3 Examples Of The Unexpected Parrot Bite And What You Can Do To Avoid It

3 Examples Of The Unexpected Parrot Bite And What You Can Do To Avoid It

 December 31st, 2009
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Blue and Gold Macaws

We have all fallen victim to the unforeseen parrot bite at one time or another.  Usually, our feelings are hurt worse than our flesh.  The only thing you can think to say at the time is: “What the…?!”  Here are some common scenarios that are typical of the “unexpected” or “unprovoked” bite:

1) You’re enjoying some quiet out of cage time with the eclectus and a good book.  You are stretched out on the couch and your sweet little bird is preening at your shoulder.  Out of the blue, you have a nose piercing…
“Out of cage” time and time spent with your parrot are two different things.  The time your bird spends on it’s kitchen perch watching you do the dishes cannot be a substitute for hands-on, interactive play, training and communication.  While out of cage time is enjoyable for your bird, time spent engaging your bird is more important.  It is stimulating, creative and an important part of  your bonding process.
I have always been amazed at just how patient my parrots are with my “human-ness” and my hectic life.  They put up with a lot, but even the most easy going of my birds will let me know when enough is enough.  If we don’t pay attention to the body language and sure signs of discontent, it would seem like their mood turned on a dime, catching us completely off guard.
This is likely the cause of the above “unexpected” bite.  It is probable that the eclectus was waiting for interaction from it’s owner, and as it was perched on the shoulder, out of the line of sight, the signals were missed.  A bite may have been the only way left to get the attention of his owner who was absorbed in a book.

Male Eclectus Parrot

2) Your african grey is contentedly pulling a one-footer on his favorite perch in the back corner of his cage.  You walk up to the cage and politely invite him out for a visit.  You reach in to retrieve him and then wham!  You count your fingers, expecting not to get past four.

I think that the normal usage of the beak is more for chewing and less for biting. In  a wild setting, birds typically squabble for perching rights, food and territory.  Rarely, very rarely, do birds ever engage in bloodshed.  Most birds will typically flee rather than fight.  Given this fact, trainer Steve Martin makes an excellent point in that our caged birds have had the alternative to flee removed and sometimes the only recourse is to bite.

Taking this into account, if your bird preferred to stay in his cage to sleep, what were his options in this example of the “unprovoked” bite? Being  that he was cornered in a cage with a “demanding” hand in his space, as the bird may have perceived the event,  he was left with little alternative. And, not to mention, most people clip their birds’ wings nowadays so the “flight” part of fight or flight is missing and all that’s left is fight.

Since there was no emergency requiring that your bird readily step up, retrieve your hand and let him be.  If your bird doesn’t immediately and eagerly respond, it is a sign that he would prefer to stay where he is.  There is no good reason to force your will on a parrot, opt instead for a cooperative effort and a meeting of the minds.  You will find that the more respect you show your parrot, the more agreeable he will be to seeing things your way at times when you need or want him to.

Congo African Grey Parrot

3)  Your sun conure is very bonded to you and wants to be a part of everything you do. Your husband and the bird do not share the same good relationship.  She is happily perched on your shoulder while you go about household tasks.  Your husband approaches you, and your sun conure takes a bite out of YOUR chin.  Why?

This is a very common scenario. Why would a bird bite its chosen person?  Here are a few different perspectives:

Avian behaviorist and author Sally Blanchard states that when a bird feels threatened in the wild, it will bite its mate causing it to flee.  Since a single bird cannot defend its mate and territory at the same time, this action frees it of the immediate responsibility to the mate and allows it to concentrate on the defense of territory.

Steve Martin, however, contests this by saying that biting one’s mate is a poor species survival strategy, and doesn’t do much good in terms of bonding among mates.

Mattie Sue Athen, author of Guide To A Well Behaved Parrot, puts it down to “displaced aggression”, citing that birds are of the mind that “when you can’t be with the one you want to bite, bite the one you’re with”.

I find some truth in all of these perspectives.  The one common denominator is probably hormones.  In this case, the sun conure has chosen the wife as her mate and is defending its territory by deflecting the attentions of the disliked husband.

