No matter how sweet and domesticated a bird may be most of the time, every parrot will have moments when he or she is frightened or moody and prefers not to be touched. Every experienced parrot owner has been bitten at one time or another, but most bites can be avoided if you pay attention to your bird’s body language and determine what could be causing them to lash out.
Why would an otherwise docile parrot suddenly start biting? The answer may be simpler than you think. Increased hormonal activity, an unbalanced diet, stress, and miscommunication are all easily addressed issues that can cause a parrot to suddenly start biting.
Why a parrot may start biting
Most parrot bites are a result of the owner missing or ignoring earlier indicators that a parrot is upset. Some bites may also occur due to unintentional reinforcement or negative interaction with your bird that has shaken your bird’s trust in you.
If your parrot has suddenly started biting you, it’s important to step back and determine the root cause of her behavior change.
Have you changed the placement of her cage or rearranged the toys and perches? Have you simply been keeping her out too late or allowing activity to continue in the room where she sleeps after her bedtime?
Being tired and grumpy is a common reason for a parrot to suddenly start biting. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest issues to fix.
If your bird starts getting nippy, consider that she may be ready for bed—or a nap if she didn’t sleep too well the night before. Place her in her cage and let her be.
If it’s evening, turn out the lights and leave the room. Making sure your bird gets the rest she needs and paying attention to signs that she may be tired is an easy way to avoid a bad mood bite.
Hunger or Thirst
If you’ve had your bird away from his food and water dish for a while—sitting on your shoulder or snuggling with you on the couch, for example—and he starts to bite you for no apparent reason, he may simply be hungry or thirsty.
Again, this is an easy problem to fix, but you do need to be careful about how you respond. Don’t accidentally reward your bird for biting when he’s hungry by immediately giving him a treat from your hand.
Instead, place him on a perch or in his cage where he can access food and water on his own.
You can also avoid this type of bite by anticipating your bird’s needs and occasionally offering him a drink or a chance to return to his cage or play stand if he’s been away from it for a while.
A surprising number of behavioral problems can be traced back to an unbalanced diet. Lack of energy, irritableness, difficulty molting, as well as multiple other issues that can lead to your bird feeling unwell and grumpy may be due to a nutritional lack.
A bird that prefers treats or people’s food over her regular meals may also turn to biting to get what she wants.
Transitioning your bird away from seeds, treats, or people’s food to a balanced, nutritious diet can be frustrating, but it’s worth it in the end. Many birds take quickly to a well-balanced chop (a mix of veggies, grains, legumes, and pasta), and recipes are easy to find online.
You can also try sprouting seeds, offering vegetables in fun ways (such as on a kabob), and baking veggies or pellets into bird bread recipes.
Be sure to educate yourself before trying to change your bird’s diet. You don’t want her to lose an unhealthy amount of weight, get too hungry, or become more irritable during the transition period.
Try to keep treats like sunflower seeds and nuts as rewards for trick training or other desired behaviors. This way your bird knows she needs to behave—not bite—in order to earn them.
The positive changes in your bird’s mood and behavior on a better diet may astonish you.
Illness or injury
It’s important to rule out injury or illness as a cause of biting early on. If your bird is not feeling well, he may not want to be handled or interacted with.
If you try to get him out and handle him anyway, he may express his discomfort and irritation by biting you. A normally friendly bird who is avoiding contact may be ill, and you should consider taking him to the vet.
Hormonal Changes or seasons
This is a big one. The age at which a parrot reaches sexual maturity varies depending on the species.
Upon reaching sexual maturity, parrots can be somewhat unpredictable. They may develop a strong attachment to one person or a special aversion to another.
These hormonal changes can cause your bird to be frustrated and easily set off.
Hormonal behavior, especially during certain seasons, will be a part of your parrot’s life from maturity onward. It’s important to be aware of what excites your parrot’s hormones and be careful to avoid triggering his or her sexual instincts.
You may need to give your parrot a little more space during seasons when he or she is easily overstimulated. Redirecting his or her attention to training or playing with toys can also be a good strategy for circumventing frustration-based biting.
Whether or not it’s related to hormones, some birds can suddenly become territorial of a cage, toy, perch or person. If you disregard their cues that they want you to stay away from something or someone, they may resort to biting.
A bird may bite the person approaching their territory or they may bite the person they consider to be their territory—trying to get that person to move away from the perceived threat. This is called displacement aggression.
Territorial aggression in birds can be reduced through careful training. If they are territorial of their cage, try to get them out more and have a place where they can spend time with the family away from the cage so they’ll become less attached to it.
Basic obedience training, such as the step-up command and target training is also essential. With target training, you can teach your bird to exit the cage or move to another area without the risk of being bitten.
Stress or annoyance
Finally, a parrot will bite if they are annoyed with you, don’t like what you are doing, or are upset about something. If your parrot bites you when you pet him a certain way, he’s telling you he doesn’t like it.
If your parrot bites you when you come home from work, he may be irritated with you for being away. Some parrots will bite whoever happens to be nearest when they are startled or stressed.
How to stop parrot biting
Your reactions to your parrot’s biting determine whether this problem will be short-lived and infrequent or will become a nasty habit. Set yourself up for success by knowing when and why your parrot is likely to bite and approaching the situation in a way least likely to elicit this response.
React calmly and consistently
When you do get bitten, it’s important to react calmly. Don’t yell, hit your parrot, or grab his beak.
These reactions will only further excite or frighten your bird, worsening the bite and the habit. Jerking or shaking your hand can also cause your injury to be worse than it could have been.
If your bird bites you, push gently into the bite until he lets go. Rebuke him firmly but calmly with words like “no” or “don’t bite.” It may be best to then place him in his cage or on his perch and leave him alone for fifteen to twenty minutes until he has calmed down.
This temporary lack of attention is a much better strategy for making your parrot avoid biting you than any amount of yelling or reacting dramatically would be.
Determine and eliminate underlying causes
Obviously, the most important element of stopping parrot biting is understanding why it started and continues to happen in the first place. Knowing what has upset or excited your bird is the first step toward working through the issue.
Pay attention to parrot body language
Paying attention to your parrot’s body language will often allow you to catch warnings that your parrot is annoyed or frightened and remove him from the situation well before he becomes anxious enough to bite.
Frightened birds will flatten their feathers and widen their eyes. Angry birds will hiss or growl, fluff the feathers of their head and neck, and sway or lunge.
Overexcited birds will have similar cues. The better you understand your parrot and establish two-way communication, the less likely she is to become frustrated enough to bite.