Why do birds bite? I'm not talking about wild-caught, understandably
fearful birds---but otherwise friendly, seemingly sane, long-term companions;
and what can be done to discourage this behavior?
The bird, as most interested individuals know, is not a domesticated
animal, like a dog or a cat. It is a creature with an extremely long ancestry;
and, actually, for anyone who happens to share his or her home with a little
biting individual, it's probably not all that surprising to find that bird
ancestors were around during the time of the dinosaurs! Because of their
origins, birds react differently than domesticated animals to many situations.
There are many reasons for biting behavior, and each bird should be assessed
individually to be understood completely and corrected properly. However,
in a general sense, there are some commonly seem catalysts for this undesirable
Understanding the Bird's Point of View
One of the first things we need to remember is that hookbills are intelligent
and emotional creatures, and it is important to understand their point of
view. All birds are extremely responsive to changes or stresses within
their environment, especially those experienced by the primary humans.
For example, if an otherwise sweet and calm individual suddenly bites,
the first consideration should concern the bird's comfort: is it tired,
startled, frightened or in pain? Were there strangers in the environment
earlier who encroached upon the bird's area of comfort? Have the people
in the home been worried or emotional over personal concerns? Any of these
things can cause the bird to lash out in a way that may appear unpredictable,
but actually is the only defense available to the bird when it's experiencing
anything it perceives to be a threat.
In situations such as this, the bird needs to first be examined to make
sure that it is not ill or in pain. Secondly, recent events pertaining
to the environment can be reviewed to see if the bird is upset about something
that recently transpired. If no illness is found, the bird can be removed
to a quiet area or left alone for a while. Often, just a little solitude
is all that the bird needs to return to its more personable self.
Human Foibles and Their Effect on Birds
Human beings, with their innate tendency to misinterpret the behavior
of their animal friends, are often the primary cause of biting behavior.
For example, if people insist upon poking their fingers at birds, or moving
quickly around them, they will often be bitten. Why? If you have ever observed hook bill
interaction, a poking gesture with the beak usually means "get
away," or "I'm angry and going to pick a fight with you if you
don't leave right away." The immediate response if "fight or
flight" in nature; therefore, a threatening finger will usually be
Quick movements are simply reacted to astronomically. Birds are "programmed"
by nature to respond in a "fight or flight" manner. This is why
the natural movements of small, rowdy children are not appreciated by most
birds; they feel threatened by the children and may strike without even
thinking about it!
When people within a bird's environment are experiencing personal problems,
the bird becomes an excellent barometer for telling exactly how well the
humans are coping with the stress involved, and they will often magnify
the prevailing emotional tempo. This is because birds are flock creatures,
and are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others around them. After
being made aware of this, people frequently find themselves making much-needed
positive changes to their own behavior that they would not have made without
their bird's negative reactions, and the bird usually becomes calmer, too!
Mishandling a bird can frighten it and cause it to bite. For example,
many people do not think of what it must be like to stand on the slippery
surface of an arm. They will gesture, or move about quickly, while the
bird scrambles, like a little log roller, to keep from falling. The bird
should always be able to rest its beak against the person's torso when
being held on the hand or arm, and minimal rotational movement of the limb
is preferred to keep the bird feeling secure and comfortable.
Sex and the Single Parrot
Sexually mature parrots may become a little rowdy for short periods
of time during breeding seasons. At this time, birds will often exhibit
typical display behavior, consisting of pinpointed pupils, arched necks
and widely fanned tails, accompanied by cheerful-sounding vocalizations.
Unfortunately, their people often find them adorable when they are doing
this, and make the mistake of trying to pick up their feathered friends.
Little do they realize that the bird's behavior is indicating an "altered
state" and that any moving object within a relatively short distance
may be severely bitten! Most birds in this condition are not even aware
that they are biting the ones they love! Imagine their surprise when the
usual objects of their devotion jump around screaming and becoming angry.
During breeding season, some birds will be stimulated by visual stimuli,
such as another bird (especially of the same, or similar species), their
own reflections, or by another person or animal in the environment. Biting
due to these causes seems to be almost an unconscious response in susceptible
individuals, and situations that lead to such behavior need to be avoided
whenever possible. Challenging the bird at that time is completely counterproductive.
The best piece of advice is th just leave a bird alone when it's displaying
sexual rambunctiousness and display behavior. Everyone has "off"
days. These birds are merely in the throes of their yearly "hormonal
whoopies" and these periods pass relatively quickly. The little guys
will usually be just fine afterward.
Some birds become "stalkers". The fully flighted "kamikaze"
is probably the most alarming stalker of all. This can range from the youngster
that happens to be "feeling his oats" to the older, sexually
mature individual that has taken over the greater part of the house, including
airspace, in an attempt to defend what the bird perceives to be its own
territory and hatching site for a future squadron.
Usually, these particular hookbills are forced to bite because the people
have the audacity to wander around in what the bird perceives to be its
own domain. If accosted unawares by such an individual, the duck-and-cover
technique works nicely, accompanied by shrieking if desired. Arm flailing
is discouraged, even if it is unintentional, as it may harm the bird physically.