Sun Conure, Sulfur Crested Cockatoo

The first part of the problem lies in allowing a bird to respond well only to you.  It is your duty to see that your parrot be socialized, not only to everyone one in the household, but to all humans.  If something were to happen to you, the parrot would likely spend the remainder of it’s lifetime being bounced from home to home to shelter because of its inability to get along with anyone that isn’t you.  It’s unfair and completely unnecessary.

Make sure your bird is handleable by everyone from its first day in your home. Birds very often will choose a favorite person that he prefers to be with.  That’s just fine, as long as it also plays nicely with the rest of the family.  Let those “out of favor” be the ones who do the fun things like offer treats and fun interaction and training.  Gradually bring your parrot around to being a family bird.

Blue throated macaws

Any of this sounding familiar? More often than not, it is the circumstances accompanying the bite that are more questionable than the bite itself.  In almost every case where a human is bitten by a parrot, the fault lies with the human and not with the “unreasonable” parrot.  The trick is in learning to read your bird’s body language and signs, understanding a bird’s natural responses, avoiding situations that might be problematic and forming a bridge of communication with your parrot that you can both understand through training.

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10 Comments on “3 Examples Of The Unexpected Parrot Bite And What You Can Do To Avoid It”

Valerie  12/31/2009 11:46 am

Great post!!! All of it makes sense!
As far as #2 goes, I usually ask my bird “Do you want to come out?” instead of sticking my hand right in the cage. If he wants to come out, he gets excited and walks towards his door, if he doesn’t, he ignores me.
I’ve seen #3 a LOT. When we first adopted a pair of green cheeks (they are mates) the male would bite the female whenever we came near and she would run off. I think he was honestly doing it to warn her of danger. As we worked with him and he found us to not be a danger to him or his mate, he doesn’t do it anymore.

Linda Bruce  12/31/2009 11:49 pm

I occasionally get bitten, rarely losing any blood over it. Sometimes it is immediately obvious what happened. Other times it is a bite out of the blue and a hard one at that. It may take a day or two for it to sort itself out in my head, but it is ALWAYS my fault. I know he is a wild animal. He doesn’t respond like the dogs and cats but last week I got bit because of my irritible treatment of the dogs and cats (fortunately an unusual behavior). I got it at the end of the day through. At bed time when I put my yellow-crowned Amazon to bed he gave me a mighty bite. . . lost blood on that one. I was surprised but had it all figured out by morning. My apologies to my family of friends and thanks for the reminder Pepper.

Kathy Lebrecht  01/04/2010 4:19 pm

My african grey is odd, she tries to bite us whenever we go to feed her. What causes this response, we know she likes to eat and has to eat. Help!

Patty  01/04/2010 8:22 pm

Hi Kathy,
It’s really difficult to understand what might be going on with your bird without seeing the behavior. It could be anything from cage territorialism to it being, or having become, a game. What I will recommend in either case is that you don’t respond to the bite or the lunge. It is a lot of fun for a parrot to watch a human cry out or shrink away in fear. Many birds will continue to bite for this reason alone. Once it is no longer fun, since you are no longer behaving in such an animated fashion, the behavior often stops.

Cyndi  02/25/2010 3:25 pm

I have a baby green cheek, from day one it likes to bite my ear. In fact the bird drew blood at the pet store. How can I prevent ear biting? Otherwise the birds training is coming along nicely. I am very pleased.

Patty  02/26/2010 9:55 pm

Hi Cyndi,
I’m glad your training is coming along well. Have you tried the BirdTricks biting course: http://www.birdtricks.com/store/? In the meantime, you might keep your conure off of your shoulder, because your ear is in the perfect spot for a good bite!

Bess  03/01/2010 10:09 am

In almost every case where a human is bitten by a parrot, the fault lies with the human and not with the “unreasonable” parrot.

I have to disagree with this.

Fault implies that the one at fault, in this case a human being, should ALWAYS be able to understand their parrot. It also implies that a Parrot doesn’t and shouldn’t be expected to understand us humans.

