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How To Stop Biting Behavior In Pet Birds

Understand your pet bird body's language to stop biting behavior.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Q: My Amazon parrot, Blue, enjoys biting me on occasion, especially when he is in a crabby mood. He is promptly put back in his cage, told "Bad bird,” and I go away. I have had Blue for a year and can usually gauge his mood. What can I do to avoid a bite?

A: The issue of aggression in pet birds comes up constantly, but the solutions vary widely. Contrary to our one-size-fits-all approach to biting more than a decade ago, we now recognize that we need to understand why a parrot is aggressive before we can successfully alter the behavior.

The biting behavior is happening for a reason, so if you try to change the biting behavior without addressing its underlying cause, you achieve only a temporary solution. If your pet bird’s motivation for the aggression is not addressed, he will simply try something else to accomplish his goal, and the likelihood is that you won’t like that behavior, either.

Cuban Amazon parrot
If your parrot is biting, learn to read its body language, which will give you clues to its mood and whether it may or may not bite you. 

You need to analyze why this is happening. Get more specifics as to what your parrot is trying to accomplish through aggression.

By far, the best approach is not to teach a parrot not to bite, but to remove the need for a parrot to bite. Prevent your pet bird Blue from feeling that a bite is necessary. If his bird body language says he doesn’t wish to be petted, stop. It is his body, after all, and many parrots do not enjoy being petted.

If Blue bites when you try to return him to his cage, give him a reason to enjoy going in there, such as a treat. Many parrots are very food motivated and learn to happily go into their cages if offered a very special food treat that is reserved as payment for good behavior.

My blue-and-gold macaw loves going in her cage, as she knows she gets a nut as a reward. Needless to say, nuts are never placed in her food bowl as a routine part of her diet.

If your bird is territorial about his cage, perch train him. That way you can pick him up without getting bitten. (I discussed stick training in detail in my October 2005 column, "Overcome Fear.”)

Most experienced parrot behavior consultants do not advocate using a parrot’s cage for punishment. After all, we want our birds to be happy in their homes for the long hours most of us work each day, so it makes sense that we would not want that place to be viewed negatively. It is much better for the bird to perceive it as its own room, with wonderful toys and excellent food — a sanctuary, not a prison.

You are correct that you need to gauge your Amazon parrot’s mood before you reach for him. As a rule, Amazon parrots are quite blatant when they are inclined to bite, but you have to be observant and understand what you see, before you can get the message. An Amazon parrot with eyes flashing (pinning), wings flexed and tail feathers fanned is in "display” mode, and much more likely to bite than one with a relaxed posture. When you see this kind of body language, back off for a little while, and give your pet bird Blue a chance to settle down before reaching for him.

Your Pet Bird Doesn't Enjoy Biting You
By attaching the sentiment that Blue "enjoys biting you,” you are unconsciously putting an extremely negative connotation on his behavior. This can seriously hamper your attitude toward Blue. Instead, consider this a communication breakdown — Blue is biting because he hasn’t learned a polite approach to get what he wants. I truly doubt that he "enjoys” hurting you. He just needs you to teach him a better way to communicate his needs. Once accomplished, you will both enjoy each other that much more.

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Posted: September 27, 2011, 12:00 a.m. PST

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