Birds squabble, just like humans. They get on each others nerves and will warn each other, in no uncertain terms, to back off! Even my cockatiels, who cannot bear to be apart from one another, get into it from time to time. Sometimes a disagreement might escalate to raised wings and flared tails, but it is always peacefully resolved. There are times, however, when a war is waged that is unprecedented and, from our point of view, unprovoked:
A friend has, among many other species of parrots in her home, two amazons: a female aged 45, and a male aged 19. The two have co-existed peacefully for years. There have been no signs of aggression towards each other or the other birds in the home. The two were out on their perches this day, playing- sleeping- eating, doing what they had always done.
My friend had been in another part of her house and as she returned to the room, the first thing she noticed was that the female was no longer on her perch, then that the male was no longer on his. As she turned the corner, she saw the blood and the male on top of the female ripping at her skin and feathers. Her first thought was that her much older female was dead – she was limp and lifeless. A closer examination showed her to be barely breathing, and in very bad condition. Both, in fact, were so covered in blood that it was impossible to tell the extent of the injuries. She was unsure that the female would survive the ride to the vet.
The female spent the next two weeks in an ICU brooder, receiving injections of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pain medications. Her broken toe was wrapped. She needed to be tube fed for several days. She managed to escape internal injuries, but she is an old bird and it was touch and go for several days. The male fared much better with the major damage confined to his beak and nares. Much of the blood he was covered in belonged to the female.
The following pictures are very graphic:
The female, cleaned up following the vet visit.
Her right side.
With her broken toe wrapped.
What went wrong? Why did these previously non-aggressive birds suddenly want to have a fight to the death? It can only be presumed, but it is thought to have stemmed from a necessary change in the placement of the cages in that room, putting them in a more direct line of sight, perhaps bringing on hormonal aggression in the male.
Additionally, the female’s perch was at a higher level and the male may have decided he wanted that advantage. It would appear from the trail of feathers on the floor that after a tussle, the female relented and left the perch but the male followed, cornered and attacked her with the intention of killing her.
Fortunately, my friend intervened before he could succeed. The female had given up the fight and was waiting for the end to come. My friend believes that the fight couldn’t have lasted more than five minutes, but is sure it would’ve been over after just a couple of minutes more.
The male; the gal sure put up a fight.
Another view. You can see where she took chunks out of his beak.
The important lesson to be learned from this story is that no matter how much we think we know our parrots, no matter how much time we have invested in them and what our experience with them has been, they are wild animals that are subjected to instincts and a code of nature that we are incapable of fully understanding.
They live by a different set of laws, and as brutal and uncivilized as wild behaviors sometimes might seem, it is nature. They have their reasons for doing the things they do. Understanding that we really don’t understand is important. Controlling the controllables is very important.
Taking the knowledge and understanding that we do have, factoring in the personalities and demeanor of our parrots, and applying common sense is really the best, perhaps only, defense that we have against an incident like this one. When I think about my own birds, I think that most of them would prefer to avoid a fight and would be unlikely to start one. Do I know this with certainty? No. My friend didn’t do anything wrong. She did as she always had done with them, which had always worked in the past. Simply re-positioning the cages triggered a reaction in the male that was unanticipated, and resulted in an attack.
Still, parrots are reasonable beings. They continually show us that in their willingness to adapt to our environment, but the order to their logic is a mystery to us as humans. We need to be vigilant and supervise them always. We must watch their body language with us AND their own kind. We need to consider the possible outcome of our actions, as innocuous as they might seem. We ask a lot of them in our day to day existence with them. For example, we expect them to live in a cage, amuse themselves with toys we offer them and interact nicely with the family. They comply. This speak volumes about their nature.
This incident took place between two birds of the same size and species. Consider for a moment the results of the same level aggression between two birds of different sizes, say a macaw and an amazon – or an amazon and a conure. There would be no contest. It would be brief, but final. The smaller bird would lose, and the loss might have a lingering effect on the relationship you now have with the survivor.
Just as in the case with the two amazons, even those who appear to get along fine even with their size differences, can end up in a deadly fight that does not turn out as well as this one. Is it really worth the risk?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.