I would not say it is the FAULT of the human. I would say that there may be a misunderstanding between Human and Parrot – that can happen between parrots and between humans.

Here’s a scenario.

Bilbo, my Mollucan Cockatoo, was sitting on my husband’s shoulder, as is his wont, happily dozing off. One foot tucked up, cheek feathers fluffed over his beak and eyes shutting.

I was sitting on the other side of the table half watching the TV and half reading. All of a sudden, Bilbo landed on my shoulder and bit me. I now have a bad bruise on my hand and also on my collar bone before my husband managed to get him off my neck.

It was totally out of the blue. There was no “request” for me to give him tickles (which usually happens) and no warning to either my husband or me that Bilbo wanted “something”.

I simple got attacked. It happens sort of frequently (around once a month) but the vast majority of times (98%) I have a sixth sense tell me that Bilbo is not far from launching himself and I take preventative action. This occasion, there was NO warning whatsoever.

So, who is at fault? I would say neither of us. As far as Bilbo was concerned, there was something “wrong”. Just I don’t know what it was and I am pretty good at reading Bilbo.

However, as Bilbo had bitten me, he wasn’t permitted to remain out of his cage and had to go to bed. Whilst I patched myself up for the third time in 3 months!

Patty  03/01/2010 11:37 am

Hi Bess,
I completely understand what you are saying. Cockatoos are notoriously hard to read. I have a large, strange cockatoo of my own. Understand that when I say it is always the human who is at fault, that I realize that things happen unintentionally (in most cases). My take on this subject is that WE have brought them from their world into ours without the full knowledge of why birds do things in the ways that they do. We will never fully understand them simply because we aren’t birds and don’t see and hear the world in the same ways. This is hardly a character flaw. However, it is most definitely not the fault of the bird that bites responding to something that goes unseen by us. So, if blame needs to be assigned, it has to go to the human because of our ignorance of the ways of birds. We will never completely get it, and it is very frustrating sometimes.
In the case with Bilbo, I have a thought: Since he took the time and trouble to fly all the way over to you to bite, given that he had your husband right there for the taking, one would have to assume that his problem was with your or what you were doing. Myself and two other people I know with large cockatoos have experienced a problem with reading or working on the computer around them. We have all been bitten while reading in their presence. I know it sounds odd, but we all think there’s something to it. I know I get very immersed in a book or in writing, and my energy level probably changes, not to mention that my attention is no longer entirely on him, the king of the universe. In your case, you were also paying attention to the TV. Perhaps yours has that same peculiarity.
Cockatoos are weird. Period. Mine has enough odd behavior to cover his entire species. I hope you heal soon and get to the root of the problem.

Tom Stickel  03/12/2010 3:53 pm

I’ve had my 19 year old macaw for 2 weeks now. he loves my wife and if he gets to hop up on her arm, its hard to get him down. when he offers to get up on my arm, i let him, but usually within 2 minutes, he ends the occassion by biting the crap out of me. He is so funny and irresistable when he shakes his head up and down with one foot stuck up and hollering “hello” when he asks me to let him up on my arm. I just don’t trust him anymore because he nails me everytime shortly after he gets on.

I just put him back on his perch and give him a ugly look and calmly say “bad bird” and walk away for 30 minutes. what else can i do? i’m running out of skin.

Shellie  05/09/2010 11:03 pm

Hi guys,

2 mcaws which are female. I let them sit on there eggs for 27 days knowing full well …(female on female).hubby said, as well as I……..after 27 days, get them out of room because they are really mean and whatever, no babies. No babies wanted here
. I did that today and 1 of them bite half my right thumb finger nail backwards. BLOOD STEAMS. I have to clean their nice house so I bled all over the place and then the other one bite me on my toe. We have had them for over 13 years and now they are laying eggs.

Shellie me as well as hubby (still love the macaws, still bleeding from my bites) We put them in their 15 hundred dollar cage, which we never, ever use, only to clean thier home. Our cats are really cool with them. Parrots are so mean, cool..survivalI hope you guys are vegs heads as my hubby and I are.

Please send an email to sjkrocky@q.com