I hate getting bit by a parrot! Those beaks are sharp and strong! They can leave painful bloody marks for weeks. In fact, I dislike parrots biting so much that I just avoid getting bit altogether! In this article and video, I want to present to you my guaranteed method to never getting bit by your parrot!
So if you are wondering, how can I stop a parrot from biting? How to teach a parrot not to bite? How to punish a parrot for biting? Or what can I do to avoid bites from a parrot or parakeet, you've come to the right place.
What is a parrot bite? Let's start by defining a parrot bite. Not every contact of the beak to hand is necessarily a bite. For the message conveyed in this article, we will set using the beak to touch, feel, grasp, nip, or hold aside. A parrot bite is when a parrot uses its beak upon your hand or body in a strong enough manner to break skin, possibly cause bleeding, for the purpose of affecting your behavior or action. So, basically if the parrot uses its beak to hurt you because it wants or doesn't want something from you.
The solution to get your parrot to stop biting you? Very simple! Keep your hands to yourself! If you and your hands are never close enough for the parrot to bite you, virtually all biting will be prevented. A parrot almost never comes over to you with the purpose to bite you. Bites occur almost exclusively when you are trying to touch, pick up, put down, or hold your parrot. If you stop doing that, you will stop getting bit!
Don't forget this applies to other body parts besides hands as well. If you stick your nose toward your parrot, try to kiss, or have your parrot on your shoulder, you could get bit on the face. If you keep your hands and body parts away from the parrot, you won't be bit.
In the most extreme case of a parrot that deliberately walks over to bite you or worse yet flies at you to bite you, one further step may be required which is to keep a physical barrier between you and the bird like the bars of the cage. If the bird is in a cage and you don't stick your hands in or near the cage, I guarantee that bird will not bite you either. That's it, simple as that, biting is solved. I bid you adieu.
But, wait a minute, if you can't use any part of your body on the bird, then how can you take it out of the cage? If you can't take the bird out of the cage, how can you change food/water and clean the cage? How can you enjoy this bird as a pet if you aren't allowed to do anything in order to avoid getting bit? Now that is where the real effort begins. As I have pointed out, solving biting is extremely easy. Keep your hands/body away from the parrot and you won't get bit or keep the bird in the cage. The real effort comes in how to take the bird out of the cage without your hands. How can you put the parrot back into the cage? How can you play with the bird without using your hands?
First off, especially if you have a particularly bad biter, starting with hands off interactions is a great place to begin. There are many things you can start doing with your parrot right away that don't involve your hands being close enough that the parrot can bite you. Target training, trick training, and talking can often be done without any close contact or biting. These are a great place to start.
Next, you should learn how to apply training to teach your parrot to target reliably. You can use a Parrot Training Perch to practice step up exercises where your parrot learns to want to come onto your hand by itself rather than you putting your hand up to the parrot and getting bit. The DVD included with the Parrot Training Perch Kit demonstrates how to practice these exercises.
As you build good habits and routines based on positive reinforcement training, you will start being able to do things that you want with the parrot without getting bit. The exercises described in my book and other supplies teach you how to build up training momentum gradually where the parrot is able to feel comfortable and does not feel the desire or need to bite you. Using tools like the clicker, target stick, training perch, and more, you will be able to keep your hands safely away from the bird while teaching cooperation. The entire time that training is going on, you are going to feel safe from biting and the parrot will not feel the need to bite. A win/win for everybody and good habits to follow.
Now when it comes to punishment for biting, that is the trap that most people fall into. When most people think about how to stop a parrot from biting, they are thinking about some kind of punishment or consequence that would convince a parrot not to bite any more. The punishments that people try to inflict can range from a stern look, to shouting, saying no, pushing, hitting, squirting, putting down, returning to cage, or throwing the bird. Unfortunately, not a single one of these or any other responses will actually teach the parrot not to bite next time. The milder punishments don't do anything or possibly even encourage biting because it might be fun for the bird to get you to react and talk. The harsher punishments will make the parrot entirely fearful of you and even more likely to bite in the future to try to keep you away and thus protect itself from you inflicting further punishment or harm to it. This is why the punishment or consequence in response to biting does not help prevent future biting. But, keeping your hands to yourself and using positive reinforcement training to teach the bird to voluntarily do what you want it to do is what really works.