Assorted weaponry, such as tennis rackets or fly swatters, is strictly forbidden,
A key ingredient in stopping this kamikaze behavior would be to clip
the little pilot's wing feathers, rendering it a pedestrian like the rest
of the household. Some pouting may be seen immediately after clipping;
however, if the bird is taught to play on a playgym or hanging perch in
a room where the family spends most of their time, it will usually adjust
quite well to its loss of rank. In fact, being flock creatures, they are
usually much happier once they realize that they don't need to defend a
complete house anymore. Clipped kamikaze pilots will behave like retired
tycoons that can finally lay sprawled on the beach sipping pina coladas
On a more serious note regarding free-flight: Notwithstanding aggression,
many things in a normal home can be dangerous to birds, and the fact is
that most of us are not able to supervise them constantly. Also, a bird
that is given clear boundaries will be a happy individual whether or not
it happens to be fully flighted. Clipped birds can still exercise by flapping
their wings while hanging on to their perches or their human's hands.
Interestingly, some hand-fed, domestically bred birds do not seem to
want to fly, even when given the opportunity. If they can fly, these individuals
will at most make very short flights here or there to join their human
companions. Some bird breeders, by the way, have wonderful environments
where their babies can fly and develop their chest muscles without possibility
of injury. This is a different situation entirely, and usually quite unlike
a typical, single-bird household.
Stalkers are not always airborne, however. There is also the issue of
the pedestrian stalker. This is usually a bird that has claimed most floorspace
and furniture in the home as its own. As with the kamikaze, the pedestrian
stalker is duty-bound to defend its territory against interlopers, even
if they are the ones who happen to be paying the bills. Humans sharing
their home with one of these birds are usually conspicuous by their tendency
toward wearing closed-toe shoes and long pants, even in hot weather. They
also gingerly avoid furniture and objects claimed by the bird!
Stalkers can be placed in their cages and ignored for 10 minutes or
so, before being released to a perch or playgym. With a persistent individual,
whenever they are out of the cage it may be necessary to place them on
a playgym that is impossible for them to climb down from. Sometimes, this
is all that is required in order to stop negative behavior in these little
What about biting baby parrots? Some people save for months to be able
to afford their dream companion. Unfortunately, the object of desire will
sometimes suddenly latch onto the "dreamer", shocking him or
her into a hurt and angry reality.
Like all babies, baby birds have a "beaking" stage, similar
to that of a teething child. A large assortment of toys should be provided,
especially toys that some sort of "give" to them. This time is
an important part of the babies' development and it enables them to test
their jaw strength.
Also, it is not a good idea for parrots to grow up believing that faces,
hands and fingers are teething devices. They can touch fingers, hands and
faces with their beaks, and even hold parts of them gently, but clamping
down needs to be discouraged immediately. Remember that they are babies
and do it gently, either by stopping play activities for a minute or two,
while looking away, or by offering other, more acceptable toys for them
to hold or chew.
Never strike a baby bird, even with one finger, or grab
the beak and shake it. This will only serve in making the bird hand-shy
and can lead to striking and biting behavior when the bird becomes older.
Every once in a while, an assertive youngster will latch onto people because
it is getting an early start in the dominance game and wants to see its
person's knees buckle in submission. Gently but firmly remove the beak
while saying "No" in a firm voice, and give them "the evil eye".
Don't scold or yell.
The exception is any baby parrot that is very clumsy. Often, they are
trying to tell us that we are not holding them correctly and that they
do not feel secure. The only way that these birds can convey their discomfort
is to nip us. In that situation, the bird should not be corrected, but
the person should alter the way he or she handles it. Babies should be
held properly, on the hand or wrist, with their beak or chest resting
against the person's torso to provide stability.
If a baby bird is biting, it may be tired. If it is, just like any other
tired baby, it will be grumpy. Ask yourself: Is it frightened, uncomfortable,
clumsy or hungry? Bird use their beaks to express themselves. People have
to be smart enough to understand what their feathered "kids"
are trying to tell them.
It's important to mention some general principles conducive to good
behavior. The most important thing to remember is the fact that hookbills
that perch in high places (including shoulders) are being "told"
by their people that they (the birds) are the dominant individuals in the
relationship and can do as they wish. If a bid is naturally good natured,
then the height issue will not be as important; however, most individuals
will attempt to assert some form of control - especially by biting - when
they're permitted to stay in high places. Keeping the top of a bird's head
at your chest level is very helpful in maintaining control and discouraging
A second consideration is relative to respecting the bird's feelings
and natural genetic programming, as well as our responsibility to them.
For example, if the bird is grumpy, it may be having a bad day or may not
be feeling well; maybe it's hormones are rampaging and it feels out of
sorts. Sometimes grumpy behavior surfaces if the people in the home have
not been around as much or have not been as interactive as usual. It is
unrealistic to expect anyone to be "on" constantly, especially
if they have to live with humans!
For birds that do not typically bite, examine the environment and see
if you have done anything to upset them Respect their right to have an
"off" day. Talk to them and feed them, but don't handle them
excessively when they don't feel like interacting with you. Usually, they
will be back to their normal selves in a day or two.
Finally, confrontation is never necessary for correcting biting behavior.
For random biting, the "earthquake" method works quite well;
however, in many cases, isolating the bird in its cage (or another room)
for short periods of time is just as effective. Above all, let your bird
know that you love it very much. Remember, it is your friend. Give it the
same respect and understanding that you would extend to any other individual
that you care for. Often, this is all that is needed! Above all, as always,
love the bird for what it is, not for what you want it to be.
Jordan Enterprises/respective authors 1997
Certificate No: 1170
First Registered: 3/1/1997