One thing that new bird owners quickly realize is that birds bite. They bite a lot, actually, particularly if the behavior is reinforced. I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t reinforce biting! I punish my pet when he bites!” Punishment may actually do more harm than good when it comes to teaching your bird positive behaviors. To find out why your bird bites and what you should do about it, keep reading.
Beaking versus Biting
What most owners experience is not true biting. Birds often “beak” objects, such as perches and toys (and, yes, fingers) to test their firmness or texture. When you think about it, this makes sense. Birds do not have hands to grab objects first; they only have their feet for gripping. One false move and they fall down, possibly injuring themselves. That’s why they often test things with their beaks first. Even though it may be mildly painful, a beaking is not a bite. Bites are quite painful, often resulting in the bird’s beak breaking the skin.
Reasons Birds Bite
If you’re sure that you’re being bitten rather than beaked (and you have the bandages to prove it), you must figure out why your bird is biting. There are a few reasons why your feathered friend may be snapping at you.
The first is out of fear. Birds usually learn to trust their families, but they may be strangers or people that they don’t trust or like. Even if you’re not the object of fear, having a dog, small children or strangers around while you hold your bird may make him uneasy enough to bite.
Birds may also bite playfully. They often try to interact with humans in the same way that they’d interact with their fellow birds. This can happen when the bird is overexcited. Try to avoid overstimulation by gently coaxing your bird back into its cage when it seems overstimulated.
Your bird may be territorial over its cage, toys or favorite people. Territorial aggression also occurs during breeding season. Even if your bird does not have a mate, hormones naturally bring about more aggressive behavior. Avoid handling your bird when hormones are at their peak. Territorial birds should not be handled when they may perceive that others in the room are vying for your attention.
To prevent or reduce instances of biting or beaking, follow these tips:
- Offer treats during handling sessions to both keep the bird’s mouth busy and to reward him for good behavior.
- Work on socializing your bird from an early age. Expose him to many different people, but avoid stressing him out with too much contact. Keep sessions short to prevent anxious behaviors.
- Learn your bird’s body language. Fluffed up feathers, dilated eyes and unusual posture are all signs of an impending bite.