Some people feel that if they don't respond to a parrot biting with some sort of punishment or consequence that the parrot will think it is boss and bite more in the future. The problem is that it will still hurt to get that bite and the parrot still keeps biting in its arsenal of ways to behave. By keeping your hands to yourself and avoiding any bite in the first place, this is the first and correct step in taking biting entirely out of your parrot's toolbox of trying to get you to do or not do something. It is better to use positive reinforcement training to get the parrot to come onto your hand because it wants to rather than to try to hurt the parrot in response for being forced onto your arm when it did not want to step up in the first place. Responses to biting keep biting going. Avoiding opportunities for bites to happen actually teach a parrot how to behave instead of biting for the long run!
Many people will talk about what they do in response to a bite. The thing is, if their response was a smart and effective one, they would not have to have a response to biting anymore because it would be resolved. Punishments and responses don't work and that's why people keep trying them with no solution. On the other hand, using the approach I have outlined here and teach throughout my site, I haven't received a single parrot bite in many years. I don't have a response to biting! Instead, I keep my hands away from a parrot that doesn't want contact or that I am not familiar with until I can develop a friendship where the parrot would welcome it.
This is why the bite photos I used in this article are fake. They were staged. My parrots don't actually bite me so I would not be able to show you a photo of what that looks like. So, I just put my finger in Rachel's beak and just pretended to be in severe pain. Even though her beak was on my finger during the photo, she was not actually squeezing or causing me any actual discomfort. Acting. That's what you gotta do when you have such an effective solution to parrot biting that you can't even show or remember what it looks like!
So, please stop having to endure painful parrot bites going further by following this advice. Do things that keep your hands away and safe for the parrot while working on incorporating training to teach the bird how to cooperate voluntarily. Here is a video with more information and thoughts about stopping parrots from biting.
It's not only a thrill having my parrots fly in my yard, it's also great exercise for them!
Rather than a small free standing aviary, my entire yard is enclosed so that I could be there together with my parrots. This allows me full use of the yard space with or without the birds and it gives the birds a lot of space to fly.
Flying is by far the best form of exercise for a parrot. It not only works their wing muscles, but their entire body! They need to tuck their feet in, steer with their tail, adjust their feathers, user their mind, and of course breath and move blood quickly! It is only during flight that the parrots entire body is working up to its capacity.
However, don't expect that just because you put your parrot in a large enclosure that it will just fly. Parrots are generally pretty lazy and won't fly unless they really want to or there is danger. Of course in the wild, necessity is what gets parrots to fly many miles in search of food sources. At home, flight training using positive reinforcement will be the closest simulation to their natural ways while also building a bond with you.
Parrot Wizard Training Perches are the best way to get a parrot trained and accustomed to flying at home. Not only is it necessary to teach the parrot how to fly in a home environment but it is also essential to provide the physical therapy to get their muscles and systems strong enough to be able to fly effortlessly.
Then, the commands and methods used to train the parrot to fly indoors can be extended to large indoor spaces such as a gym or outdoors. However, it is imperative to have a back up safety measure when flying a parrot outdoors. When spooked, even well-trained parrots can fly away. So make sure that you do any outdoor flight in an aviary or with the use of an Aviator Harness as a safety net.
Although it may look effortless in the video, it is actually quite difficult to teach parrots to fly on command (especially outdoors). It takes weeks of consistent, and sometimes frustrating, training to get the parrots not only mentally in shape to fly but also physically. After a long winter restricted to indoor flying, it takes a bit of exercise before they can be good at flying longer distances again.
In this video, you can see how well Kili, Truman, and Rachel fly their daily exercise routines in my enclosed back yard flying area:
On October 6/7 I had the pleasure of being the headline speaker at the 2018 Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza. The Parrot Palooza is the huge annual event with the biggest sale of the year at the Bird Paradise store.
Located in Burlington New Jersey, Bird Paradise is one of the largest bird stores in the US. They have an enormous selection of toys, bird food, and supplies to choose from. The annual Parrot Palooza event is one of the biggest parrot events in the country and the world. With over 2,000 attendees coming from far and wide, it's a parrot extravaganza like no other.
