(reprinted from "NewsBeak" avian newsletter)
What are some of the inappropriate quick fix "cures"
recommended for parrot behavior problems and why don't they really provide
Yelling and Screaming
This is a totally ineffective response but it will get any parrot's
attention immediately. The bird will probably stop dumbfounded in mid-yell
with its beak wide open looking at you as if you had lost your mind. This
is one of the greatest drama rewards possible and parrots learn quickly
to scream, yell, bite or anything else to get your to scream at them. Most
parrots thrive on drama and love it when their owners get excited.
Squirting with Water
This usually stops the bird from doing what it was doing at the moment
but provides only a temporary distraction. If it is done with aggression,
squirting a bird can create serious problems in the parrot-human bond.
It's also a quick way to make birds hate their showers or baths. It is
really important for their feather condition and health for our birds to
be misted, showered or bathed. Using a spray bottle or squirt gun to punish
them may make this necessary part of grooming more difficult.
Banging on Cage, Throwing a Shoe, Book, Metal Cans, Etc. At
This is only a distraction and a terrific drama reward for the excitable
bird. The more timid parrot can become terrified by this attack on its
territory. It may stop the bird from screaming momentarily but will not
teach it anything about not screaming.
Grabbing the Beak and Shaking It or "Thunking" It
This "quick fix" has several problems. First of all, birds
beak-wrestle to greet each other, play and even as a sign of affection.
Dogs investigate each other by sniffing, parrots will examine each other
very carefully and often touch beaks to learn more about one another. The
tip of the beak has a bundle of encapsulated nerve endings called a corpuscle
that transmits an incredible amount of information to the bird's brain
about what it is touching. So if grabbing the beak is done gently, it will
not serve as "punishment" because the bird will most likely perceive
it as a greeting or affection. Some parrots will actually solicit beak wrestling
by biting their owner as a game if they are continually rewarded with this
kind of attention. A sexually mature bird will often interpret "beak
wrestling" as sexual foreplay--certainly not an effective punishment.
If grabbing a beak is done with aggression, the owner can ruin the trust
needed for a healthy bond between parrot and owner. Grabbing the beak too
hard or hitting a bird on the beak can cause serious injury and even brain
Hitting The Bird or Slapping It In The Face
This is UNACCEPTABLE aggression and will ruin the parrot/human bond.
There is absolutely no excuse for hitting a parrot. Parrots are highly
empathic, matching their energy with ours. A bird that is treated in an
aggressive manner will respond with aggression. With extreme aggression,
the bird may develop extreme fear of humans and develop "zombie-like"
"Punishing" by Putting In The Cage
Do we really want to turn our parrot's home and place of security into
a "jail cell"? If a bird starts to bite, the owner is often told
to punish him by putting him in his cage and covering it. Parrots do have
a sense of cause and effect but it seems to be immediate. The main problem
with the "quick-fix punishment" is that the immediate response
to the bite is what the bird will relate to. If the owner yells and screams
as they grab the bird to take him across the room to his cage, this drama
will be what has a long term effect of the bird. By the time he is put
in the cage, he will have no idea why he is there. Another misunderstanding
has to do with the amount of time a bird has to spend in its cage when
it is being "punished"------"When he bites, I put him
in his cage to punish him......." Parrots are intelligent but
I doubt if they have the ability to think to themselves, "I bit my
human friend's hand and now I am being punished by having to be in my cage.
Gee, I don't like being in my cage --- I guess I will never bite anyone
The second part of the owner's sentence is often...".....the
harder he bites, the longer he has to stay in his cage!" This
implies that parrots have the same sense of time that we do. We humans
can regret the past and dread the future, but much of parrot comprehension
seems to be based more on immediate association. I always imagine a parrot
sitting on his perch inside the covered cage looking at his little birdie
wristwatch thinking, "Gee, I must have been really baaaddddd......I've
been in here a whole hour!"
Some birds do not like being in their cage and will be unhappy there.
