We have three African grey parrots and one Goffin’s cockatoo. Sweetie (one of the African greys) has come to the conclusion that I am "her human” and will not allow any of the other parrots near me. She is starting to display aggressive behavior and strikes out (nipping) at me if I show attention to any of the other parrots. In order to interact with the flock, I must confine her to her cage, as she will go after the other birds.
All four birds are free to walk around their room and the outdoor aviary when we are home. They are outside their cages approximately eight hours a day and go in and out as they choose. The parrots get along fairly well until I enter the room, and then the fighting begins. My husband spends four days a week with them and I spend three (I work). He states they are different pet birds with him (of course).
You did not say what ages and sexes these pet birds are, so I will have to work without such important information. For instance, do we know for a fact that African grey, Sweetie is a female?
As I see it, the first issue concerns why Sweetie has concluded that you are "her human.” You need to analyze your interactions with her. Do you pet her down her back and under her wings? Does she regurgitate for you? Does she do a little dance for you where she rocks back and forth with her wings drooping while she makes funny little wuffling-type noises?
If any of those things are true, your African grey parrot does not just consider you her human, she considers you her mate. To counteract this serious miscommunication, refrain from any such touching, and move away anytime she acts amorous. You want to be Sweetie’s friend and teacher, not her mate. As my IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants) colleague and certified parrot behavior consultant Hilla Niemann suggested, "Your communication should be purely intellectual.”
Niemann suggested trimming Sweetie’s wing feathers slightly and leaving the other birds fully flighted to make it more difficult for her to launch attacks at the others, while giving them ample opportunities to escape from her aggression.
Get Your African Grey Parrot Foraging
Niemann also suggested getting Sweetie on a strict food regimen, feeding her pellets twice daily and making her work for all her other food via foraging toys. Foraging toys and activities can help distract her from you. I would also get your African grey involved in trick training, which can assist in redefining your relationship from mate to teacher. For both her mental health and yours, a teacher-student bond would be ideal.
Certified parrot behavior consultant Jamie Whitaker and Niemann agreed that since Sweetie rules the roost, you should not try to change her position in your little flock. Let her be the first bird by feeding and greeting her before the other birds.
Niemann also recommended keeping a diary to identify patterns in Sweetie’s antagonism. Her body language should indicate an escalation of hostility; so you can offer treats and special foraging toys to diffuse the violence before it begins.
Accomplishing many of these changes requires that you cage your flock for more hours of the day, especially in regard to Sweetie’s food and foraging regimens. This will not be a problem for them if they have the roomy cages they deserve along with fascinating enrichment and foraging opportunities with which to keep them intently occupied.
While you are implementing these changes, use your power as Sweetie’s favorite to dissuade antagonism between the birds. If Sweetie makes an aggressive move toward one of the others, say her name quietly but firmly, and turn your back on her momentarily. This will likely express to her immediately that you are displeased with her behavior. Smiling and reinforcing Sweetie’s lack of aggression will illustrate behaviors you prefer.
Stationing: Asking Pet Birds To Stay
Station training (or "stationing”) can also be quite useful in this situation. Using operant conditioning, station training means to teach an animal to stay in one location. For instance, my friend Joanie Doss taught her food-motivated Amazons to stay on a back perch while she put food bowls in their cages. This enabled her to avoid getting bitten in their rush to get dinner. A good article about operant conditioning training can be found athttp://psyeta.org/jaaws/full_articles/6.3/colahan.pdf.
With station training, Whitaker suggests you choose stations that are as neutral as possible. This might be difficult if their area is small but well worth the effort. However, teaching the birds to station on their own cages is unlikely to decrease Sweetie’s aggressive territoriality.