In addition to headline speakers, the Parrot Palooza also features: free food, door prizes, penguine races, face painting, chinese auction, parrot shows, make your own bird toy, pumpkin carving, cage building contest, toy making contest, vendors, and huge sale. Fun for bird lovers of all ages.
Now the first time I had gone to Parrot Palooza was back in 2010 when Truman was still a baby. Back then it was a smaller event and didn't have the enormous parking lot tent. I got to meet Dr. Irene Pepperburg from the Alex Studies and attend her talks. So now, 8 years later, it was my honor and pleasure to get to fill that same role as headline speaker at the Parrot Palooza as the Parrot Wizard.
What can I say? The birds were good. Kili did all of her tricks like a champ. Truman was a chatter box as usual. Rachel was big and pretty and drew a lot of praise. All three wore their Aviator Harnesses all day long and were ambassadors for how a pet parrot should safely go outside.
Countless people asked me "how did you get that harness on them!?" or exclaimed, "my parrot would never let me stick one on it." Every time my response was, "we don't get the harness onto the parrot, they put it on themselves." When the parrot is trained how to put on the harness and wants to put it on, it looks something like this:
Truman meets a Golden Conure
Michael presenting at Parrot Palooza
Parrotsrus with Curacao
Lori with Rachel
Lori, the one who adopted Santina from me, came to the event to help us out. Rachel and Lori quickly became friends. Lori really enjoyed the Palooza and said she was "still grinning from ear to ear... Beautiful friends. Beautiful Parrots. Great time!!" She was thrilled to meet people she had been following online and mentioned, "for me, I enjoyed meeting instagram people."
It was a thrill getting to meet so many fans at the event. I signed books and chatted with parrot owners. My presentations were routine but enthusiastically watched by huge audiences. Kili helped me demonstrate how exciting trick training can be and Truman and Rachel helped illustrate how parrots can be taught to play with their toys.
All in all, it was an exciting event, great food, wonderful participants, big sales, and an all around fantastic way for people to be excited about their pet parrots. Here's a video recap of all the Parrot Palooza action:
There are so many great reasons why you need to get an Aviator Harness and start taking your parrot outside!
First of all, safety! No matter how bonded your parrot is to you, no matter how well trained it is, no matter whether its wings are clipped or not, any parrot can accidentally fly away and be lost outside. Quite likely your parrot will not be able to find its way back to you and will not be able to survive on its own. For this reason, a leash is a great safety net.
Now I certainly don't recommend using a harness as a primary means of keeping your parrot from flying away. Your bond, relationship, training, etc should always be the main reason that your parrot chooses to stay with you. The harness is merely a very unlikely backup plan just in case anything unexpected goes wrong. Think of the harness as a seat belt and not as a chain. Just because you wear a seat belt, isn't a license to drive dangerously. Instead, it is only an important line of protection in the event that something unexpectedly goes wrong. Some folks make excuses not to wear a seat belt, maybe even calling it uncomfortable, but it is the best safety catch in the event of an accident. Likewise, for your parrot's safety it is a reasonable compromise.
That said, the harness should not be a point of torture. Forcing a terrified parrot into a harness just for the purpose of taking it outside is cruel and counterproductive. The bird will be so distraught by the harness on its body that it will not have a chance to notice or enjoy the surroundings. This will also harm the parrot's relationship with you. It is better to take a parrot out in a travel cage or not at all than to mistreat it by misusing a harness. But, there is a way to teach the parrot to wear the harness voluntarily.
Parrots are very intelligent and capable learners. So if we teach them the purpose and method of putting on a harness such that they agree to wear it, then there is no problem. The most important thing that I teach my students is to ask the parrot if it agrees to wear the harness and until the parrot says yes (through its behavior), you are not to make the parrot wear it. Instead, I teach parrot owners how to use positive reinforcement and a carefully developed training regime to teach the parrot to want to wear the harness.
Watching my videos, you might get the impression that it's easy to put a harness on a parrot. And guess what? It is! On a parrot that was properly trained to wear it that is. Of course it is not easy at all to wrestle a resisting parrot into a leash and maybe impossible the next time when it knows what it is used for. However, after spending the initial effort to complete the training, they really do put the harness on easily for the rest of their lives. Realizing how long parrots can live, that's a lot of years of great harness wearing and outdoor adventures that you can have. It more than justifies the cost and effort to learn to teach your parrot to wear a harness properly.
