Parrots Who Bite and The People Who Love Them

Let’s face it, humans are not good at reading signs that parrots are about to bite. In the wild, eye-pinning, feather-fluffing, and lowered heads convey a clear message. Every other parrot reads that message and backs off.

Our Congo African Gray (CAG) Bo Dangles is very easy to read, and because she can’t perch (no toes), she doesn’t get handled much. Recently she got the hang of letting me wrap her in a towel, or pick her up while she was on a pillow, so I could put her on the floor. She loved this, and scooted around wherever she wanted. I joked about teaching her to bark like a Chihuahua. She would come and sit under my computer chair, but I had to keep my feet up or she would nip at them. Then she found she could go under the desks and see what Mike was doing. And bite his toes. After that, we blocked her access, and she still had fun destroying cardboard boxes and looking for uneaten seeds and nuts on the floor.

Shortly, she realized that she could get under her cage, and dash out at us when we walked past. We would stop and talk to her and get very excited. We started using a back scratcher to to redirect her when we passed her cage. So Bobo came over to my chair, put her head down as if asking for a head scratching session, and promptly bit my finger. She didn’t break the skin, but the black mark on my fingernail will be a reminder of the that incident for awhile.

Io, our blind CAG, has let me “pet” his toes and beak, if I’m quick. But he got very upset when I tried to expand to wings and tail. He got so upset that I have had to back off, and do just a quick toe pet. Today Io became caught in a hanging toy, and Mike had to risk a bite in order to rescue him. The odd thing is that Io seems to know when we are helping him, and there was only a token bite at the beginning.

Cockatiels get bitey when we do nest box inspections, but usually only threaten. A cockatiel who is being forcibly restrained for wing clipping or moving from cage to cage will bite, hard, and often not let go.

Mike encountered a budgie who bit him on the web of flesh between thumb and index finger. She clamped on while he retrieved her and would not let go, screaming the entire time as if he were killing her. She was a very clever bird and knew how to open sliding doors on her cage. She let herself out before we knew to clip the doors securely. I’m sure this even influenced Mike’s vigilance in securing cage doors.

Canaries bite, but as they are not hook bills, it’s almost pathetic to see them savaging your hand. They do a lot of damage to each other when upset, but people are usually safe.

My lovebird Jake bites all the time. He will be sitting happily on my wrist as I type, preening and chewing on whatever he found in his feathers, then fluff himself up, give a squeak, and bite my thumb. He does this over and over, and when I can’t tolerate it any longer, I put him back in his cage. I begin to think this is his way of saying, “Mom! I need a drink of water!” Invariably he will go directly to his water and drink once I return him to the cage. Jake is perfectly capable of returning to his cage at any time for a drink. And if he goes on his own, he doesn’t get shut up in there again. But he seems to like to go through this ritual and be locked in again.

Conures bite. Our psycho half-moon conure, Beeby, has been known to throw himself across a room to bite someone. When he first came to live with us, he didn’t like Mike, but he would tolerate me. I had to wear high-collared shirts with long sleeves, but he would sit on my shoulder and chatter away. He sounds like a mini Donald Duck, and makes me laugh. But after the throwing himself off a cage to bite Mike incident, we took him in to have his wings clipped. Common wisdom has it that a parrot won’t associate the wing clipping with you if you don’t actually do the clipping yourself. Beeby never knew that. From the moment we got him back home, he bit me, bit Mike, and would have bitten everyone except that we started warning people to watch out for our psycho bird.

Oddly enough, when the bird club had a respected bird behaviorist slated to speak to the group, we were encouraged to bring our most poorly behaved parrots for him to work with. I brought Beeby. My friend Fred asked if he could work with Beeby before the talk started. I warned him the bird was crazy, but he opened the carrier, and out stepped a bird I had never seen before. Beeby let Fred pet him, hold him, kiss him, and was just the sweetest conure you ever would want to see. The behaviorist explained that the strangeness of the surrounding would put the bird on its best behavior, so this was not an unusual situation. Sure enough, as soon as I got Beeby back home and out of the carrier, chomp! Back to normal in his crazy little head.

