All pet birds can, and will, bite at some point. That’s just a fact. Puppies and human babies do it too, and we still love them. Understanding WHY birds bite can go a long way toward understanding how to avoid an instance where you may be bitten.– Elaine Welbourn, Welcome Wings Aviary
#1: Birds bite because they are exploring their world.
Baby birds, like all human babies, will go through a “mouthy” stage during which they explore their world by putting their mouth on objects and surfaces. Many human caregivers incorrectly label this as “aggression” or “meanness” when in fact the bird is simply trying to figure out what in his/her world is edible, what is a stable perching surface, and what is something fun to explore further. It is our job to teach the baby bird that human skin is not a chew toy. There are many positive methods of helping the bird to understand this, which I can cover separately.
#2: Birds bite because they are over-stimulated.
Birds 6 months and older will sometimes become over-stimulated, not unlike a child at an amusement park who gets so excited he starts sobbing uncontrollably and doesn’t really know why, or a teenager going through puberty who is just suddenly reacting to a simple situation in an over-the-top way they wouldn’t normally. It is our job to understand our bird’s behaviour and end the play session on a positive note before the bird becomes over-stimulated, even if we would rather keep having fun. For this reason I tell my bird buyers to set an alarm on their phone. After 5 minutes the alarm will ring and signal that it is time for the baby to go back in their cage, on onto their t-stand, for a little break. After another 5-10 minutes they can come play again (for another 5 minute session). Keeping your playtime short will help the bird learn to calm him/herself and settle in a relaxed fashion after a period of excitement.
#3: Birds bite because their body language was ignored or misinterpreted.
Birds give lots and lots of warning signs before they bite. It is our job to watch for those changes in body language and acknowledge them, responding appropriate, before the situation escalates.
Think about it this way…if you’re doing something I don’t like (let’s say, touching my head) the first thing I’ll do is ask you to stop. If you continue the behaviour I might pull away from you or ask a little louder and more clearly. If you continue the behaviour still I might punch you in the face. Birds are the same way! If your bird bites it is likely because you didn’t see, or chose to ignore, the warning signs that led up to it. Here’s the big deal…if you ignore (or don’t see) the subtle warning signs the first time, your bird will probably forgive you. But if this is a regular occurrence those warning signs will start becoming less and less clear…afterall, why would the bird bother to warn you gently when you’ve never listened in the past until he escalates to a bite? If a bite is the only way to get you to listen, then a bite is what you will receive!!
Video-taping your interactions with the bird (especially while he/she is new to your home and you are getting to know each other) is a great way to review what led up to a bite so you can learn to read the body language and plan better next time. Bottom line…if being bitten by your bird is likely to result in the bird being re-homed (rather than evaluating the situation and using it to learn more about how you can communicate with the bird), you should consider a different type of pet. I hear that fish don’t bite…that might be a good option.
#4: Birds bite because they are startled.
Try it sometime: sneak up on someone you know and scare them. Watch what they do. Usually a startled person will put their hands up in a “ready to fight” position, perhaps clench their fists, or protect their face. We react to startling situations by preparing to defend ourselves. Birds are no different. If you sneak up on a resting bird you might be bitten.
#5: Birds bite because it elicited a big reaction from their human caregiver in the past.
Yes, it is true: if a bird bites (often for one of the reasons stated above) and then you make a big fuss hooting and hollering and dancing around the floor saying “ow, ow, ow, ow!” you may have just trained your bite to bite you again. It doesn’t matter what you say — it could be “hey, you’re a bad bird”, but the bird only hears and responds to the volume and tone of your voice, and the animation of your actions. Birds love attention, and they love seeing a reaction from their human caregivers. What worked once might be worth trying again!