Ever feel like your bird is auditioning for a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? His bites may not always be what they seem, according to Laurie Hess, DVM, DABVP, owner of Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York. Dr. Hess notes that biting is the top bird behavior problem she hears about. Biting in parrots is not a common wild bird behavior. The beak is used to grasp items for balance or climbing as well as eating. A bird uses its beak like a hand. Conflicts in birds tend to be handled with body language and vocalizations not biting. Birds may bite for a number of reasons, and it is important for you to know why your bird is biting. It may influence which behavior modification techniques you use.
- Medical: An unwell bird will often want to be left alone, just as we do. If biting starts in a bird who normally does not bite, or if you see other behavior changes contact your veterinarians in Markham
- Baby bird behavior: Just as a child will ‘mouth’ everything in sight, a baby bird uses it’s beak to explore his surroundings. A young parrot may also be inadvertently taught to bite when the new owner reaches his/her hand to pick up the baby parrot. The baby bird will usually reach toward the hand with its beak as a way to grasp it and climb on. If the owner pulls his hand back too quickly, the baby realizes that to get picked up, he better grab quicker next time. And soon grabbing can turn into biting.
- Playing: When a bird is overexcited he may occasionally bite, or the bird inadvertently grasps some part of human anatomy to keep his balance
- Fear: While some birds can bite out of anger, more often the bird is using his beak out of fear. “It’s just the bird telling you he may not want to do what you want him to do, and biting is one of the few ways he has to communicate that,” says Dr. Hess. “He can’t really do much else.” In the wild the birds first response would have been ‘flight’ if startled or hurt but birds in houses with clipped wings often don’t have that option.
- Control or Dominance: Groups of birds tend to have a pecking order, and our pet birds are often no different. A bird may use biting as a way to defend his territory, and thus his status. This ‘territory’ may be a cage, another bird, or the human being to whom he is bonded. Some birds soon learn that if they bite, they get what they want, anything from a trip back to the cage where they can eat to seeing their owner dancing around and yelling in pain. They may also learn to bite to avoid doing something, such as getting their nails trimmed or being put back in their cage when what they really want is to stay out.
- Breading behavior: Sexually mature adult birds in breeding mode can become aggressive and much more protective of their mate and more likely to defend their cage as their ‘territory’. Distinguishing if biting behavior may be hormonal driven and more of a ‘phase,’ or if the biting is a sign of dominance aggression is important.
To start correcting a biting problem, the veterinarians in Markham can help you first determine the cause and correct any underlying problems such as treating an illness. Consider where, when, and to whom the biting is directed, because even if a bird is mislabeled as aggressive or angry, the bite hurts just as much and can affect the happiness of the home. Consider the other events that are going on when the biting occurs. Evaluate, also, what sort of “pay-off” the bird is receiving for biting. Next, determine what behavior you would like the bird to exhibit instead of biting, and how you can rearrange the factors that contribute to the biting. Be sure the rest of your birds needs are being met – proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, foraging and other mental activity. It will be much more difficult to change the behavior of birds who are stressed because their basic needs are not being met. Parrots respond to facial expressions and verbal praise. This type of positive reinforcement should be used when an appropriate response is given by the bird. If the bird responds inappropriately, raise your head above the bird’s level and say “no” in a normal speaking voice. Do not use a loud voice or yell. They may think you are ‘squawking,’ which they love.
The veterinarians in Markham suggest that it is best to keep a bird at slightly below your eye level. Do not allow these birds to ride on your shoulder. It puts your face, ears, eyes, and lips at risk of a serious bite. You need to learn to anticipate the biting and stop it with a stern look and command before it escalates to a bite.
If a bite occurs, reprimanding needs to be immediate and effective. If the bird is on the hand, you can drop the hand a short distance to unbalance the bird. If on the arm, the arm can be rotated causing the loss of balance. The bird should never be made to fall, just lose its balance for a second.
To control biting behaviors of birds, it is important to learn why they may bite. Then, with time and perhaps help from the veterinarians in Markham, you can help your bird be much more fun to be around. Your bird will be happier, too.
If you found this blog informative, please share it with your friends on Facebook.
Dr. Ernst Marsig, veterinarian in Markham
Practicing Veterinary Medicine in Markham for a Long and Happy Life of ALL Your Pets.
Animal Hospital of Unionville, a veterinary clinic on the north side of Hwy 7, serving all pets in Markham, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Stouffville, and North York since 1966. We are your family vets for dogs, cats, pocket pets (rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, skinny pigs, etc.), ferrets, and birds (budgies, cockatiel, parrots, amazon, cockatoo, love birds, conures, African greys, finches, canaries, etc.).
Disclaimer: No part of this website constitutes medical advice. Readers are advised to consult with their veterinarian.