3 Examples of the Unexpected Parrot Bite and What You Can do to Avoid it

We have all fallen victim to the unforeseen parrot bite at one time or another.  Usually, our feelings are hurt worse than our flesh.  The only thing you can think to say at the time is: “What the…?!”  Here are some common scenarios that are typical of the “unexpected” or “unprovoked” bite:

1) You’re enjoying some quiet out of cage time with the eclectus and a good book.  You are stretched out on the couch and your sweet little bird is preening at your shoulder.  Out of the blue, you have a nose piercing…

“Out of cage” time and time spent with your parrot are two different things.  The time your bird spends on it’s kitchen perch watching you do the dishes cannot be a substitute for hands-on, interactive play, training and communication.  While out of cage time is enjoyable for your bird, time spent engaging your bird is more important.  It is stimulating, creative and an important part of  your bonding process.

I have always been amazed at just how patient my parrots are with my “human-ness” and my hectic life.  They put up with a lot, but even the most easy going of my birds will let me know when enough is enough.  If we don’t pay attention to the body language and sure signs of discontent, it would seem like their mood turned on a dime, catching us completely off guard.

This is likely the cause of the above “unexpected” bite.  It is probable that the eclectus was waiting for interaction from it’s owner, and as it was perched on the shoulder, out of the line of sight, the signals were missed.  A bite may have been the only way left to get the attention of his owner who was absorbed in a book.

2) Your African grey is contentedly pulling a one-footer on his favorite perch in the back corner of his cage.  You walk up to the cage and politely invite him out for a visit.  You reach in to retrieve him and then wham!  You count your fingers, expecting not to get past four.

I think that the normal usage of the beak is more for chewing and less for biting. In  a wild setting, birds typically squabble for perching rights, food and territory.  Rarely, very rarely, do birds ever engage in bloodshed.  Most birds will typically flee rather than fight.  Given this fact, trainer Steve Martin makes an excellent point in that our caged birds have had the alternative to flee removed and sometimes the only recourse is to bite.

Taking this into account, if your bird preferred to stay in his cage to sleep, what were his options in this example of the “unprovoked” bite? Being  that he was cornered in a cage with a “demanding” hand in his space, as the bird may have perceived the event,  he was left with little alternative. And, not to mention, most people clip their birds’ wings nowadays so the “flight” part of fight or flight is missing and all that’s left is fight.

Since there was no emergency requiring that your bird readily step up, retrieve your hand and let him be.  If your bird doesn’t immediately and eagerly respond, it is a sign that he would prefer to stay where he is.  There is no good reason to force your will on a parrot, opt instead for a cooperative effort and a meeting of the minds.  You will find that the more respect you show your parrot, the more agreeable he will be to seeing things your way at times when you need or want him to.

3)  Your sun conure is very bonded to you and wants to be a part of everything you do. Your husband and the bird do not share the same good relationship.  She is happily perched on your shoulder while you go about household tasks.  Your husband approaches you, and your sun conure takes a bite out of YOUR chin.  Why?

This is a very common scenario. Why would a bird bite its chosen person?  Here are a few different perspectives:

Avian behaviorist and author Sally Blanchard states that when a bird feels threatened in the wild, it will bite its mate causing it to flee.  Since a single bird cannot defend its mate and territory at the same time, this action frees it of the immediate responsibility to the mate and allows it to concentrate on the defense of territory.

Steve Martin, however, contests this by saying that biting one’s mate is a poor species survival strategy, and doesn’t do much good in terms of bonding among mates.

Mattie Sue Athen, author of Guide To A Well Behaved Parrot, puts it down to “displaced aggression”, citing that birds are of the mind that “when you can’t be with the one you want to bite, bite the one you’re with”.

I find some truth in all of these perspectives.  The one common denominator is probably hormones.  In this case, the sun conure has chosen the wife as her mate and is defending its territory by deflecting the attentions of the disliked husband.

The first part of the problem lies in allowing a bird to respond well only to you.  It is your duty to see that your parrot be socialized, not only to everyone one in the household, but to all humans.  If something were to happen to you, the parrot would likely spend the remainder of it’s lifetime being bounced from home to home to shelter because of its inability to get along with anyone that isn’t you.  It’s unfair and completely unnecessary.

