Once Bitten – Twice Shy!
Biting has always been a hot topic among parrot owners, Eclectus parrots included. I have had numerous letters about biting problems. Some owners were so upset that they were considering placing their bird up for adoption, thinking that their bird didn’t like them, or that they were doing something wrong.
Biting is a big issue with some parrots! The truth is that any parrot will bite. When someone says they’d like a parrot, I make sure they know the responsibilities of owning a parrot, the food requirements, not just seed. They aren’t a decoration and can bite. If a new parrot owner becomes fearful of handling the bird, it may be relegated to a life of being caged full-time or passed from home to home.
It is important to maintain your position as gentle flock leader and to teach your Eclectus to step up. When you must get the bird from inside the cage, assuming that you wisely will not allow it on top of the cage until it is trustworthy again, use a barrier between the beak and your hand or arm.
Some people wrap their arm or hand in a towel so that if the bird bites, it does not inflict pain and injury. Others place a stuffed toy between the bird’s beak and their hand, even a glass POT LID will work! It makes a perfect “shield” to keep handy when you bird goes through the nippy stage. The saucepan lid is about five inches across, has a small round handle in the center, and it is made of clear glass. Hold it by the handle with left hand underneath the lid and place it between the bird’s beak and your hand. Then pick up the bird with your right hand while deflecting a possible bite with the shield. By placing the glass pot lid between the bird’s beak and you hand, it appears to the bird that it can reach your hand. But when it tries, its beak contacts the glass instead.
Consistency is important. Use this lid every time you think the bird is going to challenge (usually from inside the cage). I believe that since birds don’t understand the concept of “clear glass”, they give up on being able to bite us for long enough to get past this trying stage. In most cases, they eventually give up biting anyway, but the glass shield can save you lots of pain and scars.
There are many different reasons for biting. Some that are listed in various parrot books are:
*Fear or defense biting — The bird has interpreted something nearby as dangerous. Did someone in the family that they consider a threat enter the room just before they bit you? Even the sweetest bird might bite if it feels threatened or feels the need to “protect” its owner. It may administer a painful bite just as it would bite its real mate to tell it to flee a perceived danger.
Some other thoughts as to reasons for fear; perhaps your bird has had a bad or abusive experience with the human hands. Therefore, you are going to need to approach the birds slowly and teach him or her that hands can be a pleasant experience.
Offering them a very favorite treat from your hand is a beginning. In case they fear something in their surroundings, check their immediate area from their viewpoint and see if there is anything intimidating.
Also some birds feel very uncomfortable with their cage being placed next to or too close to a window which puts them in an agitated state of constant alert. When you quickly approach their cage and thrust your hand inside, their agitated state becomes focused on you. This is not always the case, but is worth considering.
*Displacement biting–In this case, if a feared person or pet entered the room and the bird could not reach the object of its fear, it would “redirect” it’s aggression and bite the person holding it.
*Biting in reaction to excessive petting or fondling by the owner — rubbing feathers the wrong way or hurting a sensitive new pin feather could cause a bird to bite but they usually give you warning signs first such as restlessness or moving away from your hand.
*Dominance biting–This is a very common reason for biting. Parrots are programmed to attempt dominance in any situation as it can mean their very survival in the wild, but they must learn that establishing dominance within a human flock is inappropriate.
There are a couple other things that you can do to curtail biting. Reading body language can be your best defense! If you observer carefully, you will learn to recognize the look they have before biting and take appropriate action. Also, many professional trainers and behaviorists say that a parrot will not bite as long as you maintain eye contact with it so use this to your advantage.
Lack of trust is an important issue. Parrots are prey creatures and as such, are very wary of their surroundings and of possible predators. A human can look very intimidating, especially to a bird that has been handled roughly, or experienced abuse at the hands of a human. This lack of trust can be overcome by love, understanding and patience. Trust is a very important aspect of the companion parrot relationship.
One of the most common reasons for biting is territorial. At least with Eclectus, which is where my experience lies, they tend to go through a stage where they are very protective of their cage, food bowls, etc. This is only natural. It is their home. They need to feel safe and secure and they will protect that home fiercely. This stage usually passes quickly and bites can be avoided by removing them from the cage with a wooden dowel or No bite perch — “Buddy Perch”
Then remove him/or her to a neutral room work or training or just enjoy each other’s company. The difference in the bird’s attitude is like day and night.