This is just the beginning! There are so many more ways you can involve your parrot in your outdoor life and the Aviator Harness is your tool to being able to do that! Hiking in the forest, roller skating, maybe even rock climbing are just some possibilities. Get your parrot more involved in your active life.
The good news is that when you order a copy of the book and an Aviator Harness from ParrotWizard.com. the $19.99 Harness Training DVD comes free! Patiently follow the steps in the book and DVD to harness train your parrot and you can partake in outdoor Aviator Harness Adventures with your parrot for life!
So what are you waiting for? Your bird isn't going to learn to wear a harness by itself! If you want to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with your parrot, you have to start somewhere. You have to set yourself a goal to get the tools and start using them. Then, you have to take a deep breath and calm down. The harness training process requires patience. Patience is the quickest way to successfully teaching a bird to wear the aviator harness. Any attempt to rush this process will only set you back when the bird develops a distrust for the harness. This is where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Slowly work on following the steps you'll learn from me until the parrot is completely comfortable with the harness. And then you can scale mountains and do anything outside as long as you and your parrot are having fun!
Rachel, my wife's Blue and Gold Macaw, has been going through terrible twos for the last few years. This is the adolescent period where much changes in a parrot's life. It grows up from being a naive baby to an independent adult. Most parrot owners are quite surprised by the changes that happen when the parrot stops being cooperative during this stage.
The age at which adolescence hits will vary by species. Roughly speaking it's around 1-3 years old in the small parrots, 2-4 in the medium, and about 3-6 years old in the large ones. During this period, the parrot's behavior can change unexpectedly. The bird will be more testing, bold, fearful, and all around cranky. Allegiances with other birds and humans can also become reversed. It's an all around jumbled, confusing, unpredictable, and unpleasant experience.
The once sweet baby now bites the hand that feeds. It might prefer someone it didn't like before or seem all around intent to hunker down in the cage and not even come out. When asked to step up, the bird runs away, bites, or just flat out ignores so what to do?
Predicting that Rachel will go through this, I began preemptive training early to help combat the worse of the symptoms of parrot adolescence. I trained Rachel to step-up using clicker and target stick, taming, harness, and some tricks beforehand. But as the age started to come, Rachel's behavior was still in a slow decline. It is difficult to realize an imperceptible downward slippery slope until it jumps out and bites you. Sometimes literally.
My wife Marianna, who raised Rachel since she was a baby, learned about parrot adolescence the hard way. It wasn't until she got bit by the baby she raised that she got a full grasp of what the "terrible" in terrible-twos means. She actually got to a point where she was uneasy around Rachel because the bites seemed to be random and unexpected. So, to help her out, I decided to do some step up re-training with Rachel to get her to be more reliable at stepping up and off again.
Rachel already knew exactly how to step-up from previous training so it was more of a matter of rekindling motivation for stepping up and lots of practice. It seems strange having to go back to such basics with a parrot that knows complex tricks. But, when hormones are causing the bird to be edgy and bite, it's what you gotta do.
If Rachel forgot how to step up entirely or would entirely refuse to, I would start the initial step-up training all over again from scratch. However, since we caught it in time while she was still stepping up but not as reliably, it was a much easier fix. I just literally went to giving Rachel a food treat every single time she would step up. She got back into it quickly once she realized she was getting food for such easy stuff.
Normally we begin to take step-up for granted because the parrot is usually reinforced in other ways for participating. For example, step-up and you get to come out of cage. Step up and I'll give you attention. Step up and get a head scratch. Step up so you could do a trick and earn a treat. There is usually a subtle bit of positive reinforcement on an intermittent reinforcement schedule built into the parrot keeping lifestyle that I share. However, when the biological changes that the parrot is going through cause it to suddenly dislike things it normally likes and people it normally trusts, you have to go back to much more basic operant conditioning to remind it what to do.
This came as no shock to me as I had already gone through the same with Kili, Truman, and countless bird owners I have coached. However, it always pins you harder when you were the one that raised your bird and you second guess yourself. This is why a clear mind, good attitude, right approach, and persistence really matter. It's all an uphill battle while slowly slipping downhill when the bird is going through this. With good training and the time for the bird to grow out of the age, everything will settle in place.