I doubt that they will think of it as "punishment" and they will
probably not relate their previous bad behavior to being put there. On
the other hand, if a parrot bites and is given a verbal command such as
"NO, BAD" again, the bird may associate the words with bad behavior
and being put in the cage. This can add some credibility to this form of
discipline. However, there are more effective means of discipline to employ.
"Punishing" by Putting The Parrot In The Bathtub or
Some Other Far Away Place
Again, it is doubtful that the bird will be aware of why he is in the
bathtub and the drama getting him there may actually be a reward.The bathtub
may actually be a pretty scary place to be and may be intimidating enough
to cause emotional trauma in some parrots. They will most likely behave
when they are in the bathtub--what can they do to misbehave in such alien
Covering The Cage
This has the same inherent faults of a "punishment" as the
previous one. By the time the owner dramatically runs over to cover the
cage, the bird has probably been distracted from screaming anyway. Covering
the cage will most likely be associated with the owner's drama rather than
with the bird's screaming. The bird will probably remain quiet as long
as the cage is covered because of the deprivation of attention, not because
it understands the cause and effect of the punishment. Tragically, too
many people actually keep their bird's cage covered for long periods of
time. This can be seriously damaging to a bird's health--both physical
The Dark Room
This is similar to covering the cage as "punishment". It is
only effective as deprivation of attention and many birds will not scream
simply because there is nothing to do. Instead, taking a nap seems to be
the best (and most logical) idea under the circumstances. Most parrots
will naturally scream as a "call to the flock" when there is
a lot of excitement going on in the household. If the owners are planning
a party or anticipating a lot of unusual commotion, placing the bird in
a quiet room before hand to avoid problems during the event would be a
good idea. This is not a punishment but a way to avoid the over excitement
that will cause problems. It makes more sense to anticipate situations
that may over excite a bird, than it does to try and punish him for doing
what comes naturally. Too much time in a dark room can create problems
for the bird so he should not be placed there for long periods of time
or for everyday common events.
Putting The Bird In A Box Or Dark Closet Shelf
This is another variation of the dark room "quick fix" and
involves placing a biting or screaming bird in a dark box. Certainly no
parrot can misbehave when he is shut up in a dark container. But again,
this will not teach a bird anything about misbehaving.
Flapping The Wings
Exercise is an essential part of any bird's life. Holding them and having
them flap their wings can be a positive way for them to improve muscle
tone and burn up calories. This can be a positive experience for most birds
in the parrot family. Using it as a "punishment" may actually
provide a drama reward for a bird that enjoys this form of exercise. For
other birds, it may be inappropriately aggressive and cause a fear response
that may create problems in its relationship with the owner.
Dropping The Bird To The Ground Or Throwing It On The Floor
This could be simply a distraction, a drama reward or if it is done
too aggressively, an abusive trust-destroying technique that could cause
the bird injury. While it is true that many birds are insecure on the floor,
others may actually bite because they don't want to be with the person
and appreciate the instant freedom. The technique of quickly jerking your
hand when a bird bites can be effective as a distraction and may even work
as a discipline if done immediately and accompanied by the "evil eye".
Buying Another Bird Or Turning Your Pet Into A Breeder
This is probably the least effective "quick fix" of all for
a variety of reasons. It is usually suggested by someone who wants to sell
you a bird or wants your bird for their breeding program. While there is
nothing wrong with people having more than one bird, they should buy another
bird if they want one and not as a "cure" for their bird's behavioral
problems. The owner should work on their first bird's behavioral problems
rather than complicating things by the addition of another bird that will
probably end up with problems too. This is a "double your trouble"
measure that will not make life easier for the bird or its owner. Two birds
are harder to care for and keep tame than one. Providing a pet parrot with
an avian companion will often create less bonded, less tame birds without
extra work to keep them that way.
Treat The Cause, Not The Symptoms
"Quick fixes" treat the symptoms of unacceptable bird behavior.
They have little long-term effect and may actually create more problems
that will continue because the underlying cause remains. The foundation
of all serious behavioral problems in pet parrots is a bird in control
of its own life--and doing a bad job of it. Behavioral problems are much
easier to prevent than they are to solve. Establishing "nurturing
dominance" at an early age by providing rules and guidance will help
to guarantee a well-behaved bird. Parrots do not know how to be good pets.