This morning, I remembered why we need to be more aware of our parrots’ warning signs. I use paper bowls every morning for my cereal with chia seeds and coconut milk. Jake loves to help himself while I eat, and afterward, I thought maybe Bobo would like to chew up the paper bowl. I opened her cage and she came forward, ready for a scratch or two on her head. Then I put the bowl in, and she lowered her head and rocked back on her tail and stumpy legs. I shut the cage, and leaned forward to give her a kiss. She was upset, and I totally missed the signs. Chomp!

Good thing we love our birds. Pass the Ora-Jel, will you?


Baby button quail have a hive mind.  I hope you aren’t tired of sad stories about baby quail.  Our excellent parents Tennessee and Snow successfully raise five out of eight chicks, and sat on another clutch.  But this time one chick hatched way ahead of the others, and Tennessee stopped sitting.  I found two eggs with fully developed chicks inside, but apparently once they became too cold they stopped hatching.  The single chick had a good day running around after the adults, had fresh water he could get to but not drown in, and high protein food ground up really tiny.  But come nightfall, he couldn’t figure out how to get to where the adults were roosting.  I checked on him, and he was alive but barely.  He had grown cold.  The smart thing to do probably would have been to bring him inside for the night and get him warmed up.  Instead, I put him in the corner where the parents usually slept, hoping they would sit on him. I don’t know if they did or not, as they wouldn’t go back there while I was watching.  The next morning our solo chick was gone.  I believe that if he had had a clutch mate or six, they would have helped each other, and learned from each other.  Most importantly, they would have kept each other warm.  More knowledge learned the hard way.

No Bities!  I say this to my birds, but just as often to my cat.  There seems to be a rule that all my current pets be fond of puncturing my skin.  The birds are playing or just insane, it seems, but the cat is showing her displeasure.  Some years ago I read a book that said domestic cats do not need to eat meat every day.  Wild cats eat every two to three days, and put in a lot of effort to catch that meal.  Domestic cats become overweight due to being fed too much and getting very little exercise.  So Oreo the bitey cat gets canned food three times a week, and just dry food and a few snacks the other days.  I think that is still too much, but she disagrees.  By biting my arm or leg, and nose if I am being particularly inattentive.  I try to wear long pants and long sleeves on snack food days.  Currently I have a black spot on my fingernail where Bobo bit me, a skin tag that is irritated from Jake biting me, and scabs on my legs where Oreo bit me.  Could this be love?

I blame Disney.  My sister always identified with Cinderella.  My long-time roommate identified with Snow White.  I think of myself as Sleeping Beauty.   Now what other Disney Characters do my flock remind me of?  Jake the love bird is Goofy.  Yeah, one of the silliest birds you would ever want to find.  Bobo the African Gray is Maleficent.  But not all the time.  Kai the cockatiel is Sleepy.  Creamsicle the cockatiel is Dopey.   Esme the green cheek conure and Beeby the half-moon conure are Beauty and the Beast.  The quail are similar to Dalmatian puppies.  Wraith the Indian ringneck parakeet is any Disney character that started out female and ended up male.  Oh, wait.  That’s not Disney.

Birds love vegetation.  My outside birds are lucky because I can easily pull grass seed stems and plants out of the yard to feed them.  They get armfuls of weeds and eucalyptus twigs every week.  But the inside birds have to wait for veggies to be chopped and washed and sometimes put on a plate.  I have been experimenting with giving handfuls of “baby” carrots to them, easy to do and even with the peel removed still fairly nutritious.  So far it’s a hit with the cockatiels and the African Grays.  The conures are suspicious.  Jake the love bird also has his doubts that he is supposed to eat anything orange.  We are boarding an elderly female canary named Harry (don’t ask) and I know for a fact she will take a whole baby carrot and quickly reduce it to an empty plate.  She’s a joy to have around.

I can’t even remember how we got into the boarding of birds for friends.  Probably it was our friend who had an elderly lilac crowned Amazon parrot, blind and not very friendly to anyone but her.  She also had a pair of parrotlets, both girls, and a pair of canaries, Harry (the same) and a male whose name did not stay with me.  The Amazon’s name was Romeo, possibly in an ironic sense.  He did provide hours of entertainment because he ate only Nutriberries, and once he ate most of the contents of his food dish, he would curl up in it and sleep.  We kept his cage in the back room, so he wouldn’t be disturbed.

