This is where we answer the most common questions people might have regarding birds.
Why do birds bite?
The key to resolving biting issues is to first understand the nature and the context of the bite. Once you understand the reason, you can then determine the appropriate solution and alter the behavior. Bites can be classified in several ways:
The first question to ponder is, "was it really a bite"? Not all biting is based in aggression. For example, play biting and beak exploration is a developmental activity for young birds. Baby birds rely heavily on their beak to explore and test their surroundings. As a result, they often chew on the fingers and other interesting body parts of their caregivers (i.e., ear lobes, noses, eyebrows, etc.) Sometimes this exploration can be a little painful as they don't realize that this activity may cause discomfort.
In this instance, some gentle guidance via a firm but quiet NO and a short time out will help young birds to learn play boundaries. Also, having an alternative chewing object for distraction on hand will be very helpful in teaching them what an acceptable chewing outlet is. If young birds are prone to rough-housing, be sure to offer praise and lavish lots of positive attention when they are calm.
What are bird hormones, how do they affect them?
Hormones strike twice a year in most parrots, spring and autumn, turning your bird from a gentle angle into a rampaging monster. Or so it seems! Upon reaching sexual maturity, parrots have a single driving urge: to find a mate and make babies. It is very simple, and yet also impossible for them. Hand-raised parrots typically choose their caretaker as their mate, which, of course, is a role we can never fulfill – much to the detriment of our captive birds. (Please note: The answer is not to breed your pets, as this requires a special set up, careful diet planning and expensive nutritional care, and the ability to care for and re-home any babies.) Hormones cause a lot of parrots, including this green winged macaw, to be re-homed to rescues and sanctuaries across the world.
What stimulates hormones in captive birds?
Light – too much daylight stimulates the hormones by making a parrot think ‘spring’ all the time. Give your pet bird 12-14 hours of undisturbed sleep in the complete dark. Any artificial light does the same thing as the sun in terms of imitating good breeding conditions.
Diet – an enriched diet is part of caring for our pets, but it does also signal constant bountifulness. In other words, feeding a wide variety of nutritionally rich foods says ‘this is the perfect breeding season.’ Pellets are a key trigger – that soy stimulates hormones like nothing else. But sugary and fatty foods can do it too,depending on the individual.
Cuddling – I’ve written about the dangers of too much cuddling before. This is the time of year to stop petting your parrot outside his head, neck, and feet, if you are! It tells your bird that you are about to deliver one thing… sex.
Environment – birds will nest in just about anything. How do you know if your pet parrot is nesting? Is he or she hanging out in a dark, shadowy corner? Is he becoming aggressive over a certain place? Blankets, boxes, shelves, drawers, parrot tents, and shadowy nooks like behind the door or in the closet are all prime nesting spots to your parrot. Letting your bird hang out here encourages hormones.
What can we do?
Restrict daylight hours – again, 12-14 hours of complete darkness will help immensely.
Conversely, fill the actual days with direct sunlight (or a UV-A lamp). This helps parrots process the vitamins from their food, reducing the chance of biting, screaming, and plucking.
Swap cage and room contents around regularly to help with territoriality.
Give fewer warm, spray showers, as these imitate springtime mistings in nature (again, a signal to breed).
Consider a diet change, too, where you begin to feed a lot of chickpeas, leafy greens, carrots, etc., but skip the pellets and other proteins.
Don’t cuddle your bird, even if he or she insists upon it. Remember, doing so makes a promise you can’t uphold.
- Don’t feed warm and/or mushy foods – this is the equivalent of regurgitated food for them.
- Don’t offer food from your own mouth or hands, as birds take this the wrong way.
- Instead of cuddles, engage in some trick training – it serves as enrichment – and work on foraging to distract them.
Don’t let your parrot play in boxes, have newspaper, shredded material, or cloth to play with (they see nesting material), or hang out in dark, tight spaces.
Encourage your bird to fly as much as possible to burn off energy.
Nesting cockatoo: Knowing your bird and what’s he’s like will help you identify what you need to stop doing (or do).
What are the symptoms of a Hormonal parrot?
Trembling, with wings dropped low in a ‘begging’ posture (he or she is asking you to feed him as a mate)
- Panting when touched outside the head and neck
- Regurgitating for you or its toys
- Increased appetite
- Lifting the vent while cuddling (if female)
- Mounting your hand by gripping your thumb (if male)
- Masturbating on your or something nearby
- Showing off and flirting by flinging out the wings, doing mating dances with head-bobbing and hopping/bouncing, or making ‘heart wings’
- Plucking or barbering feathers · Territoriality over the cage, room, you, or a family member · Excess aggression, including biting, screaming, and beak-bashing
What if my parrot is regurgitating for me, or if he displays one of these signs?
If your bird is trying to mate with you, or regurgitating for you, gently but firmly put your bird down. Walk away, feeling not disgust, but friendly affection. I sometimes tell Maverick, our Senegal, ‘I love you, too, but as a friend.’ My voice lets him know that I am not upset or angry. After he stops, I instigate a hands-off training session so that we can have a positive and distracting interaction. I try not to put us in a position where my birds will become that way, but sometimes it happens anyway. If your parrot is aggressive, screaming, or being territorial, react with understanding, not frustration or anger. How must he feel, unable to fulfill his most basic instinct? It isn’t about ‘love.’ It’s about the need to reproduce. He isn’t lonely – he’s horny. It will pass.