Q: I have a 2 year old blue and gold macaw that is very sweet and has never bitten me. I heard recently that at some point my bird will bite me. Is this true?
-Mary, Springfield, IL
A: This is a great question and an important topic for new bird owners. Unfortunately, the answer to your question is most likely ‘yes”. Parrots may bite for a number of different reasons ranging from fright to fear to aggression, with a host of different possibilities in between. What is more important than the bite itself, is why it happened and how it can be avoided.
Biting is a natural tendency for a bird. The birds in our homes today are only about 3 generations removed from the wild. Dogs and cats have been domesticated over hundreds, even thousands, of years by breeding out undesirable characteristics through many, many generations. We are a very long way away from that with our parrots. There are many wild caught birds in captivity today. Even our young captive-bred birds have parents or grandparents that were wild caught. They are wild animals with their wild instincts still intact.
Birds interact with each other using their beaks in feeding, preening and as warning. It makes sense that they would use their beaks in their communications with us as well. However, as natural as a bite might be, it is completely unacceptable, with the one exception of when the bird is falling and grabs onto you to right itself. It is never okay for your bird to bite you just because that’s what birds do. It IS up to us to pay attention to the clear warnings that they give telling us that they are unhappy, and to not allow an atmosphere in the home that causes them to feel fear and the need to lash out.
A bite can often be avoided by watching body language for signs of aggression and observing and removing things or situations which trigger fear or anger related bites. Sometimes, though, we encounter situations that we can’t foresee, such as the backfiring of a truck that might startle a bird into biting. If you carry your bird on your shoulder, you don’t want to be in between him and what has startled him.
When birds reach sexual maturity, their temperaments sometimes change. Additionally, hormones make some parrots aggressive and excitable during this time of year, and they can be quite unpredictable. To avoid being bitten, I avoid handling mine when they are in a mood like this.
Watch and get to know your bird, and continue to learn as he grows and changes. If you take the time to understand and teach him what is and is not acceptable, and treat him with the respect he deserves, your altercations should be minimal. I have a goffins cockatoo that has never bitten anyone in her 24 years.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.