Hormonal is another reason for biting. All birds go through this and some are more affected than others, but it is a fact of life with birds — a situation to deal with until it passes. Your love, patience and understanding is very important in this phase of their life. Watch the body language and things will be smoother.
Another reason for getting bitten, is just plain not paying attention. I myself am guilty of this. Our Eclectus,
Taco, plays hard and sometimes rough (usually with my husband). It entails playing “keep away” with a paper towel tube, ball, small stuffed animal or the like. Taco loves this game and becomes very involved. She jumps, chases and grabs for the item we are playing with, if you are not watching, you will be bitten. However, as soon as she realizes it is you and not the toy, she lets go right away. Along this same line, make sure not to overstimulate your bird. When she is showing signs of being tired, slow down the play and allow things to de-escalate and allow the bird a chance to relax.
Last thought is that sometimes your bird has just plain had enough and wants to be left alone (not unlike humans) Should we not respect their need for sleep and privacy? As always, common sense and consideration for the feelings of our feathered friends are important. We expect others to respect our homes as our private domains. If someone came over at the break of dawn, awakened me without my tea and opened my front door and dragged me outside before I was ready to greet the day, I would consider this disrespectful at best and my reaction would not be civil.
Our birds are very intelligent creatures who have no way of understanding what appears to be a lack of respect for their space and their feelings. Why should we be surprised when they nip or bite when that is the only way they have of communicating their displeasure with our perceived “rude behavior”?
Having said that, here are some general guidelines for maintaining the “step up” command and thereby preventing problems.
*Allow the bird to get adequate rest in a dark, quiet and secure place. Many pet birds enjoy a covered cage at night. My birds thrive on twelve hours sleep a night. Just as human children are grouchy without enough rest, so are parrots! I believe that it is unreasonable to keep them up half the night, awaken them early, and then demand perfect behavior. Just try it with your children!
*Try to maintain some semblance of a schedule. Birds LOVE routine! They would prefer that you do the same thing the same way at the same time every day…and preferably wearing the same clothes…..and oh yes, please don’t rearrange your hair or the furniture EVER! 😉 Of course this is impossible and an exaggeration but remember that they DO have a routine in the wild!
*To prevent a bird from becoming cage-bound or overly possessive of its territory, remember that the smaller his territory, the more vigorously he will defend it; so make his territory as large as possible. Provide many different perches and play areas and even move the cage to a different area occasionally if possible.
*Two of the most important things that we can do to influence good behavior in pet birds are maintaining wing clips and using the height factor to our advantage. Sometimes when a bird gets unruly, clipping the wings will have an amazing taming effect. Allowing some birds to be higher up than you can create a dominance problem. Keeping them below eye level is good and below heart level is even better with feisty birds. With other birds, full wings and high perches are not a problem.
*When you ask the bird to step up onto your hand, concentrate on what you are doing, be calm, move deliberately, MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT, and speak softly but authoritatively. If the bird hesitates, simply scoop up his feet and bring him out of the cage for a cuddle session. Make him happy to be out with you. My *secret weapon* is to make my birds love me too much to bite me! I give them intense sessions of love and affectionate handling and can notice a direct effect on their behavior afterwards. With older birds, one must be careful not to stimulate sexual behavior in their birds but with younger birds, this is not an issue.
Biting is a problem and one of the major reasons birds lose their homes. However, there are solutions. In some cases, it is only a temporary situation or phase of their life. If handled properly, it will soon pass and your loving companion will return. So please never assume that a situation is hopeless, or that your bird would be better off with someone else before you exhaust all avenues. If you need help, there is a great and knowledgeable group of Eclectus owners on facebook – Eclectus Parrots as Companions.
Adopting a bird is a lifetime commitment. Your Eclectus will not understand losing her home because she was trying to tell you that she was scared, or that physical things within her body were changing and that she could not control them, or even that she needed some alone time! Working through these situations can be a rewarding and bond-building experience. Sadly there are thousands of unwanted birds in sanctuaries because they didn’t fit our lifestyle or because we didn’t understand their needs. Bird ownership is a BIG responsibility, if you are up to the task, you will reap a lifetime of enjoyment from your companion bird, including hours of entertainment from their antics.
You will marvel at their intelligence. There will be times when you wonder what the heck you were thinking. However, there are a lot more times when you realize what a big part of your life they have become and you have no idea what you would do without them.
Last but not least, always remember that “We are forever responsible for that which we have tamed!”