Q: My green cheek conure bites me (or tries to) every time I take her out of her cage. It’s like she’s afraid of my hands. When she is out, she loves for me to play with her and doesn’t mind my hands at all. My sun conure steps right up every time. What can I do to fix this problem?
-Jennifer S., Billings, MO
A: It sounds to me like you have a bird that is not fearful of hands at all but is territorial and objects to having hands in (and probably around) her cage. Try to see her environment from her standpoint as a bird, remembering that her cage is her nest-site and home.
In the wild, a bird will fiercely defend the nest and its surrounding areas to ward off other pilfering birds that would like to steal her eggs and young, or take ownership of her nest for its own use. This innate drive to protect her territory keeps her always on guard and she will run off anything that is foreign to her environment.
Some species tend to be more territorial than others – conures are one of those species. In captivity, this drive is present and can be a powerful trait in a bird as an individual regardless of species. This behavior is further escalated during times when our birds are affected by breeding urges – in the spring, and again in the fall to a lesser degree.
You need to understand that your green cheek conure’s aggressiveness is not directed toward you on a personal level. She is merely carrying out her duties. It is not a “bad” behavior – it is a “bird” behavior. Try to be forgiving and acknowledge that this is her nature as an individual, and it may never change.
While you must respect that when your hands are in her cage they are regarded as invaders that make her feel threatened and insecure, you have to find a way to retrieve her when necessary without being injured. In the case of a fire, you must know that you can move her to safety.
Some birds will gladly step up onto a hand-held perch or wood dowel from inside their cages. And there is always the old standby: a towel wrapped around the hand the wrist to protect you from the inevitable bite. Be sure that your green cheek is watching as your sun steps agreeably onto your hand. Let him be the role model for desired behaviors.
I know you were looking for a way to fix this problem, but there isn’t really a “problem” to fix. Your bird is simply pursuing what comes to her instinctively. Over time, and with age, your bird might relax her standards and drop the guard dog routine. In the meantime, enjoy her cooperation and pleasantness while she is out of her cage and let her be proud and strong inside of it. I think this is a fair compromise.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.