Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Madison All Rights Reserved
Giving a bird too much freedom in the home probably isn't the best way to keep a pet parrot. That can actually make controlling the bird difficult, not to mention controlling the mess and keeping things clean.
A parrot will try to be boss if you let him. Biting can be part of that manipulative, or dominant behavior. Biting can also be a reaction to being frightened. Biting can also be a form of communication.
While I do believe it is important for a young bird that is learning to fly to have the chance to hone his flight skills before his first flight feather trim, I do still believe that a pet parrot in the home is better off with the flight feathers trimmed. That way he has the skills to be able to maneuver so that when he does have his flight feathers trimmed and his flight ability will be hindered, he will be able to land safely and avoid crashing because he has learned to maneuver and to land safely when he had full flight ability. Not only does having the flights trimmed help you to control where the bird spends his time, but also where he makes his messes. This helps you assert your dominance over him and it also puts you in a position of control. He has to look to you to get from "point A" to "point B". A parrot who sees himself as an "equal", a "sibling" or a "mate" to you may challenge you for the position of authority and "top dog". To help establish you as the boss, you need to control his whereabouts and a flight trim is necessary. Not only that, but you want your bird to look at you as a teacher or a parent, not as an equal, sibling or mate. Always be loving with your bird, as being boss doesn't mean being overbearing or mean, but definitely let your bird know that you are the one who calls the shots. You say when it is time to wake up, when it is time to go to bed, when it is time to forage for food, when it is time to be out of their cage, etc.....all this establishes you as the one who calls the shots. A bird who is allowed to make these decisions for themselves will see himself as the boss, as it is he who chooses to do what he wants when he wants to do it. A good parrot behavior book will explain things in a similar way. Parrots are not like dogs or cats. There is a whole psychology to living with these very intelligent creatures.
I guess the first thing is to try and figure out why your bird is biting. Is he doing it just because he's trying to "remove that freckle" on your arm, or maybe remove that hangnail? Is he doing it because he gets a kick out of your reaction (do you become "animated" and "agitated")? Is he trying to tell you "No", such as "No, I don't want to come down from here" or "No, you can't have my food cup", or something like that? Is he trying to assert his dominance and get the desired outcome from these actions and behaviors? Such as to get you to go away or leave him alone, or even to put him back in his cage?
If every time your parrot nips you, you put him down or put him back in his cage, that might tell him that all he needs to do when he wants something to drink, all he needs to do is pinch your fingers. Then he gets placed back inside his cage or on his play gym where he can get his drink of water. So be careful with your reactions because you don’t want to encourage that behavior. You can tell him “No” or “No bite” in a firm authoritative voice without yelling and screaming at your bird or becoming all “animated” which would probably only entertain your bird anyway. He may get a kick out of getting a rise out of you. You might also want to give him the “evil eye” or the “mad face” as birds will also learn your body language. I’ve heard stories of parrots that will nip a person, then the parrot will say “ouch” and then will follow that up with a “human laugh”.
Even my “sweet babies” can be nippy at times. There are other factors that can be involved here as well. Sometimes they just seem extra grumpy, such as when molting and you try to help preen some of the pin feather sheaths away. The bird might become very upset and being grouchy already from the discomfort of molting, may choose to nip you to let you know - "Stop it, that hurts!". If your birds are not getting enough sleep, that might make them grouchy and less agreeable. They need 10-12 hours of quiet, uninterrupted sleep each night. Nutrition can also play a role in the parrot's mood. If you are watching TV until 1 a.m. each night and getting your bird up at 7 a.m. each morning as you rise to go to work, for example, that can make your bird grumpy. If your bird eats nothing but a seed diet eventually that can wear him down - think of how you'd feel if all you ate were potato chips and ice cream for a couple of years.
Also, some of that behavior can be resultant from your moods. If you try handling your bird when you are agitated such as when you just come home from an awful day at work and fought traffic for the past hour, was cut off by those “idiots” on the road and as you pulled into the driveway your car began "making those sounds" (for example), if you were to come into your house and try to handle your bird being in that sort of foul mood, your bird will pick up on that and not want to step up for you. The more agitated you get, the more uncooperative your bird will usually become.
Not only do you have the right to "moods", but your intelligent and emotional pet parrot also has their rights to "moods". For example, they might have missed their usual nap time because the neighbor was mowing their lawn or the neighborhood kids were screaming and playing outside. Or those wild birds kept flying by the window making your parrot's life stressful. He can have moods too.
The better you learn to read your parrots body language and moods, the better your chances are to avoid the bite in the first place. Some birds will exhibit certain behaviors that if you were to approach them at that time, you’d surely receive a bite. That is true especially times when your bird is experiencing a hormone rush. Some birds will “pin” their eyes where the pupil goes from a tiny black dot to a large black dot quickly. They will flare their tails out and the feathers on their head and neck will stick out as if they are trying to make themselves look as big and scary as possible. Some birds will stand up as straight and tall as they can and sort of rock back and forth. All those are sure signs that the bird will bite if approached or if you get too close.
I’ve also heard of birds tricking someone to come close by acting all lovey and sweet and when you stick a finger in to give them a loving scritch, they quickly strike and bite. To some birds that is sheer entertainment and a lot of fun. If your bird becomes one of these characters, it will take conditioning and changing your behaviors in order to get the desired behavior from your pet. It isn’t always easy and it can often take longer than you’d like, but it can be possible in most cases with a lot of effort and persistence on your part. Again this is where a good book on parrot behavior or a phone call to a reputable bird behaviorist can be helpful.