We have to teach them. Without our nurturing guidance, they will spend
their lives in confusion. Becoming the "flock leader" will allow
you to guide your parrot's behavior. The simple use of the "UP"
and "DOWN" commands whenever you pick your bird up and put him
down is the best way to start.
Anticipation Of Need
Even non-aggressive "quick fix" behavioral methods treat the
symptoms and not the underlying cause of the behavior. For example, if
a bird starts screaming each time the owner sits down to eat dinner, they
need to realize why this behavior is so consistent instead of punishing
the bird in some "quick fix" manner. Knowing a little bit about
parrot psychology can help owners to understand the underlying cause of
this behavioral problem. Parrots are social eaters and need to eat with
their flock. If parrot owners (or flock) sit down to a meal without refreshing
the food in a bird's bowl first, then their bird is likely to scream because
one of its basic needs was not considered. Covering the bird's cage or squirting
it with water will not solve the problem. However, if his owners consistently
provide him with fresh food before they sit down to dinner, they can prevent
the problem from occurring in the first place.
Another classic example of "anticipation of need" is when
the owner comes home. Parrots are very social creatures and if they are
separated from their flock or mate, they have special, even ritualized,
greetings when the human partners return. If the owner comes home from
a hard day at work and ignores her parrot as she enters the house, chances
are the parrot will scream for attention because one of its basic social
needs is not being met. Finally, the tired owner gets frustrated and starts
yelling at the bird to shut up. The bird's screaming behavior is rewarded
with drama and a "call to the flock" which is what it needed
in the first place. This type of negative learning can be avoided if the
owner consistently greets the parrot as soon as he or she walks into the
Disapproval and Discipline --- Not Punishment
Parrots are highly responsive to their owner's energy. If they are strongly
bonded, pet birds do react to their owner's approval or disapproval. Parrots
are aware of the expression on their owner's face. An immediate disapproving
dirty look will have far more effect on a parrot that is misbehaving than
any of the "quick fixes". This is known as the "Evil Eye".
It may be effective to accompany the evil eye with a sharp, loud, "NO"
-- but adding other words will create too much drama. If the bird is with
you and is biting, the "evil eye" accompanied by a firm "UP"
command requiring the bird to step up on your hand will establish immediate
control and work very successfully as discipline.
I do not believe that parrots really understand the concept of punishment
because it requires a sense of long-term cause and effect, a sense of the
continuation of time and a fairly long attention span. They do, however,
react in a positive way to discipline. The difference is the immediacy
of discipline and the lack of drama it presents. However, discipline will
not work successfully if you are not in control of your parrot's behavior.
The bird must follow your guidance for discipline to be successful. The
contradictory concept of a "submissive leader" is an oxymoron.
Understanding Why and How
Instead of giving in to the temptation of using "quick fixes"
to try and solve your parrot's behavioral problems, try to understand the
more complex ways to prevent and solve them. When a parrot bites, understand
that most of the time the biting is a confused response to mixed messages
from the person handling them. Learn to give your parrot a clear message
about what you expect from him. When a parrot screams excessively, it is
often because a basic need is not being met or because they have been taught
to do so with a drama reward. Try to understand what they need and stop
responding in a way that creates more drama. When a parrot plucks for behavioral
reasons, it is often because they are insecure about change in their lives.
Learn how to gradually introduce them to change so that it is safe and
Individual behavioral problems usually have a complex origin. Trying
to understand why a bird behaves in a negative manner will help the owner
guide their pet beyond that behavior. Anticipating a parrot's basic needs
will often prevent serious behavioral problems from developing. The "quick
fixes" may seem easy but they are usually not effective. The more
complex understanding of why problem behaviors exist may seem more complicated
but will actually make it easier to provide the guidance that will create
a long-term positive change in your parrot's life.
Jordan Enterprises/respective authors 1997
Certificate No: 1170
First Registered: 3/1/1997