It's your fault your parrot bit you and you deserved it too! This is an essential realization to make or you will never be able to solve biting problems. People who refuse to accept responsibility for soliciting biting from their parrot cannot learn to reduce biting. We have to first realize what we do that causes the parrot to bite in order to work on resolving it. Or at least, if we cannot determine the reason, we need to at least follow an approach that will prevent or reduce biting.
The fact that it's your fault when your parrot bites is actually great news as you will come to realize. If it is your fault and something you did that caused the bite, then that means it is also in your power not to cause the bite! If this weren't the case and if the parrot were to bite for truly no reason, you would have a very hard time trying to solve that situation. Keep in mind that even if you are unaware how it is your fault that your parrot bites, it is still present and can still be solved.
I am hard pressed to find good bite stories or videos to share because I hardly ever get bit by parrots. Kili & Truman haven't bit me, or anyone else for that matter, in years. Santina bit me a few times at the rescue but not once since I brought her home. Even when I meet birds at stores, rescues, and other people's homes during consultations, it is very rare that I get bit. This is because most parrots aren't naturally aggressive creatures.
Most parrot species, and birds for that matter, tend to avoid conflict by flying away. Clipping wings denies parrots of the ability to fly away so they are forced to resort to biting in self-defense. Since Kili & Truman can fly away if someone is bothering them, they do just that rather than bite. This has not only eliminated biting but it has also taught them to be more trusting around people. They don't start biting off the bat to avoid all interaction. Instead they tolerate as much interaction as they want or tolerate but if it becomes too much, they can fly to safety.
There are many reasons a parrot might bite specifically but for the most part it is because something is being done that the parrot does not want to happen! Most often this comes in the form of self-imposing on the parrot (such as forced step up or touching) but sometimes it can be less direct. It could be indirect such as imposing on the parrot's territory by touching its cage or by making it jealous. Regardless, these situations are created when a human disturbs the peace by imposing an undesired interaction.
The key to reducing biting is to teach the parrot to actually desire the things that would have normally caused it to bite. Teaching a parrot to want to step up, to allow head scratches, to want to go back into the cage, etc makes it such that the parrot would not even think of biting you. My parrots want me to scratch their heads, to take them places, to handle them, and to put them back in the cage. They'd be crazy to bite me because then they'd miss out on the things they actually want from me.
In the short term it's about reading body language and not sticking your hand in a bee's nest. In other words if the parrot doesn't want to be touched, then don't touch it, if the parrot doesn't want to step up for a guest, don't make it. However, this doesn't solve the problem because we as pet owners want friendly pet behavior from our parrots.
Even with unfamiliar parrots, I tend not to get bit. Sometimes it's because I recognize a viciously aggressive parrot that would take a lot of time to tame and keep my hands to myself. But most of the time it is because I take a moment to familiarize myself with the bird, look at its body language, learn what it likes, learn its comfort levels, and built instant trust by not violating existing comfort levels in the short term. One thing that has kept my hands very bite free with unfamiliar birds is that I go up to any parrot with the presumption that it is a biter and uncomfortable with my presence. Until I can determine otherwise, I don't put myself within biting range. I test the bird a little at a time while building trust and discovering its body language and comfort. With some birds things are quick enough that I have it on my hand cuddling in no time, with other birds I realize they are far from ready and avoid getting bit and making them upset.
I want to caution you against reverting to punishment or negative reinforcement as a means of dealing with biting because in most cases it won't help or worse yet encourage more biting. For example “nudging a parrot's belly to make it step up when it is biting” will likely cause it to bite more because it wants to avoid stepping up. This doesn't solve biting. Squirting a parrot with a bottle or using other forms of punishment will make the parrot fear you and parrots bite what they fear so again a counterproductive solution. Negative punishment may work as a solution for mostly well-behaved parrots that are trained and rarely bite (“if you bite me for attention, I just won't give it to you”) but for less tame parrots is useless. Rather true negative punishment would be effective but what one might think to be such is not. Threatening to ignore a bird that hates you is hardly upsetting and possibly even desirable to the bird! Putting a bird down or back into the cage as punishment for biting might make it bite even more because it doesn't want to go back. Thus it is best to prevent situations that lead to biting, keep your hands to yourself until you can make it such that the parrot wants your hands there, and ignore biting that you accidentally cause. Ignoring biting does not mean to let the bird bite all it wants. It simply means not to allow the fact that the parrot bit you affect what you do in regards to the parrot in any way. Don't give a toy, don't squirt the bird, don't put the bird away, don't talk to the bird, don't walk away. Just ignore the bite as though it didn't happen. When a bird bites the cage bars and nothing happens at all, the bird loses interest in continuing that sort of biting. This is why ignoring is the best way to avoid encouraging further biting but prevention is better still.
