Q: My bird is really well behaved most of the time but when someone comes over she screams and if I let her out she tries to bite them. How can I stop this?
-Bryce H., Birmingham, AL
A: Birds are naturally concerned with anything new that appears in their environment. It is a safety protocol for them to be very aware of and familiar with everything in their vicinity because things that are out of place might indicate danger. When something new appears, red flags go up and cause some birds to question their safety. They tend to eye all new things suspiciously and act accordingly. This reaction can also extend to new people in their environment.
Added to this sense of insecurity might be feelings of territorialism. Birds will often have a favorite human in the home. That is normal. They have preferences just like we do. However, it becomes a problem when the bird takes such an interest in that person they reject interaction with anyone else.
As their possessiveness for this person is allowed to develop, they often feel their relationship with you is threatened with the presence of another person (or bird or other pet) and will act aggressively to eliminate anything that jeopardizes your exclusive relationship. In an odd twist, the bird will sometimes bite their chosen person.
So there you have two reasons for your bird to feel tension when someone comes to your house. Not only is there the presence of something new, but your attention is focused on the person and NOT on your bird, adding insult to injury.
To eliminate your bird’s loud and aggressive behavior, you need to reduce the stressful impact of the visitor’s arrival by making your bird feel differently about the event.
This is most common with birds that are not well socialized with other humans. There is no reason for them to trust a person other than yourself because it has not been well-established that every human is non-threatening. Taking your bird out with you on a harness or in a carrier for a brief walk every week in a place where people gather will help this situation a great deal.
As you introduce your bird to new people, (people will always be interested in your parrot) they will become objects of curiosity rather than something to be feared.
Take some treats along with you on the walk and reward your bird every time he shows relaxed behavior around a stranger. If your bird feels comfortable, the stranger can offer the treat.
This activity will reduce your bird’s natural concern over a new person, but it will simultaneously teach her that other humans also have value and make her feel less inclined to have a singularly exclusive interest in only you. This will dial down her need to defend her possession of you and aggressive behavior will no longer be necessary.
Additionally, this may not only affect her “present”, but also her “future”. In the event something should happen to you, she will be better prepared to adapt in someone else’s care. A well socialized bird is secure and happy and we get to have company over without all the drama. Win/win.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.