Birds and Biting
Ask any bird owner and they will probably tell you that the most serious bird behavior problem is biting. This is especially true with the larger birds whose strong jaw and hooked bills can inflict considerable damage and pain. Most biting behaviors can be classified as fear, aggression, territorial, conditioned, or mate related.
When most birds were wild-caught, fear biting was a bigger problem. Today, most birds are raised in captivity. However, birds that have been raised with little human interaction in captivity will still have fear problems. Finally, even birds that are hand-reared and more acclimated to human beings can still develop fear-related behaviors. Some, such as African Grays, seem to be naturally more cautious and fearful around humans.
Fear biters can be recognized by their attachment to the cage. They are unwilling to leave that safe environment and when approached, may run away from or scoot past your hand. They get very stressed when handled and may squawk, fight, and even pant. Excessive wing trims and the inevitable clumsiness and falls that accompany them are a good way to create a fear biter. Careful trims and lots of treats and patient handling can sometimes help a fear biter become more social.
Birds are highly intelligent and will learn to manipulate their owner quickly. An owner who withdraws their hand the first time a bird offers to bite will condition the animal to bite to get their way. Not surprisingly, the bigger the bird, the more common the problem seems to be. As with many other species of animals, if you don’t appear to be in control, birds will be more than happy to take over.
Conditioned biters need to have their wings trimmed both figuratively and literally. In addition, they should never be allowed to ride on the owner’s shoulder. One way to prevent this behavior is to place a towel on the shoulder and use that to safely remove the bird if needed. If you are too afraid to offer a hand, then gloves or a perch should be used to practice step up without biting. Do not hit the bird on the beak. Instead, redirect biting behavior by giving another command which can be rewarded when obeyed. If the owner is unable to establish control, the bird may have to be rehomed.
These are the birds that defend their cage by biting. Territorial aggression should occur only when the bird is in or on the cage. Consistent training and handling are an important step in curing this type of biting. More time spent with the owner and less time in the cage will help as well. Use of a separate cage for night time sleeping and daytime play can also be helpful.
Many birds bond closely with one person in the family. They may consider this person to be their mate and behave aggressively if they feel other family members are competing for “their” person. Again, training and consistent handling by all family members will help to decrease bond-related biting. Unpleasant jobs should be done by the favorite and treat doled out by others. Again, these birds should be kept off the shoulder. Play is good but too much cuddling can be misinterpreted.
Just like us, birds need to get a good night’s rest. A bird kept up late watching television, could turn into a tired, grumpy biter. Birds need to have at least 10 hours a day in a dark, quiet room. Owners need to keep that in mind when deciding where to place their bird’s cage.
Remember, if the biting is extreme, use gloves, perches, or towels. Also, changing established negative behaviors requires plenty of time, patience, confidence, and consistency on the part of the handler. In the worst cases, where the owner is unable to establish a safe relationship, a new home may be the best choice for everyone.