Goodbye nose! Just kidding, I didn't have enough pictures of real bites so I threw this one in of playing around
So the question isn't how to make a parrot not bite (there is nothing you can do directly except keeping yourself out of harm's way), it really should be how can you be such a pal that your parrot wouldn't want to bite you in the first place! To that, the answer is less simple. It's not complicated but the explanation is rather long and comprehensive. For this reason I suggest getting my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. You will encounter my complete approach to establishing a well-behaved, non-biting parrot through an array of elements including proper housing, toys, sleep, food, weight, health, exercise, flight, socialization, training, and companionship.
PS A Cape Parrot was recently lost in Oakland California. Everyone please share this facebook post with information about the lost bird so that it can be reunited with its owner.
I hate getting bit. In fact I hate it so much that I make sure that I don't. I have approached countless birds – that aren't mine – at stores, rescues, and other people's homes and I rarely if ever get bit. This is because I don't put myself in harm's way. I adjust to the bird and let the bird adjust to me. I read the bird and act in a predictable way to help the bird read me. This article is about offering food to a parrot from your hand that you don't know or think will bite.
If you don't personally know a bird (and by personally I mean where it has stepped up for you before; just cause it has stepped up for others doesn't mean you know that it will do the same for you), the safest approach to keeping your blood inside your skin is to take caution as though the bird could bite. On the other hand, if you already got bit by the bird offering food in the past or know that others have, then you especially need to follow these steps. Even if your bird doesn't bite you, you will still want to familiarize yourself with these steps in case you encounter someone else's parrot or someone else needs to encounter your parrot!
Being able to read and understand body language is important but sometimes you just don't know. If it's your own parrot that you have a long experience with, you may be able to read the body language and avoid a bite on yourself or someone else. But if you are visiting a bird or just acquired a new one, until you see body language in context, you just may not know.
Offering food from your hand is the first essential step to being able to apply positive reinforcement training to teach the bird to step up, accept head scratches, and more. Until you can get within touching range of the parrot, inevitably you will end up relying on negative reinforcement and positive/negative punishment. So to have greater success with the parrot and to get it to like you, it is important to get to the point of being able to safely offer food as soon as possible. There are safe ways of offering food and then there are ways to get bit instead.
I really came to realize the importance of this procedure when my friend Ginger, from Ginger's Parrots Rescue, got bit by Santina. Here is someone who deals with many birds and surely knows what to do but still mistakenly put herself in harms way. A few weeks prior, my little sister got bit while offering food to Santina as well. On the flip side, I watched my brother use my same approach and was able to handle the large macaw with no trouble.
One of the problems I have is that Santina is super sweet to me and never bites me (since I brought her home from the rescue) so I don't really know her aggressive body language. It kind of has to do with dancing around and being fluffy but then again she looks much the same way when she wants a head scratch from me. Since she has experienced so few other people, inevitably the first few end up being test dummies to see if she will bite and what kind of postures she displays at that time.
First, you are going to need to find out what the parrot actually likes as a treat. Offering something the bird doesn't like won't protect you from a bite. On the other hand offering something the parrot would like can quite likely become a sufficient distraction from biting. Finding out the bird's favorite treats was already covered in this article. But if you're approaching a bird without knowing what it likes, some go to treats include millet spray for budgies/cockatiels, sunflower seeds for small parrots, almonds for medium parrots, and Brazil nuts for large ones. Not only are these treats favored by most parrots but they are also large (relative to the size of the bird's beak). This will improve the likelihood that the bird's entire beak will be occupied by the treat and not leave room for a bite. Also, the treat is so big that you can protect yourself behind the extended treat as I will explain.
The first step is to leave the bird alone! All too often people get too excited about wanting to handle a bird that they overwhelm it. Instead, give the bird some time to get comfortable with your presence. If you have a visitor apply the same procedures to guide their interaction with your bird. At first, ignore the bird completely. Don't even look at it. With a little more time, from a distance begin to interact with it remotely. Make slow but deliberate steps toward the bird with the special treat in hand. If at any point the bird begins to flip out (jumping off perch, flying away, snap biting toward you in the air, etc), you've got a lot more of an issue than just offering food without getting bit. That type of situation is beyond the scope of this article, please refer to my book instead. But if all you are dealing with is slightly aggressive posture, eye pinning, or other agitation that is not extreme, continue slowly moving closer. Maintain a pace that evokes the least of this type of reaction until you can get into range.
