Bird behavior characterized as hostile or antagonistic, often culminating in a nip or bite. A bird might lunge or fly at an object or person with beak open and may or may not bite.
Threat behaviors are characterized by specific body language, such as elevated feathers on the nape of the neck, eyes flashing to show excitement, open beak, fanned tail feathers.
Body feathers may be elevated to make the bird look larger and more dangerous. Like a dog growling, this bird is clearly stating its willingness to bite if the threat is not withdrawn.
A frightened bird may also present with feathers held tight against its body, eyes wide, neck extended. A bird showing this type of body language will likely bite if cornered. These behaviors fall into the category of “fear-based aggression.”
One can also see aggression as a “learned defense.” In situations like this, the bird repeatedly tries to communicate to the owner that it does not like what the owner is doing – such as petting when the bird does not wish this type of interaction. If the human does not understand the bird’s communication (e.g. an African grey parrot that firmly, but gently, pushes a person’s hand away), the bird may finally resort to violence to get its point across. If the human then withdraws, the bird will likely conclude that aggression is the best technique for communication with this person.
Aggression is often a defensive response to fear of a perceived danger, or an offensive or defensive protection of territory and/or mate.
Analyze the situation in which the bird becomes aggressive to ascertain the bird’s motivation. If it is afraid, people need to approach more slowly. Talking in a soft and friendly voice, they should watch the bird’s body language carefully and back off as soon as the bird again shows fear. With birds that are food motivated, special treats can often encourage a bird to approach the person voluntarily.
Territorial aggression is an instinctive behavior, and it is best dealt with by stepping around the problem instead of confronting it head-on. For example, to avoid cage territorial aggression when servicing a parrot’s cage, owners can allow the parrot to climb away from the cage (onto a playgym, etc), prior to servicing the cage. An alternative would be to perch train the bird using positive reinforcement so owners can safely remove a territorial-aggressive parrot to another location prior to cleaning the cage. This circumvents the necessity of putting one’s hand into the cage of a territorial bird.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Behavior Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.