No matter how experienced you are with birds, a biting parrot is upsetting. Birds occasionally bite out of fear, to protect their territory, due to raging hormones or when they feel misunderstood. They might also bite if they don’t feel well. These bird bites tend to be more of a “shot gun” like reaction and are not a sign of a “mean bird.”
Birds that repeatedly bite, though, may actually have been unintentionally trained to bite. Just like we can unintentionally train our bird to scream, we can unwittingly teach it to bite. The good news is that we can re-train our bird (and ourselves) that biting is unacceptable.
Preventing parrot bites is best practice when it comes to handling our parrots. Learn to read your parrots body language because that is the only way your parrot can communicate with you. When you understand what your bird has been trying to tell you when it bites and then you can use effective methods "listen to it” thereby preventing the parrot bite. It’s very similar to some of the techniques we use when dealing with young children whose speech is difficult to understand. We anticipate issues and distract or redirect feelings or thoughts.
READ YOUR PARROTS BODY LANGUAGE: When you learn to read the body language, of your biting parrot you’ll know its mood before you attempt to handle it. Agitated or scared birds can’t tell us how they feel, but they always show us how they feel. You can learn to quickly gauge your bird’s mood by recognizing common bird body language. Usually, there are a series of cues, including:
1. Eye Pinning: An agitated bird may pin its eyes. This is when a bird quickly expands and contracts the pupils of its eyes.
2. Feather Ruffling
DISTRACT: Create a habit of quickly distracting an agitated or scared bird. Take a few moments to generate a list of when your bird usually bites. Once you know what type of situations provoke a bird bite, you can anticipate a potential behavior problem and proactively plan on how to avoid it. If your bird bites when you are holding it, get into the habit of jiggling the hand that is holding it when you see a bite coming on, so as to shift the bird’s attention from biting to balancing. You only need to jiggle enough to temporarily throw the bird off balance. Another technique to safely distract your bird is blowing in its face. If your bird bites during transitions, like when you put it back in its cage, create a distraction of putting a favored treat in its bowl or giving it a treat when it steps onto its cage perch.
STICK TRAINING: Stick training is another great way for you or even a pet sitter to avoid bird bites. Teach your bird to step up onto a stick. One of our favorite parrot supplies is The Percher. A good source for teaching stick training is Good Bird Inc. Make sure that you teach the bird to associate getting up on the stick with pleasure and refrain from engaging with biting parrot behavior. For instance, when your bird gets on the stick, talk fondly to it or give it a treat.
FESS UP: It is not at all that uncommon to unintentionally train a biting parrot. After all, our human reaction feeds into a parrot’s way of communicating. When we screech or scream in reaction to a bird bite, it sounds a lot like the way parrots communicate. On top of that the simple reaction of pulling away is exactly what the parrot wants! Your bird perceives your reaction as a reward because it got what it wanted.
TRAINING: If you've unintentionally trained your bird to bite, just fess up to the error of your ways and retrain. While it may take a while for your bird to understand that biting doesn’t get the same old reaction it is used to, with dedication you can retrain a biting bird surprisingly fast.
Your bird wants to behave as expected. Clicker training and treats communicate to your bird exactly what behavior you want and will reward. You click as soon as your bird performs the expected behavior. Your bird sees and hears the clicker, tastes the treat, and smells the treat. It gets much more sensory satisfaction from positive training than it does from being a biting parrot.
When you’ve identified what situations your parrot tends to bite in and begin using Clicker Training to retrain it, you’ll be amazed at how fast your parrot changes its ways! Even so, your parrot may still bite on occasion. You need to plan your reaction when the inevitable happens. Prevention is the bird training method of choice. Learn the O-P-A-L-S method for managing a biting bird.
O – Observe and study situations that your bird tends to bite most. Is your bird fearful, hormonal, nesting, being territorial, trying to tell you it doesn’t want to held or has it just been trained to bite? Once you know WHY your bird is biting, you can figure out a plan to stop bird bites.
P – Prevent bites as much as possible with sidetracking techniques like “step up” on a stick like the Percher, or putting a treat in the food cup when placing bird in its cage; sidetrack fear and anxiety as much as possible. Remember that every time your bird bites you, it a bird training opportunity to refine biting techniques!
A –Anticipate & plan all handling situations prior to engaging your bird. Figure out how your bird has acted in past situations of similar handling. For instance, if your parrot is going through a stage where it doesn’t want to go back to its cage, let it watch you put treats in its bird cup prior to putting it in the cage for a short term solution. A long term solution is to work on your biting parrot bird training of teaching your bird to get in and out of its cage. Offer immediate and meaningful rewards if your bird chooses to NOT try to bite.
L – Learn Bird Body Language from the experts of GOOD BIRD. Apply research based bird training advice to your bird – what language does your bird use to tell you to “back off” S – Sensory rewards to make handling rewarding and fun… QUICKLY reward your bird on every sensory level you can think of! (Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) sweet talk, smell & taste its favorite treats, give it favorite scritches. So, for instance, make or buy a Bird Training & Treat Dispenser like the one pictured. When your bird sees this bird training device, it is rewarded at
S – Sensory rewards to make handling rewarding and fun… QUICKLY reward your bird on every sensory level you can think of! (Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) sweet talk, smell & taste its favorite treats, give it favorite scritches. So, for instance, make or buy a Bird Training & Treat Dispenser like the one pictured. When your bird sees this bird training device, it is rewarded at 4 sensory levels. Your bird wants to behave as expected when it sees the device that allows almost immediate rewards for expected behaviors; bird hears the click, tastes the treat, and potentially smells the treat.
Finally, don't forget to start training your parrot for good bird behavior now. Invest in an affordable and reputable bird training system like Good Bird or Clicker Training for Birds and make time to work with your bird a minimum of several times per week. Birds are so smart that you'll likely notice results very quickly.