Little Feathered Buddies

Small birds, big hearts

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BIRD INFORMATION:
 Getting Started
 General Info
 Bird Care

*Taming & Training
 - Talking
 - How to tame
 - Clicker training
 - Food bribery
 - Problem behavior
     - Biting

 Health & Nutrition
 Breeding & Genetics

Taming and Training

Biting

Reading the sections on Bird Psychology and Problem Behavior will be helpful.

First of all, we need to define biting. Not every use of the beak is a bite. Birds may use their beak to steady themselves or to test the security of the perch while stepping up, and if you pull your hand away during this process you will unintentionally send the message that your finger isn't a safe place to sit. Birds may chew on things for fun or as a way of exploring the world. Babies may spend weeks testing your fingers to see if they're edible. If this non-violent use of the beak causes discomfort, you can teach your bird limits by calmly withdrawing your hand while saying something like "gentle" and then ignoring the bird for a few seconds (thereby showing the bird that the fun stops when it pinches too hard with the beak).

A real bite is an intentional effort to cause pain, in an attempt to drive away someone who is annoying or scaring the bird. There is apparently very little real biting in wild flocks. This is because the birds observe each other's body language and warning signals, and usually back away from a disgruntled flockmate before the situation escalates to the point of biting. We humans tend to be a lot less observant, and often ignore the warning signs until the only "back off" signal the bird has left is a bite. When a bird bites, it means that YOU made a mistake that created a situation where the bird was both willing and able to bite you. If the bird figures out that biting is the only effective way to get your attention, it may start using bites as its first line of defense instead of the last resort.

Biting habits are easier to start than they are to stop, so the best policy is to AVOID BITES. Try not to give your bird a reason to want to bite you in the first place. Paying attention to your bird's body language will help you recognize when trouble is brewing, and stay out of biting range when you know he has the urge. If there's something you need to do, find a way to do it without getting bitten. For example, if your bird tends to bite during step ups, you can use a stick for step ups instead of your hand. You may also be able to change the bird's attitude toward your hand by offering a hand-held treat at a moment when the bird isn't making any threats. Keeping the bird at a level that's lower than your head can help reduce aggressive/assertive behavior.

If you do get bitten, don't punish the bird. She won't understand it, and it will increase her negative feelings toward you so that she becomes even more likely to bite. Instead, review the situation to figure out what contributed to the bite. If it was something you did, avoid doing it in the future. Sometimes biting is triggered by a nearby event that made the bird unhappy in some way, and if you're alert you may be able to anticipate such events in the future and get your hand out of the way in time.  NEVER use any kind of physical punishment (including grabbing or thumping the beak), because birds are fragile and easily injured.

Don't reward the bite either. Birds bite because they get some kind of benefit from it, so identify that benefit and then do your best to remove it. Prevention is the best cure, and your bird can't get a biting reward unless it actually bites you. 

You can ignore the frequently-repeated advice that once a bite begins, you have to just stand there and take it to show the bird that it can't control you this way. Your ultimate goal is to not get bitten, and letting a bird chew on you doesn't serve that goal. You might even be teaching the bird that a quick bite isn't enough to discourage you, and it needs to bite long and hard. Birds are alert to subtle body language, and will know that they're hurting you even if you don't move.  If you pull away from a bite you will indeed be telling the bird that biting is effective. But you don't have to win every single round to achieve your longterm goal, and there are smarter, less painful ways to go about it.

Enduring the bite CAN teach a bird that biting is ineffective. But it does it in a negative way, by showing the bird that you can do whatever you want and his greatest weapon can't stop you. You are teaching him that he's helpless, and learned helplessness isn't psychologically healthy for anyone including birds.

When you retreat from a bite, it will be least reinforcing if you do it casually, as if you meant to move your hand anyway and the bite had nothing to do with it. If the bird has really latched on, pushing your hand gently but firmly toward the bird will unbalance him and make him let go. Some birds (mostly the larger parrots) enjoy drama. If you yell or make a fuss when they bite you, they think it's funny and will keep on doing it to see the reaction. So no drama rewards please!

Copyright 2014 Carolyn Tielfan all rights reserved