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?

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