Never put yourself closer to the parrot than the distance it would take for the bird to bite you. Except in some extreme cases, most flighted parrots will not fly to attack you. If they get too scared they will just fly away. If in a cage or clipped, the parrot is left with no choice but to bite if it feels trapped. This is why we are going to work on the careful no-bite food exchange to show the bird that first of all absolutely nothing bad will happen (negative reinforcement) and that in fact something good will happen (treat, positive reinforcement). At first the negative reinforcement element actually plays a more substantial role in early training but if the treats are desirable, positive reinforcement will quickly take over.
When you can reach the distance within a few feet from the bird, it is time to slow down and exercise greater caution. Show the treat in very plain sight. Maybe even pretend to eat it and make a big deal about how nice it is. So while up till this point the goal was to move closer to the bird without freaking it out too much, from this point the goal is to move the treat toward the bird without getting bit. Realize that the bird has different ranges of reach. It can bite what is right at its beak, it can reach forward and bite and it can make a lunge snap bite that can reach furthest. What I do is walk up to a point where I can reach the bird with my arms without moving my feet any more. I reach the treat at a slow but constant rate toward the bird. I keep going closer and watch for the bird to teach to take it. I put the treat just far enough that the bird can stretch its maximum range to try to get it from me. If the bird is looking at and reaching for the treat, I am strongly assured that the bird wants the treat and shouldn't bite. I don't let my guard down completely yet. While holding the treat at the furthest point, I continue to reach it closer toward the bird until it is just close enough to take the treat but not close enough to bite yet. I hold the treat loosely and make it easy for the bird to take it out from between my fingers. As soon as the bird grasps the treat I take my hand back out of bite range but I don't go away. I stand around while the bird eats the treat to build more trust. If the bird avoids eating because I am imposing too much, I might take a step or two back but I still try to stay close while it eats. Then I recede to get another treat and try again.
After several treats, the parrot should start to become more at ease because it knows that all you want to do is provide a treat. On the other hand you should be able to get more confident that the bird isn't trying to bite. Depending on how aggressive/scared the bird is, the rate of your continued progress will vary. Maybe you have now gained the trust of an already tame bird and it will let you scratch its head and step up. Or maybe this is just the beginning of a long taming process. But either way, with the power to apply positive reinforcement in your training, things have the potential for major improvement from this point further.
Try to make the first approach happen within the span of about 30 seconds from when you begin to approach the bird to when the treat is in the beak. With success, keep trying to cut that time in half. You don't want to take too long any more than you want to rush. A rush can scare the bird into biting. But drawing the process out too long can lose the parrot's interest in the treat and hinder your chances at success.
If the parrot drops the treat but doesn't bite, try finding a more desired treat. Look for greater interest from the parrot's gaze. If the parrot bites, end the session and focus more on finding very desired treats and practice your approach to be able to bring in a treat without giving the parrot enough reach to bite. If done properly, you should not end up receiving a bite using this approach. The more times the parrot can take food without biting, the less likely the bird will consider biting as something to do in similar circumstances in the future.
This approach helps you have a more confident approach because it protects you from being bit but also is more comfortable for the parrot (thereby reducing the desire to bite just the same). The parrot will learn just to get treats for nothing and success will come with practice. For more information about taming and training parrots, please refer to my complete approach presented in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. Here is a video in real time of me teaching Ginger to approach Santina in a way that gets her to take the treats rather than bite.
It can be misleading from my videos and blog that owning parrots is a cake walk. It certainly can be a pleasure but it is even more so a challenge. Most of my articles and videos either focus on the good things or help to prevent/resolve the bad ones. But much of the undesirable stuff still goes unnoticed.
My passion for parrots may seem to trump the struggle, but I wanted to write this time about that struggle. It's not easy and sometimes downright aggravating to have birds. The trouble is, that all the problematic things are erratic and hard to demonstrate. If I want to show a cute trick my parrot picked up, I can cue it and show it in person or on video. Other cute behaviors I can usually stage or elicit in some way. The bad stuff, even though frequent enough isn't predictable and cannot be demonstrated on demand. This is why you have to take my written word that it exists nonetheless.