Mike and I normally stop in at the pet store at the mall to cute puppies, occasional kittens, and whatever avian specimens they have.  We were very surprised to see a lorikeet in the glass enclosure.  She wasn’t quite a rainbow lorry, but she was certainly beautiful.  About a week later, someone I work with was telling me about the bird they got at the mall pet store!  A lorikeet!  They named her Bella and she was mommy’s bird.  She would bite almost everyone else but not Pam.  I was tickled to know what had become of the bird Mike and I had enjoyed watching.  Then, out of nowhere, Pam’s husband Dana had a medical emergency and needed a transplant.  While he was on immune system suppressants, their pets would have to be elsewhere.  A bite from the bird could be fatal.  Mike and I agreed to take in Bella for the six months or however long it would be until she could go home.

Lorikeets have a special diet that consists of nectar powder and lots of water.  They can be given fresh fruits and some small seeds, but the nectar powder is key.  Some lorry owners mix the powder with water for their birds, but Bella seemed to prefer to dip her brush-like tongue into the powder, then into the water.  She needed fresh water a couple of times a day, but she thrived on this routine.

Bella was a talkative bird.  She would come out of her cage and chase our birds around, so she had to have her own out time.  When she was tired and wanted back in her cage, she would say, “Night-night.”  First thing every morning she would say, “Give us a kiss!”  But let the kisser beware!  Bella loved foot toys, and would hold one with a foot, then hop around her cage on the other one.  She made us laugh and smile a lot.  I know Pam and Dana were happy to have her back at home when the emergency ended, and we have happily enjoyed Bella’s company a few more times when they needed a sitter.

All in all, we have been very lucky when sitting for friends.  Romeo passed away when not with us, and his huge cage was no longer needed by his family.   Bella’s cage fell apart the last time she came to stay with us.  Through some networking, I got the two families together and Bella has a new cage.  Just like the ending of a Disney movie.

Jordan’s Story

You may have heard that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. This can apply to parrots as well. Jordan came to my house for a reason that I am just figuring out.

Jordan is a Timneh African gray parrot. She was perfect, not blind or toeless, and I thought I would enjoy a close relationship with her. The prospect of being her companion excited me. With my two special needs Congo grays, I already had the food and supplements I needed, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to add one more.

The reason behind the rehoming of this bird was not uncommon. Jordan had been owned by nice people, but for some reason they surrendered her to a veterinarian. She had a framed certificate confirming her hatch date and that she is male. Jordan choose to ignore that designation. My friend Fred volunteered at this vet hospital and worked with parrots they were rehoming. Jordan took to Fred like he was her long lost human, and the vet staff let him take her home.

Jordan, like all Timnehs, is small and compact. Her gray is a dark gray, and her tail is maroon instead of a bright red. She has a wicked sense of fun. Jordan came to club meetings with Fred and sat with me a few times. She loved almonds and would sit quietly through the meeting with this treat. Fred was understandably proud of her. He worked with her to the point where he could roll her on her back, and she would remain in his hands like that until he told her to get up.

Then I lost track of Fred and wasn’t attending the club meetings. On my birthday one year Fred called and asked if I would take in Jordan. Fred had been in the hospital with heart problems, and while he was getting better, doing well, he found he wasn’t able to tolerate her noise and behavior problems well. He needed to stay calm and stress free, and Jordan didn’t make that easy. After talking to Mike, I said I would take her, but I assured Fred that Jordan would always be his bird.

I am honored that Fred asked me to take Jordan. At my house, she decided she didn’t like to step up. She started to bite, and if we let her have time on top of the cage, we had a struggle to get her back in. Jordan had designated me as the Evil Human who took her away from the home she loved. Almonds were useful to distract her when giving her fresh food and water. In spite of these issues, I grew fond of her and enjoyed all the noises she made. She became a part of the flock and I thought I would some day win her trust enough to handle her.

