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Handle A Bird’s Aggressive Behavior To Phones

Some parrots show a negative and aggressive behavior toward phones in the home

By Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Parrot acting agressively toward phones
Photo Courtesy Erin Guerrios, California
Take steps to make sure you are not rewarding a bird's negative behavior to phones.

Negative Reactions - Excessive Screaming
Probably the most common negative reaction we see between parrots and telephones has to do with excessive screaming. Years ago, my friend Chris, whom had a large flock of pet macaws, got in the habit of giving her parrots nuts to hush them up when she tried to talk on the phone. This, of course, taught the macaws to scream when the phone rang, because they knew they would soon be rewarded with nuts. As is so often the case, in an effort to block a behavior we don’t want, we accidentally reward it. When Chris asked parrot behavior consultant Sally Blanchard what to do, Sally jokingly suggested that Chris have her phone reinstalled in a closet.

Seriously, phone conversations need not be curtailed due to noise. As always, the first approach is to prevent the problem from developing by ignoring a parrot’s noise when the phone rings. If that does not work, portable phones can make life much easier. When a parrot starts vocalizing, the human can frown and leave the room with the phone.

Parrot behavior consultant Mattie Sue Athan had another suggestion. When talking on the phone in the same room with a parrot, the human should turn to face the bird and act as if she/he is having the conversation with the bird instead of the person on the other end of the line. So, instead of shutting the bird out by having a dialogue that excludes it, the parrot is brought into the interaction. I have used this suggestion several times with clients, and they generally express delight at how successful this simple technique can be.

Parrot Behavior Toward Phones
A parrot behaviorist addresses the motivations behind parrots' reactions to telephones. More>>

Aggression Toward Phones
A serious mistake that many people make is to try and talk on the phone while in close proximity with a parrot – especially with the bird on the shoulder. Most bird species are incredibly territorial creatures, and parrots are no exception. As a result, a bird is likely to be deeply offended by this mechanical thing being thrust into its jealously guarded space by the human ear. As a result, many human ears get bitten.

Karen Webster learned this the hard way with her Meyer’s parrot, Maxine. Maxine has what appears to be a borderline psychotic hatred of the phone, whether it is being used or not, and Webster has the scars to prove it. She reports that Maxine will try to “get” the phone, even if it’s lying unused on the table. In her manic efforts to push the detested thing on the floor, she’s been known to have the antenna so firmly gripped in her beak that she ends up doing repeated somersaults due to the violence of her attack.

Marguerite Floyd’s brown-headed parrot, Charli, reacts negatively to the phone also, although not as dramatically. Giving her a dirty look, Charli bites Floyd – or the phone – if Floyd dares try to speak into it within range of Charli’s beak.

Phone Etiquette Tips Around Parrots
Prevent problems between your bird and your phone with these phone etiquette tips. More>>

Other parrots have never gotten accustomed to phones, so when one comes in close proximity to their faces, it frightens them. While phones are small compared to other machines we might use, they are often quite large compared to the size of the bird. Fear triggers the fight-or-flight response, but because many companion parrots have wing-feather trims, fight is the only option left to them. After all, we know from sports that the best defense is a good offense, right? Some parrots with dramatic wing-feather trims have jumped from their humans’ shoulders in an effort to escape the threat of the phone and have gotten injured as a result.  

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Handle A Bird’s Aggressive Behavior To Phones

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Reader Comments
Fantastic article!
Cheryl, North Fort Myers, FL
Posted: 3/11/2011 2:23:11 AM
My double-yellow headed amazon, Harley, seems to have a love hate relationship with the phone. Sometimes he gets excited when it rings and answers it for us by saying hello. Other times he seems to be jealous of the phone. We usually take the cordless into another room to avoid his noise. Sometimes I'll put him on my lap and that seems to help. I am interested to try and see if the including him in the conversation trick will work.
Kati, Beaver, PA
Posted: 1/19/2010 7:27:48 AM
My sulphur-crested cockatoo seems to know who is on the phone. If it is someone she likes she will call out their name, if not she will sit silently and glare at me. If the conversation goes on too long, and she can reach the phone, she will gently bite the 'end' button on the phone which gets rid of the distraction. Naturally the phone is rarely put within her reach!
Lyn, Melbourne, Australia
Posted: 12/15/2009 1:15:23 PM
I do that with my cockatoo. I look at him and act like I am talking to him when I am on the phone. He does not like when the attention is off him. He also does not like the TV or music on in the same room. I gave up watching TV or listening to music in the livingroom. Computer was easy. Cage next to my computer desk and easy access to my shoulder. Now my cockatoo prefers me to be on the computer.
Pam, North East, MD
Posted: 1/22/2009 9:27:47 PM
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