“My amazon parrot sent me to the emergency room for stitches last night. He has never bit me like this before and even though I know it happened because of hormones I’m afraid of him now.”
-Gina B., Dayton, OH
This is an important topic – especially for a time of year where people are frequently bitten. A bird’s behavior in the spring (and to a lesser degree in the fall) can seem erratic and unpredictable. This is the time when we misread body language and make our biggest mistakes in handling and it often result is some bad bites.
You always hear people talking about what to do when your parrot doesn’t trust you, but there is much less discussion about what to do when you don’t trust your parrot.
People are correct in saying that what you do in the few seconds following the bite will determine how future altercations will go. Parrots are master manipulators and if something has happened that caused your parrot to feel the need to bite, running away screaming like a girl might be very gratifying to your bird. You don’t want your bird to learn that attacking you has merit.
But anyone who has received a real bite from their parrot, and I’m not talking about a warning like a lunge or a nip, but a direct confrontation that was meant to cause you injury, will tell you that it is impossible to NOT react in some way.
The first response is shock (because if you had noticed aggression building, there would already be cage bars between you and your bird) and that is followed by a very real sense of danger. You are bleeding, you feel confused and betrayed and somehow you are supposed to minimize the impact of this event so your bird doesn’t inadvertently get rewarded for attacking you. That is a lot to deal with in a few seconds. Usually, we blow it.
When you have been bitten, you first priority has to be safety – both yours and your bird’s. For everyone’s well-being, the best place for your bird right now is in the cage – you need to be safe and you can’t leave him unattended in another room while you bandage your wound. You will have the best success caging an angry bird if you calm down before approaching him.
Keep in mind that because your bird is a prey animal it is, by nature, a highly excitable animal. A bird’s survival in the wild depends on how well it perceives the safety of its environment. When a single flock member reacts to something with alarm, it will send an entire tree full of birds into the air toward safety. Our birds are very aware of our emotions – we are, after all, flock mates.
If you want to calm your bird down, you can’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed with tension because it will cause you bird to react with tension of its own. Take a few cleansing breaths and lower your energy – most birds respond quickly and relax.
Once the adrenaline has stopped pumping and we return to rational thought we begin to question how we can ever again trust this bird. No one could blame you for having those thoughts.
Of course, you should dissect the situation to try to determine what went wrong so that mistakes aren’t repeated in the future, but by and large, the best thing you can do to preserve your relationship is to just move on.
The above photo is my hand after a bite from Linus, my umbrella cockatoo. I was taken completely by surprise. There was blood all over the floor, the cage and him. I couldn’t move my thumb.
While I was bandaging up my hand, I tried to pull myself together and lower my energy because I wanted to try to patch things up with him before bedtime. Even though I was the one with the injury, it had been a bad experience for him too.
I went to his cage and talked quietly to him for several minutes about how we’d had a bad night and that I was sorry for my part in it. While my calm demeanor during the “conversation” served to bring his energy down to normal, I was also trying to talk myself off the ledge and convince myself that tomorrow would be business as usual. There was no logical reason to assume that the bite was the beginning of a trend and that it would happen again when I next handled him.
It wasn’t the first bite and it wouldn’t be the last, but bites are few and far between and as a bird owner, I can deal with that idea without living in fear. My birds are good birds and a bite does not make them bad.
If you want to get over a bite, you have to actually get over it. If you approach your bird with fear and trepidation, your stress will cause your bird to be uneasy with you. Accept that it happened, learn what you can from it and move on expecting your bird’s normal behavior to resume and your relationship to continue as normal. There is no reason it shouldn’t – and once YOU let the experience go, your bird will follow your example.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.