I understand the problems that regular parrot owners encounter because I have to deal with them too. Luckily I have most of it under control but parrots are still wild animals so even with the most trained of parrots these issues can rear their ugly head. I hope to convince you that parrots are difficult creatures but also that issues can be greatly reduced with training. Still, there will always be the fact that you are dealing with a wild, selfish, difficult animal and it is imperative to accept this from the start.
Biting, jealousy, screaming, destroying things, flying away, moodiness, fighting, making a huge mess, and costing a fortune are just some of the difficulties I have to deal with like any other parrot owner. I do everything I can to minimize these issues and make the most of them. Much of my training and efforts with the birds help a lot. I don't even want to begin to imagine what my parrots could have turned out like without the training.
Luckily biting is infrequent with the trained parrots. However, it is not absolutely eliminated. They are still wild animals and some unexpected thing can potentially set them off. Whether it's grabbing on too hard to hang on, an act of jealousy, or just plain startled, these can result in bleeding. One time, Kili was sitting tucked under my chin when Truman decided to fly over and land exactly where she was nestled. She began to throw her beak around in defense but since my face was the closest thing she got me rather than the perpetrator. Another time I got nailed was reaching into Kili's cage to take her out in the morning. Apparently she had just woken up and hadn't had her coffee yet (just kidding) and my hand was unexpected to her when I reached in. Like a pitbull she grabbed on and wouldn't let go. If she were more awake and seen my face, she would have known it was me and would never have done it.
These are rare problems but even with the most trained of parrots possible. This is why a parrot can never be an easy pet. If you don't work with them, they are just wild and horrible. If you work with them extensively, you can only hope to achieve 99%.
Truman on the other hand still gets moody fits once every few months. He'll suddenly be scared of things he has no reason to be and becomes very difficult to manage. Sometimes he throws screaming fits and screams his butt off all day long. Other times he is quiet and sweet. His adolescent age may play a role but it makes it no easier to deal with. The two birds may go months without fighting and then suddenly something sets them off and it is hard to trust them around each other again.
Making things good takes a lot of time and effort. Letting things get bad can happen instantly. You can spend a year taming a parrot with success and then one incident and the bird goes back to distrusting you. This is very difficult to accept. This is why it's important to go into parrot ownership without expecting anything good in return. You must love your parrot and take care of it without any expectation of anything in return. Otherwise you will be led to disappointment. Parrots have no obligation to reciprocate.
The mess is endless. You can clean all you want but there will still be feathers, food bits, toy parts all over the place. Luckily parrot poop is easy to clean and not bothersome. However, there's plenty where it comes from. Be ready for endless cleaning and no cleanliness in sight. Vet bills can get very expensive and the care isn't always effective. The toys and perches are expensive and get depleted in no time (and if they don't then a bored bird can turn to plucking or screaming). These are all troubles that cannot be videoed but are probably familiar to most parrot owners.
Parrots are also extremely time consuming. Not only do you have to cook, clean, and shop for them but you also have to make time to take them out, train them, get them outdoor time, and exercise them. To do this right takes a lot of time on a consistent basis. Then this must be continued for life.
When I do run into problems, I never just accept them. I may accept that an immediate solution is impossible. However, I always apply myself toward a long term solution. Even if it takes years, if I keep working toward it, I can ensure things don't get worse and eventually get solved. Flight, taming, training, socialization, exercise, outdoor time, food management, sleep, etc are all a part of the solution toward most problems. But these come at a cost. The cost of knowledge is the cheapest by far. The more costly is the time and patience that you will have to dedicate with little/nothing in return to improve your parrot's behavior. But ultimately it will be a far more desirable pet than if left to its own wild ways.
So in summary, it may seem from my articles/videos that parrot ownership is easy or nothing but delight. However, even I have to deal with tough birds and understand that it is even harder for others. Owning a pet parrot is a tough job and not one to be taken lightly. It can only suit people seeking a real challenge. Parrots definitely aren't suitable for someone who wants an out of the box pet that will behave as they wish/expect. If you're having a hard time with your bird, realize that you're not alone. But also realize that there is much work to be done to improve behavior.
Check out my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots for my complete approach to parrot keeping. It discusses everything from choosing a bird to solving behavior problems. I won't say it's easy but I will say that it works for all sorts of parrots. Have some patience, keep informed, and try your best always and you will see your parrot transform into a more desirable companion.