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Aggressive Parrot Play

Observe a parrot's body language during interaction to deter aggressive bird play.

By Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

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Q: My husband and I are the proud parents of Rocky, a 4-year-old Senegal parrot. Rocky is bonded with my husband and bites me constantly. I trained him to sit on a pillow that I hold. This is the only way I can handle him and carry him around. This works fine for the most part, but he continues to lunge and try to bite.

Rocky and I play daily with his toys, but sometimes he gets excited and rough. He lets me pet him, but only with his bird toys. When he bites, he digs in as if I’m one of his toys, and he won’t let go. My husband says he is Rocky’s “Mom and Dad,” and I am his play buddy and favorite chew toy.  When Rocky bites, we tell him that was bad and put him in his cage, but he continues to bite.

Senegal Parrot
If you experience aggressive play from your pet bird, assess the type of relationship you and your parrot share.

A: I admire your tenacity and refusal to give up on Rocky. I believe a little relationship renovation might help eliminate Rocky’s aggressive play with you.
Parrots are thought to form four types of bonds with people:
1) parent/child
2) peer/sibling
3) mate
4) teacher/student

I agree with your husband’s assessment of him being in a parent/mate-type relationship and you being in a peer/sibling relationship. There are pros and cons to each of these situations.

As the Most Favored Person (or MFP), your husband needs to show your pet bird that the less-favored person (you) is valuable to him. He can accomplish this by speaking kindly to you in the Senegal parrot's presence and showing you physical affection in front of him. Your parrot needs to understand that your husband considers you worthy of respect.

When your parrot acts aggressive in his presence, he should indicate his displeasure by saying, “Rocky, No,” quietly but emphatically. Your husband should then frown and turn his back on the pet bird, making it clear to Rocky that he does not like that kind of behavior. Under no circumstance should he laugh when your parrot acts hostile.

From my experience, peer relationships with parrots usually end in aggression – which, I theorize, is because peers provide serious competition for mates and nest sites in the future. Instead of being Rocky’s peer, I suggest you seek a teacher/student relationship. Rocky should be patterned to step up and step off on the hand on command. This training should be done in neutral room from a neutral perch.

Neutrality is defined as an area and perch that Rocky isn’t familiar with, which will remove the distraction of territorial issues. Your husband should start the training with fun five- to 10-minute lessons focused on establishing the commands of Step up (step on the hand) and Step Down (step off the hand).

After observing some lessons so your handling is consistent with your husband’s, have your own lesson with Rocky. Your husband should put Rocky on his training perch and leave the neutral room. You then enter and have a lesson. If the training room is truly neutral, Rocky is less likely to be antagonistic, and you two can start to build a positive relationship. This also enables you to develop some confidence in your interactions.
Use special food treats as a reward during lessons and for good behavior anywhere else. If you are more comfortable using something other than your bare hand as a perch; that is fine, but you might be surprised at Rocky’s politeness in the schoolroom. I like your pillow idea and would encourage your branching out to being able to pick Rocky up with perches, T-stands, baskets, etc.

Once Rocky is compliantly following commands, continue the teacher role with trick training. Learning to do tricks is challenging and fun for an intelligent animal like a parrot, so this is a great activity to do together.

When playing with your parrot, observe his excitement level. Lower the energy of the game when he becomes too agitated. If he gets into overload, you are more likely to get bitten. As you observe his body language, you will learn to avoid his aggression. Watch his body language carefully for things like wildly flashing or pinning eyes, wings flexed away from the body, strutting, etc. When you see aggressive body language, slow the game down to quiet whispers until his energy level drops and his posturing stops.
You and your husband can also keep diaries to identify any patterns to Rocky’s violence. Look for ways to step around the problem. Most bites are easily prevented once the motivation is understood. Analyze the situations, and see if you can figure out why Rocky is being aggressive. What he is trying to tell you? Is he simply playing, or is something else going on? Many bites are a result of miscommunication. 

Before Your Parrot Bites You
If Rocky’s body language indicates a bite is forthcoming, make direct eye contact and say, “Be a good bird, Rocky.” Then calmly put him down, and move out of his range until his body language relaxes. If he lunges at you, frown, say “No,” turn your back and walk away. The second his body language relaxes, return to him with lavish praise. The momentary isolation of briefly turning your back should suffice to express your displeasure with his aggression, teaching him more polite ways of interaction.

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Aggressive Parrot Play

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Reader Comments
good article
n, n, TN
Posted: 6/5/2012 5:44:58 AM
Thanks for hood article
mark, newburgj, NY
Posted: 6/4/2012 9:04:04 PM
alex, bronx, NY
Posted: 6/3/2012 10:25:35 PM
good article
susan, westchester, NY
Posted: 6/3/2012 10:19:10 PM
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