Jordan did like to interact with us as long as we didn’t try to pick her up. The exceptions were when she would take a flight when startled and end up on the floor or in another room. Then she would allow us to extend a hand to her, she would step up and go back inside her cage. We had changed her to a cage that had access doors for the food and water, so that we didn’t have to reach inside the cage. Jordan quickly got the hang of this process, and would do her best to grab the hand or fingers that came in just far enough to get the dish.

She joined in the chorus with our other grays whenever the mood struck her, but had little curiosity about them. She never tried to go to their cages. When other birds flew into the office and landed on her cage, she entered attack mode and drove them off.

Fred came to visit a couple times, and it was so obvious when he was there that Jordan still loved him. She stepped up, she cooed and bent her head for preening, and did not want to go back to her cage. When he left, Jordan moped for some time. I hurt for them, and always reminded Fred that Jordan would be his bird forever.

Apparently Fred never forgot. A year passed, and he hesitantly asked if I would let him take Jordan back. Yes, I said, and made the arrangements. One thing we wanted to do was send her home in a new cage. So the day when she was to return to Fred, we went to the local bird supply store and picked out a nice cage with a play top. Fred thanked us for the cage and for the favor of returning his parrot. Jordan took a flight around the apartment and settled in.

Some time after, Mike and I went to visit Fred. We could hear Jordan whistling and calling from the parking lot. But as soon as we entered the apartment, and she heard our voices, she stopped completely. Not a sound did she make, even when we went to the room her cage was in to say hi. She looked at us uneasily.

When we finished our visit and went out, in the parking lot again we could hear Jordan. I wonder if in her mind, she thought she had escaped another rehoming.



The Sunshine of My Life

Much of my love of birds is satisfied through on-line communities. I started out with finches, added cockatiels, and lovebirds. I started reviewing these on-line email lists for my bird club’s newsletter, and since I wanted to expand the scope of these reviews, I began to join more and more list communities. I joined the Original Conure list at Yahoo, and began to think I wanted one. Almost every list created that longing in me. But I knew I didn’t have the time to devote to one of the bigger, more demanding birds.

Conures, however, are smaller cousins of the macaw. I hear the phrase “big bird attitude in a little bird body” about lovebirds and parrotlets, but also about conures. So I thought I had found the right parrot for me.

On a general interest bird list, a gentleman listed his sun conure, Zazu, free to a good home. By some wonderful twist of fate, he lived a few miles north of me, not far from a major bird mart my husband, Mike, and I attended every chance we got. I emailed the man, Terry, and asked for more details. Zazu would come with his cage and dishes and toys. He had been Terry’s wife’s bird, but tragically she had died a year before. Terry didn’t have much time to take Zazu out of his cage in that year, and so he wanted to find a better situation for the beautiful bird.

Mike agreed to drive up so we could bring Zazu home. I don’t remember much about the drive to get him, but as soon as I saw this little ray of South American sunshine, I wanted him to be my friend. He had been bonded to a woman before, so I assumed he would take to me in time. I stuck my finger in the cage, crooning his name, and he bit me. Well, no one said he was tame.

Terry assured me that Zazu would calm down when he got to know me, so I helped Mike load the cage, bird inside, into the back of his car. We thanked Terry, and headed home. I talked to Zazu, and he was fairly quiet most of the time. When he would squawk, Mike would talk to him too. We stopped for lunch at a drive-thru so we didn’t have to leave the car. Zazu didn’t seem interested in anything we were eating.

Getting him home and set up in the living room, near the cockatiels and lovebirds and finches was an easy matter. I wanted him to get used to being out with me, so I put him on a perch near me and talked to him. I sat on the couch and held out my hand so he could step up. Zing! He bit my finger hard enough to make it bleed, and fluttered to the floor. Mike came in and picked up Zazu. No bite. Mike talked soothingly to the conure, and put him back in his cage. Okay, I was trying too hard, moving too fast. I’d be patient.

We’ve now had Zazu for almost two years now. I love him as much as ever, but he still attacks me through the bars of his cage. He rapidly moves his head back and forth, warning me off. I have to use a perch to hold him at bay if I need to reach into the cage. He loves Mike, and acts goofy when “Dad” approaches the cage. Za will curl up in his food dish, make a purring sound, fluff up his feathers, to get Mike’s attention. Za will hang by his beak and flutter his wings when Mike comes to him, a typical baby conure behavior, seeking food and attention from a parent. It’s so cute to watch.

