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Foot-Biting Cockatoos

Follow these tips if your cockatoo is biting feet, and trying to take over the house.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Q: We have a re-homed Moluccan cockatoo named Winston that we have had for about six months. He does not like men. He is becoming territorial and goes after my husband’s feet and seriously bites. I am the only one who can handle him. He kept taking things behind a big pot and trying to make a nest with it. Now he has claimed under the computer desk as his territory. This has started in the last couple of weeks and has been getting worse. Help!

Woman with kitten
If your Moluccan cockatoo is becoming aggressive, it might be due to hormones.
A: When animals live together in a society, compromises are necessary; this is especially true when mixed-species groups live together in a human household. My little society is a good example. It is comprised of two cats, one blue-and-gold macaw, one husband and me. Each of us have special places of our own, and each compromises with the others to minimize friction.

My cats have free rein of the house, and enjoy every inch of it. The only place that is avoided is the macaw’s cage, as they do not wish to enter there! They are not allowed on the tables where we eat, nor are they allowed to sleep on my husband's pillow.

The macaw has her large bird cage and, unlike the cats, she is allowed to join us at the table to eat. She is not, however, allowed to steal food, nor is she allowed to traipse through our dinners. She has her own plate and if she wishes to stay at the table, she eats what is served her. We do not mess around in cat and parrot territories, nor do they steal or play in anyone else’s food.

Compromise. It works quite well.

You need some compromises in your home as well. Your husband has every right to use the computer when he wishes, not just when a cockatoo allows access. From my experience, cockatoos (especially males) should not be allowed on the floor at all because, unlike many other parrot species, they can get incredibly aggressive down there. Besides, human feet are fragile things and can be incredibly damaged by the extremely dangerous beak of a large cockatoo.

Why should Winston have rights over a person’s space like this? It would not be acceptable for your husband to move into Winston’s cage, nor is it acceptable for your Moluccan cockatoo to disallow your husband access to the computer desk. I suggest that you not allow him under the desk at all, as nothing good can come of it. Why should he out rank your husband in this situation?

Turning Off Cockatoo Hormones
The nesting behavior you describe needs to cease. Colleague Mattie Sue Athan theorized that reproductive hormonal aggression can be decreased if rainforest parrot species like Indonesian cockatoos are convinced it is the rainy season, as no breeding happens then. Start heavily misting your Moluccan cockatoo twice a day until he calms down, and then mist him daily to keep him calm. Stop feeding abundant amounts and varieties of food — this further encourages breeding, as plentiful food means it’ll be easy to raise babies.

Certified parrot-behavior consultant Jamie Whittaker of ABC Birds in Houston suggests feeding fewer and smaller treat portions. "You can feed a good balance and a varied diet without making it look like Thanksgiving every day.” Whittaker also observed that eliminating fruit from the diet is another positive step when trying to stop reproductive behaviors.

You also need to stop petting this Moluccan cockatoo if you are doing that. Body petting is a strong sexual stimulant for many species of parrots, especially cockatoos. As Whittaker put it, "The more you hold and cuddle an adult male cockatoo, the more likely you are to experience a terrible bite. Russian Roulette would probably be a less dangerous pastime.”

Trick training is an excellent way to redirect your relationship from cuddling to learning fun things. If you want to cuddle, get a Maltese terrier!

From my experience with parrots, the more space you give them, the more they will take, and this can result in your Moluccan appropriating your entire home. This is not to your advantage, nor is it good for the cockatoo. If allowed, he is quite likely to lose yet another home. After all, why should your husband wish to continue to live with this creature?

The fact that this problem is getting worse is a pattern I have seen repeatedly. Advice from a certified parrot-behavior consultant can be helpful. You can find such people (and there aren’t many) through the website of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants here. Good luck, and thanks for giving this complicated cockatoo a chance!

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Reader Comments
It's an interesting article, but only addresses the male. Our male U2 is not the problem. Rather, it is our female who is floor traipsing and foot biting. So cut back the treats (no more biscotti), and cut back the veggies too?

We're building an aviary in the back, and both birds really enjoy being sprinkled with the hose like it's raining. So far, I've been doing time outs with her. Why all of a sudden though? The first time she drew blood and ended up wrapped in a towel with a glass nail file having her beak and toenails filed down. Now she bites but doesn't break skin. Still not acceptable. I know one should not react to a bite, because negative attention is still attention, and nobody here touches these birds below the neck. We know better. But this is new behavior for a rescue we've had since December. She's a sweetie, very tame and until just this week, never bit anything.

I guess no more playing "cave" under the blanket which she enjoys but obviously produces an undesirable outcome.
Lisa, Leander, TX
Posted: 8/23/2014 5:50:11 PM
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