Biting and Screaming in Birds

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Behavior

Biting

A bird may bite out of fear or aggression. They may be protecting their territory or asserting their dominance. Their powerful beak can break the skin and hurt. If your bird tries to bite you, remember to keep your fingers together and curled inward. It is harder to bite a flat surface than individual fingers. Pull your hand a short distance out of its reach, but hold your ground. If the bird does bite, try to remain calm and try not to react. If you do react, the bird will learn that biting gives it control and gets a response and perhaps it will learn to bite more. If the bird is on your hand and biting, some recommend a short downward movement of the bitten hand but do not drop the bird. A stern verbal "NO" is useful. The bird has to learn that you are the boss and that you will not tolerate biting. NEVER hit a bird as they do not respond to this sort of discipline plus they will lose their trust in you and may learn to fear hands. You will have to gain the birds trust in a gentle, gradual fashion. You can start by slowly and gradually hand feeding. Teach it to step up onto a perch. Feed it on the perch. As trust grows start using your had instead of the perch. This process can take a long time, be patient. You will also have to learn to read the bird's body language to understand that he may need some personal "space" at certain times. Dominance biting can be a battle biting_and_screaming-1of wills. Consult your avian veterinarian for advice on how to control this behavioral problem.

"If your bird tries to bite you, remember to keep your fingers together and curled inward."

Screaming

This is a common complaint and challenging dilemma. The most talented talker can be a skilled screamer. Screaming or vocalization is a happy way for parrots and other birds to communicate with each other in their natural wild flock environment. They will also scream if alarmed. They often squawk when people are talking loudly, vacuuming, on the phone or playing music as it is seen as a time of commotion, excitement or otherwise good "flock" behavior. They usually scream in the early morning and towards dusk when birds naturally gather in the trees to socialize. You are part of their "flock" and they want to communicate. Unfortunately, this can be a very annoying behavior to most people in the confines of our homes and for our neighbors. So, how do we stop a perfectly natural behavior? The bird does NOT understand that it is NOT acceptable to scream and squawk or otherwise communicate in your house. It is a human problem. The bird is screaming to communicate or "talk", and to get attention. Birds will squawk if frightened, bored, lonely, stressed or not feeling well.

There are many different suggestions on dealing with this situation. Unfortunately, often people tend to make it worse while trying to control the situation. There are both positive and negative reinforcements of this behavior. Rushing to the "aid" of your distressed bird or yelling at him in fact giving him the attention he may be requesting. Most birds will quickly learn that when they scream, they will get attention from their human companions.

Some people cover the cage or turn off the light when the bird screams. This is, in one way, another form of reinforcement for the bird as you have given him attention, even if it was just to cover the cage. Covering the cage could be seen as unjust as it is NOT fair to keep the bird in the dark all the time.

"Screaming is a happy way for parrots and other birds to communicate with each other in their natural wild flock environment."

If screaming appears to be attention seeking then ignoring the screaming and paying special attention to the quiet times (positive reinforcement) may limit the screaming. Trying to pay attention to what might be bothering the bird can lead to solutions.

There are training books and videos available for reference. Your avian veterinarian may be able to help or may refer you to a bird behaviorist for a consultation.

Loading... Please wait