March 2000 Magazine
Did he really bite? A common definition of a bird bite is: "If it's not bleeding profusely, it's a pinch not a bite. And, if it doesn't need stitches, he's still a pet."
Macaws and Cockatoos are experts at pinching without breaking the skin to get attention. Amazons, especially youngsters that are recently weaned, may get into a feeding frenzy when they are hungry and munch everything within reach. The frenzy may resemble a school of piranhas all in one beak. Amazons and Poicephalus can also become over-stimulated making war on their toys and attack anything that moves close to them. African Grey and Senegal Parrots may become frightened and bite in defense. This fear biting may become a phobia and continue long past the original fright. I have been told that Conures will sometimes bite when they do not want to be moved either into or out of their cage. We have only raised a few Conures, so I can't vouch for this.
Many birds seem fascinated with human ears and think they should be removed. Of course, these are generalizations - any species of bird may exhibit biting behavior for any of these reasons.
Find out why your bird is biting. Like many bad habits, we may teach our birds to bite by giving them what they want when they bite. The hungry Amazon learns that a bite will get him back to his cage where the food is kept. The excited Amazon or Poicephalus learns that you will join in the war games by screaming and jumping and flapping when he bites. The fearful Grey or Senegal learns that you will go away and leave him alone when he bites.
If you can anticipate when your bird might bite, simply avoid the situation. Feed the baby before he gets frantic. Don't leap onto the battlefield when the war is in full swing. If a bird is afraid, take a lower perch for yourself by sitting down, don't stare at him, talk quietly and reassure him until he is comfortable. Now is a good time to sing for him.
All young birds go through a teething stage when they learn how to use their beaks to climb and to interact with the world. Remember that birds do not have hands and must use their beaks, so don't punish your bird for normal feeling, tasting, climbing or "preening you" behavior. Just let him know that he needs to be gentle. When your bird grabs hard enough to hurt you, yell "BEAK!" in his ear. You can't make a long drawn-out paragraph out of that word like you can with "Owwww" or "Nooooo". You want a quick alarm sound. Don't make a big deal out of it. He's learning how hard he can hang on without hurting you. You don't want a song in this situation. Sing to him when he's being good.
If he persists in grabbing too hard, keep the bird at your waist level, on your hand - not on your shoulder, and if he still acts like you are lunch, drop your hand down about one inch until he loses his balance a bit. Don't move far enough to make the bird fall. You want to get his attention. You don't want to scare him or hurt him. Better yet, train your baby to stay on your hand where you have the control position, and avoid 90% of biting problems. In other words, don't fall into the "Captain Hook syndrome" of carrying the bird around on your shoulder all the time. We all know who had the brains in that duo.
The final option is to put the bird in a cage for 10-minutes of "time out". Completely ignore him during this ten minutes. Turn your back on him and don't talk to him. This banishment from the flock is a very severe form of punishment for a bird. Because the flock represents safety, this punishment should not be used lightly. If your bird was hungry and wanted back in his cage to eat, pay more attention next time and put him back before he bites. We don't want him to learn to bite to get back to his cage for a quick snack either.
NEVER, NEVER HIT YOUR BIRD. Birds do not understand physical punishment. Hurting your bird will make him afraid of you. If you want a loving pet, never thump him on the beak or hurt him. He should see you as his friend and refuge.
Here are some suggestions for a bird that continues biting. When you start to pick him up, move your hand right through his body. Let's see if I can explain this. Stand in front of the bird, hands at your sides. When he is looking at you, say, "UP!", and move your hand toward him. Don't stop moving your hand when you get to him until your hand is about three inches *behind* his perch. Move firmly and smoothly. Do not hesitate at any point after your hand starts moving. Do not move slowly either. Give him a choice of stepping up quickly with no time to bite or hanging upside down from the perch because your hand moved right through where his body was. Don't hit or hurt him, just move firmly. As soon as he is on your hand, with or without very much balance, move him out of the cage. Throughout the entire motion, keep your thumb tucked under your other fingers. In other words, don't tempt him with a convenient target. Some other things to try are:
All pets require training and work to become the best companions. Birds are no exception. Most of all, enjoy your bird.
- Try picking him up from the back. That is, reach behind him and tell him, "UP!", so he steps back instead of forward.
- Try picking him up with the other hand. If you've been picking him up with your left hand, try using the right hand.
- Distract him with one hand while picking him up with the other hand. Wiggle the fingers of your left hand about a foot in front of him and to your left. Reach in with your right hand and tell him, "UP!" while he's looking at your wiggling fingers.
- Hold a longish toy or a perch in your left hand and offer it to him while picking him up with your right hand. In other words, stick something else in his beak instead of your thumb.
- Ladders: Whenever mine try to get stubborn, a short game of ladders usually works. Ladders is "UP", "UP", "UP", "UP", from one hand to the other about six "UP"s total. You want to establish that you are still the one in charge. The trick is to do it enough times so he knows it's your idea AND to stop before he rebels. Keep your hands low, moving the one he's on down, so you don't end up with him in your face. Try these things one at a time until you find a method that works for you.
Winged Wisdom Note: Kelly Tucker is a pet owner and breeder of many species of exotic birds. She has bred over 500 birds at Tucker Farms, her MAP certified aviary. Kelly is the author of "The Birdkeeper's Legislative Handbook" and has written articles for many major bird publications including Bird Talk and Parrot World. She is also in demand as a speaker on topics such as bird care, breeding, safety and legislation. Kelly is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Amazona Society, the Avicultural Society of America and the American Federation of Aviculture.
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