Of all our domestic companions, parrots are among the last to come live with us. People have kept chickens, pigeons, canaries, and other song birds for centuries, but parrots are new to non-native countries, relatively speaking. They were kept as pets by tribes in various forest and jungle environments, and only recently (century-wise) brought into more urban settings.
As less civilized creatures, parrots are moment to moment in touch with their fight or flight instincts. Therefore when someone or something seems threatening, they try to get away, or they attack. And if the threatening thing is not in range, they will attack whatever they can reach.
Sadly, if you do too many nest checks on breeding parrots, you may end up with dead chicks, or toeless parrots. My first violet mutation lovebird, Jimi, is missing most of her toes. (Yes, we named her Jimi for Purple Haze, before she laid any eggs and proved us misinformed about her gender.) Our much loved Congo African Gray, Bo Dangles, is missing all her toes. Please don’t tell her she’s a special needs bird. She has no clue what that means, and wouldn’t care if she did.
This awesome page explains the chemicals involved in the brain, the categories of aggression, and so on. http://www.iaate.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=219:addressing-aggressive-behavior&catid=51:resource-center&Itemid=87 I have gotten used to my companion parrots taking nips at me when they want me to move away from a threat. I don’t like it, but when you live with parrots, it’s not a matter of if you will get bitten so much as when.
So is this aggression innate, hard wired, unchangeable? Not necessarily. Positive reinforcement and training can solve many of the issues around aggression. I wish I had read this blog when I first adopted Maynard, and before he became a one-person bird. http://goodbirdinc.blogspot.com/2009/10/preventing-one-person-parrot.html Luckily there is a book from Barbara Heidenreich called Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Birds. http://www.goodbirdinc.com/parrot-store-books.html
I am pleased to see that Doctors Foster and Smith, online sellers of many animal supplies, list many factors that possibly lead to behavior problems in companion birds, including aggression. The list includes cage size and placement, boredom, and lack of sleep. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1795&aid=1514
Yes, lack of sleep is a factor. In the natural world, birds shut down as soon as the sun sets, and get up again with the dawn. (Unless you have an owl or a kakapo) They get anywhere from 8 to 12 hours sleep, depending on the time of year. The breeding season happens, usually, when the nights are pretty short, so the parent birds have lots of time to find food for the young. This explains why they might be cranky and bite a few toes.
And finally, aggression can be triggered in parrots that are just coming into their hormonal prime. They choose a mate, defend territory, and look for a good nesting site. Fun, fun, fun! http://beautyofbirds.com/sexualbehaviorinbirds.html
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.