Zazu doesn’t talk, but he does make a chuckle sound. Mike will feed him a peanut, and he will chuckle happily. Someday, I will find the time to read the right book on how to get my first conure to stop hating me, but in the meantime I let him attack the bars of the cage and bite my hair. It’s the closest I can get to scratching his head and giving him kisses. I read about a technique called the Iron Fist, and it works enough to let Za think he is attacking me without my getting really hurt. Unless, as did happen, the conure is fast, realizes the part of the hand I am offering to him is not going to be bitten, and lunges for the near-by, softer, chunkier skin. Oh well, it will heal.

One of my biggest problems is a bad case of volunteeritis. I can’t say no to very much of anything. So, my bird club needed a new bird mart chairman, and there I was, raising my hand. Mike shook his head, knowing how much of the hard work would fall to him. But he loves me, so he helped me out.

I won’t go into all the details of that first (for me) bird mart. It’s quite the story in itself. Just before we were to open, I did a last walk through to tell all the vendors that it was about opening time. I stopped at a booth where one of the club’s young members was sitting with a row of cockatoos and a couple of sun conures. Sarah worked at a wonderful facility where parrots of all kinds are often surrendered, and given a complete check by the veterinarian. They are offered for adoption for much less than the going rate for their species. Some people don’t want used birds.

As I stopped and talked to Sarah, I put my hand out to one of the sun conures. This little parrot stepped readily onto my hand, and began rapidly vibrating her beak against my fingernail. She was feeding me! She came up to my shoulder, and played with my hair, and found her way into my heart at that moment. I asked her price, and then put her back on her perch. Somebody sure was going to get a great companion in that conure, Sunny.

Not long after that, Mike came back from his walk-through to ask if I had seen the sun conures. I told him how sweet Sunny was, and I must have gotten that wistful look in my eyes. In a very short time, Sunny had been purchased and was the newest member of the family. She sat on my shoulder all day in that outdoor venue, happy as she could be. People were surprised to hear she had just become my sweet bird hours before. She acted as if she had belonged with me for years and years.

At home, the next day, we introduced Sunny to Zazu. He was very curious about her, but also a little timid. That was odd. Sunny was so mild and sweet, how could she intimidate this big male with the slashing beak. Before long, she was pushing him around and taking over much of the cage they shared. Sunny learned to sneak up to the top of the cage door before Zazu started to lunge at me, so I could have her step up and come away with me. We also had to learn careful maneuvers to get her back into the cage at night.

Sunny loves sunflower seeds, so I keep a container of them on my computer desk. She chirps when she wants one, or sometimes climbs down to the desk to help herself. When she loses interest in the seeds, a temporary state usually, she will climb inside my shirt and snuggle. She croons and purrs and makes some of the funniest noises. Her chicken cluck always makes Mike smile. Then back on my shoulder for more treats and some scratches.

At the bird mart, I learned that Sunny came with a fear of airplanes, and I will always wonder why. She has settled down in the year she has been with us, especially since we aren’t outside with her very often. She cracked me up at the bird mart by barking at all the dogs she saw. But we don’t have a dog, so I don’t know if she would still do that or not. And her most enduring trait is her impatience when I am on the phone while she sits on my shoulder. Her clearest words, “Bye bye!” are repeated over and over during my conversations.

In the year full of Sunny’s sunshine, Zazu has settled down and accepted his cage mate in a way that makes me think he would truly miss her if she were gone. For a couple of weeks, Sunny refused to leave the cage, and I had suspicions that she was hormonal, wanting to nest and lay eggs. Luckily we just ignored it, and soon she was back to her old self, affectionate, loving, clinging, snuggling, and fluffing. The ideal shoulder bird, in every way.

The conure is a great pet bird, and currently I have a green cheek and an orange front. Their stories will come along eventually. But Sunny and Zazu were here long before, and created such a wonderful place in our home and our family, where noise is the least of the things we notice about these parrots. They embody our happily ever after, and we could not imagine a day without this sunshine.