“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.
I worked in a mini zoo and was attacked from behind by a yellow crested cockatoo. Still to this day I have a deep scar from where he bit into me. I had such a close bond with him aswell and would get kisses off him, but one day after they had moved his enclosure to a much larger enclosure that used to house the lemurs and id gone in to feed him and spend time with him throughout the day but he just switched as I tried to place him back onto a branch and mauled into me. Ive had such a fear since and actually left the day after but im due to start back soon and im genuinely worried about how he’s going to react to me.
Great article. My sun Conure was drawing blood quite a bit at the start of the spring season. She’s calmed down now but even after 17 years I sometimes find myself a bit nervous when asking her to step up. Thankfully she has never sent me to the emergency room.
Yeah, I’m still scared. A Quaker parrot is probably as large as I will get. Thanks for helping me make up my mind.
So I’m honestly scared of my lovebird bites, my relative says he bites harder than pigeons but my lovebird’s bites barely hurt. And Mango’s bit my arms and legs and my fingernails, which usually hurt most according to my cousin. Welp, Thanks for the article. I’m a scaredy-bird.
For me in the beginning I think the fear of being bitten was worse than the actual bite. The worst bite I have received from my DYH Amazon lifted a good sized chunk of flesh on my finger and bled a lot but I learned that day that it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. I think the biggest thing as humans to learn is to not attach human emotions to the bite. Animals tend to get over confrontations quickly and if we learn to do that as well it makes living with the unpredictability possible.
I have tried to learn to read my cockatoos body language. I am usually right. I will tell my husband no loud noise and not to come in our space. My bird is bonded with me and when he gets in these moods it’s best if I am alone when he is out of his cage. He knows when he bites that it was wrong because he will try to snuggle to say I’m sorry and he knows what no bite means but as we all know they act on instinct and I have the scars to prove it. Very important to put him in his cage after a bite to let him calm down. All part of being a bird person
Bites from small birds like the cockatials and Maximilon Pionus conures dont really hurt depending were they get you…I had cockatails and conures that bit but never drew blood..now I have a large umbrella too and damm it hurts like hell…he can crack a nut in half so imagine what he can do to your arm hand or face….so yea I am afraid..I try not to show it though..
I think this is a great blog to help us reduce our fear of bites. Our 26 yo Congo African Grey has only slowly accepted the third to our flock, my 20 year wife. He sometimes bites but usually with warning. However one time, he got me seriously with no warning I can determine - latched down on the base of my thumb and said “OUCH” is a clear loud voice - the only time he’s ever said that! I usually wait until he’s finished biting, and releases. Then I show him the damage he’s done, tell him to look at the blood and tell him how much he’s hurt me. He looks, seems contrite, I scratch his head and tell HIM I’m sorry. I haven’t figured out what I’m not doing right yet — and it’s only been 26 years since hand-weaning him!
Can someone please offer me their advice? As I told Ana Maria, I now have an ex-boyfriend since January of this year. We decided to remain friends and he loves my double yellow head amazon, Buddy very much. Well, Buddy loves Kevin also. Buddy seems to be angry with me all the time and wants to attack me viciously now. Even before Kevin and I split up, Buddy had chosen Kevin as his favorite peeple. My question and my dilemma is whether or not I need to think of Buddy’s happiness over my own and give Buddy to Kevin. I hate to think of having to do this, but I don’t know if the bird will forget Kevin and remember that he used to love me too, or will he continue to pine for Kevin? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if someone has any good advice for me. Thank you all and have a happy…
I can certainly attest that even a relatively small bird can cause real damage if he wants to. My wild caught, second hand TAG, Basil, has flown at me and attacked me three times! Once in the upper lip (that was more scary than painful) and twice on the arm with a sort of “twisting of the flesh” action that caused a lot of pain and a lot of blood! I’m not talking about biting my finger (that has happened a lot and doesn’t really hurt). I’m talking about full flight or lunge at me with the intent to inflict serious damage. I’m still trying to work out exactly why. I’ve had him 20 years (he’s around 30) and he talks and interacts with me quite well (most of the time). I’m sure time of year had a lot to do with it. Two attacks happened in the Spring and one in the Fall. Despite “his” name, I’m fairly sure (from body language) that Basil is a “she”. I want to work with Basil to stop this behavior and I hope to find some tips here. Still… considering it’s Spring again, I may wait for a couple of months before I start working in earnest.
A macaw beak is scary. It can crack walnut shells and brazil nut shells with ease and destroy furniture. And, similar to what Allynn posted below, a few times my macaw has done a twisting or grinding action with his beak as he has bitten me. There is nothing I can do but wait until he lets go, then assess the damage. So, yeah, there is a bit of fear to overcome when I approach my bird. Oh yes, the last two times he bit me, I had ignored signs of trouble. So, I need to be more aware of the signs and his moods and to calm myself before approaching him.
Thanks for the article. Most annoying thing to me is people’s fear of a parrot bite. For goodness sake, it’s a nine ounce body (*in my TAG’s case anyhow), and it can’t possible kill or maim a 150 pound human. My Maximilon Pionus Mieko bit me every chance he got for years after I adopted him from a house were he was teased so bad he wanted to do nothing but bite and was confined to a small cage because no one could get near him. Although it greatly decreased, Mieko still bit as often as he could. I learned on line about how to push forward on a bite rather than pulling back (a very natural reaction) and his bite become less feared. One particularly nasty day of him being “mean,” I decided to put my finger out and let him bite me and just not move it as long as I could stand it. Low and behold it didn’t even hurt! He bit and bit and bit but it didn’t hurt. Eventually after a good two minutes, he stopped, looked up at me and you could see the change in his mind: “Hey, this doesn’t work!” He rarely even makes threatening gestures any more. We’ve reached an agreement about him and his biting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some nasty bites, including an African Senegal’s beak fishhooked in my lip. But I rarely get bit anymore by any of my four birds because I never react to their bites. I just take it like a man and walk away before I grab a tissue and swear up a storm in the other room and remind myself I am the one responsible because A. I gave him the opportunity to bite me and B. I didn’t pay enough attention to his needs. Game Over. The more you give into a bird’s bite, the more he’ll use his beak to get his message across. When that doesn’t work, he’ll find a new way to communicate.
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