Do You Provoke Your Bird To
by Theresa Jordan
from "The Quaker's Nest" Issue IV, July/August 1997
The problem of biting in companion parrots is a serious one. Finding an effective way to stop it is another.
Once a "cause and effect" relationship is established, biting becomes a habit and is increasingly difficult to stop. Anticipation is the most effective method of preventing this undesirable, and often painful, behavior.
Interaction with humans is one of the most important aspects of a hand-fed parrot's day-to-day environment. Indeed, it is an integral part of their social development. They are quick to learn that a particular action on their part will result in a specific reaction on the human's part. Responding to a bird's bite in any way that the bird will consider as positive will only serve to reinforce the biting. Their superior intelligence mandates that this "cause and effect" cycle must only be experienced once or twice for it to become increasingly entrenched in their behavior pattern, thereby becoming a habit. And therein lies the beginning development of a behavioral problem.
Through careful observation of your bird's environment and his response to particular aspects of it, many incidents of biting can be avoided. Birds are extremely intelligent and perceptive; biting is their way of telling you that they are unhappy about something. It is one of the few, and unfortunately effective, ways of conveying this feeling. Learn to "read" your bird's behavior, and you will effectively identify what provokes your bird to bite.
Listed below is a partial list of some of the things that may provoke your bird to bite. Again, observation is extremely important in identifying actions that your bird perceives to be "provocative behavior" by those he comes in contact with.
|Allowing a bird to maintain and defend territory in a dominant position.|
While perching in high places is not always a problem for birds that are well-socialized and trained to respond appropriately to the "Up" and "Down" commands, those that are poorly socialized and allowed to practice "flock leader" positions will undoubtably nip or bite anyone who attempts to remove them from their dominant postion.
|Cleaning or otherwise making alterations (exchanging toys, replacing perches, etc.) to the bird's cage while he is inside.|
Invading a bird's territory is viewed as aggressive behavior and a pet bird, even a tame one, may respond by biting. Remove your bird from the cage, and preferably into another room out of sight of the cage, while performing cleaning and maintenance chores.
|Attempting to touch or handle a toy that is "under attack". |
Often touching a "monster toy" that is being attacked or otherwise interrupting frenzied behavior ("emotional overload") can result in a nasty bite. This reaction is believed to be hormonal, not behavioral. Watch your bird carefully for signs of "emotional overload" and do not attempt to handle him during these times.
|Wiggling fingers or pointing directly into a bird's face|
Pointing a stern finger toward a bird while stating "No!" in a decisive voice can distract a bird from biting. Wiggly, wavy fingers, or fingers that are pulled away quickly can stimulate a bird to bite, even if they aren't pointed in the bird's face. For example, an insecure person who advances toward a bird with fingers or hand held out as a "perch" offering, and then abruptly pulls the "perch" away can stimulate a bite. This most likely stems from frustration.
|Bright or active clothing or nail polish |
Overly bright colors, such as red or bright purple, can stimulate biting behavior. Red nail polish is a frequent stimulus to biting. Also clothing that is "loud", ie: some Hawaiin styles come to mind; or fabrics that display images the bird perceives as frightening may result in biting.
|The sudden appearance of an unfamiliar animal|
Practice common sense when taking your bird into unfamiliar territory such a friend's or neighbor's home. The sudden appearance of unfamiliar, swift-moving animals such as cats or dogs can startle and frighten a bird into biting whomever is holding him.
|The altered appearance of otherwise familiar handlers|
Any change in the outward appearance (ie: wearing new glasses, a new hairstyle) of anyone who normally handles a pet bird can cause the bird to experience fear and uncertainty. Lacking familar features, a bird may view you as unknown, and therefore dangerous.
|Ignoring your bird's body language|
Careful observation of your bird's behavior and becoming familiar with his body language will assist you in enhancing your understanding of parrot psychology, and allow for a distinct advantage in recognizing behavior that clearly indicates "I'm going to bite you!" You must understand and respect that birds have "off" days just like people; and that there are certain actions that they simply will not tolerate.
A bird's beak is extremely sensitive, and is filled with nerve endings. Birds use them to explore; to experience textures, flexibility, and taste; and to test responses. A young, hand-fed bird often "beaks" different objects as s/he explores, and this will include your fingers, arms, and lips; anything that protrudes from your body. In this sense the action should not be considered as biting. The difference is in the intent. Once a bird learns that a desirable (to him, anyway) response will be gained from biting, it then becomes reinforced and he will bite to obtain that response.
Biting is probably the most rampant behavioral problem of all pet birds, and unknowing, uneducated owners have given up countless companion birds that otherwise would have been tame, loving, treasured members of the family. With an increased, ever-growing understanding of parrot psychology, it is my ultimate dream that someday we will no longer find numerous advertisements for "Pet Bird For Sale"; but only "Pet Bird Wanted".
For a another in-depth look at biting and ways to modify this behavior, please read the Quaker's Nest article entitled "The Biting Bird"; and "Once Bitten, Twice Shy " by Anne Johnson, at Winged Wisdom
©Theresa Jordan/Jordan Enterprises, 1997
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