice and talked A LOT with me afterwards, let's try that again!
For this reason do not start shouting and screaming loudly when your bird bite you as it may have the opposite effect of what you think - especially for a single pet that may feel a little bored and under-stimulated.
Another typical error is using the cage as punishment. Consider this: Your parrot bites you which typically results in a lot of screaming. The parrot gets scarred and fly away from you - after a while you stop screaming and decide it is time to punish the parrot so you capture the parrot and puts it in the cage - that should teach it! But sadly you are mistaken. By this time the bird have already forgotten it has bitten you so it never experience being put into the cage as a consequence of biting so it does not have an educational effect regarding the biting. Also the cage is its home where it spends most of its time and have some favorite toys so it may not even feel like a punishment.
The worst thing you can do in case of a bite is physically punish the parrot by hitting or pushing the bird, pinch the beak and the like. First of all birds are very fragile so you risk breaking a wing or other bones! Also the bird will loose all trust in you resulting in the bird may try to bite you every time you get too close to its comfort zone.
Having a parrot is very much like having a 3-year old child. How would you react if a 3-year old child is behaving badly, how would you react? Hopefully not by physical punishment or abuse or by long periods of isolation as punishment but by patiently teaching what is accepted and not accepted behavior.
What to do
First of all you should mark yourself as the "leader of the flock". Start training you bird in getting up on your hand by the command "UP!". When the bird follows your commands you praise it with a soft sweat voice saying "GOOD BIRD" or something like that, and maybe also give it a treat. Whenever it misbehaves you should say NO! in a more strict voice. Be consistent with your commands and the tone of your voice.
Then when the bird bite you by accident or mistake remember DO NOT start screaming even if you instinctively want to.
Instead you as the "fierce leader of the flock" must tell the bird that you are dissatisfied with that behavior. You do that by giving the bird "the evil look" while saying "NO!" in a strict tone. The bird perceives that its flock leader is dissatisfied with its behavior.
Now the parrot understands you are not happy with it - it is time to mark your dominance by putting your hand to it and giving the command UP! As it climb on top of your hand you then put the other hand to it and give the UP! command again. Repeat this 3-4 times while you give the parrot the "evil look" to let it know that you are in command, you are the leader of the flock and it must obey your commands.
When the bird has proven that it recognizes your dominance and follows your commands there are no reason to punish it further so don't put it in the cage or scold it - not even if your finger still hurts. By now it has forgotten about the biting so you will only confuse it by scolding it.
If you have failed to train the UP! command (or the parrot is annoyed with you and simply will not respect your command) you can instead put the parrot down on the floor and let it sit there for a while. Most birds prefer to sit high up in the trees and will be unsafe and uncertain down on the floor. While the bird is sitting insecure on the floor you may scold it and give it the evil look - the parrot will most likely stop acting aggressively and instead run to you and maybe call for you to pick it up. Gently reach down with your hand and give the UP! command. In most cases the bird will be happy and grateful to get back up on your hand and no longer be aggressive.
How to avoid birds biting each other
You may not like when your parrot bite your finger but it is even worse when they start biting each other! If a wild birds gets attacked by another bird it can easily escape by simply flying away but when both are trapped in a small cage or aviary it may prove difficult to escape. Such conflicts can escalate and result in a nasty bite - as a result you will often see domestic parrots missing a toe nail or even part of their feet.
To avoid it there are a few simple rules you should remember:
When you buy a new bird first of all make sure to keep it isolated for a few weeks until you are sure it does carry any diseases that could infect the rest of your birds. Second: Do not rush when introducing the new bird to the old bird(s). Put the new bird in a cage next to the old birds and let them watch and talk to each other. Watch them closely - are they curious and interested or seem scared or aggressive? When you decide it is time to put them in the same cage or aviary make sure you have time to stay around and continue watching for any aggresive moves. The old birds may consider this trespassing of their territory and trying to fend off the intruder.
Make sure the cage or aviary have several perches so the birds can choose to sit closely together or a little distance a way.
If you have several aviaries next to each other you often see a parrot hanging in the wire mesh in one aviary being attacked by a parrot in the next aviary. To avoid that simply DO NOT use a single shared wire mesh between two aviaries - use double layered wires with a distance of 1-2" between the panels to avoid accidents.