Make sure your bird is handle-able by everyone from its first day in your home. Birds very often will choose a favorite person that he prefers to be with.  That’s just fine, as long as it also plays nicely with the rest of the family.  Let those “out of favor” be the ones who do the fun things like offer treats and fun interaction and training.  Gradually bring your parrot around to being a family bird.

Any of this sounding familiar? More often than not, it is the circumstances accompanying the bite that are more questionable than the bite itself.  In almost every case where a human is bitten by a parrot, the fault lies with the human and not with the “unreasonable” parrot.  The trick is in learning to read your bird’s body language and signs, understanding a bird’s natural responses, avoiding situations that might be problematic and forming a bridge of communication with your parrot that you can both understand through training.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

2 comments

Michelle Brown

I have an 8 year old CAG named Shady, since he was 3 months old. I have always been his primary caregiver. My husband doesn’t trust Shady and won’t hold him since he bit him 6 or 7 years ago. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I love Shady but I also love my husband. He really didn’t want to get a bird in the first place and only agreed to get Shady to please me. My husband will let Shady climb up and sit on his leg but only for a few minutes. He’s nervous that Shady will bite him, unprovoked, as he did in the past. It was truely unprovoked, that we could tell. Shady was standing on his lap while he was watching TV and Shady walked up to his stomach and bit him. I’ve tried to get my husband to try training but doesn’t want to, he said he just will stay away from him. However, Shady doesn’t feel the same way. Shady will follow him around the house. Shady has picked up his voice and whistle and he really seems to want to be friends with my husband. Shady has bitten me so hard in the past that he broke skin. So he says that if he bites me like that what’s to say that Shady won’t bite him like that. Sometimes I think he bites me because he’s mad at my husband. We have had several arguments over whether I need to give him up. Of course, I don’t want to but if my husband doesn’t want to train with Shady to stop the biting then I think that Shady’s biting behavior will not change. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to help build the trust between my bird and my husband?

Michelle Brown
Beth Burke

We own a female 5 yr old Timneh African Gray named Pixie. she has been a member of our family she since she was 4 mths old. For 2 yrs t she was socialized + seemed to accept. every member of our family. Our now 25 yr old daughter is on the Autism spectrum. While she was sitting on the couch holding Pixie one day, Pixie ran up her arm + bit her on the face. she has been afraid to hold Pixie + has not held Pixie since. It is interesting tho, because our daughter has become Pixie’s favorite human. Pixie has become her shadow whenever she is home. Our daughter is very soft spoken, engages with Pixie, Pixie gives an exclusive showing or her “wings” trick to our daughter. I’m Pixie’s owner + caretaker. She + I get along well + have fun together throughout the day. I am home most of the time minus appts. I have learned to read Pixie’s body language. I love her to death. I accept her unique + personality + preferences. My husband was Pixie’s favorite human before he was “dethroned” by our young adult daughter. We have always been in awe of my husband seeming to have immunity to getting bit by Pixie. Until recently. She bit my husband HARD twice this past week, once when he was pouring water into her water dish on her java tree from a cup + once when he put her in her cage. She has never bitten him like this before. I believe she started biting him because he has become an “unsafe” human. We are having marital problems + I plan to file for divorce. My husband has had a problem with alcohol for 1/4 century. He retired prematurely 3 yrs ago after suffering a torn rotator cuff. Our communication fell off a cliff into an abyss ever since . His behavior has become unpredictable. One day he will be attentive to Pixie like he was during her 1st 2 yrs with us. Other days he will ignore her + it looks as tho a tractor beam is pulling his undivided attention into his phone for hrs at a time. Pixie becomes distraught when he ignores her, doesn’t look up from his phone or respond to her efforts to gain his attention. Her distress builds until she seems to have a panic attack or emotional meltdown. She is unable to calm down unless I take her into a quiet room, reassure her “Pixie’s OK”, distract her + help her get “grounded” by talking with her + making sounds she likes ie kissing sounds. Pixie often says “Pixie’s OK” during the day. Both times Pixie bit him he did not say anything, state his expectations, or explain what he was doing with the cup of water. He may have reached over the top of her to pour the water into her water dish. From my past experiences, reaching over the top of her without warning is a recipe for disaster + a sure way to be bitten. do you have advice for me? Am I handling Pixie’s distress in our very stressful household OK? I cannot convince my husband to behave any differently. Pixie + I somehow need to learn to adapt to his unpredictable behavior + not being “safe” human or avoid him until he + I can afford to live separately. Pixie will always live with me.

Beth Burke

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