Bluffing (Biting) Behavior in Parrots

Blue and gold macaw eating log
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All too often, people who own young parrots wake up to find that their sweet baby bird has turned into a lunging, biting, aggressive little monster! If this sounds like your feathered friend, then don't give up hope—many birds exhibit this sort of behavior during adolescence. It's called the "bluffing" stage, and while many parrots go through it, a few species—most notably Indian Ringneck Parakeets, Senegal Parrots, and Macaws—are more prone to bluffing behavior than others.

Characteristics of Bluffing

The hallmarks of bluffing are lunging, nipping, biting, hissing, and general resistance to interaction. Birds can enter into this stage seemingly overnight, and generally when they are between the ages of 4 months and one year. No one knows for sure exactly why some parrots go through the bluffing stage. Many speculate that it is due to hormonal changes that take place as the bird changes from a juvenile into an adult.

While it can be easy to shy away from a bluffing parrot, that is not necessarily the best route to take. Many new bird owners make the grave mistake of keeping their birds confined when they are bluffing. This action only serves to make a parrot even more withdrawn and antisocial.

How to Handle Bluffing Behavior

The best way to deal with a rebellious young bird is to continue about your routine, completely ignoring the bad behavior. This does NOT mean that you should neglect your bird—he or she should still be socialized and handled every day. The key is to understand that the bluffing stage will pass and that you shouldn't take your bird's behavior personally. You will be lunged at. You will be "cursed" at (hopefully in parrot language), and you will probably be bitten a few times. It does not mean that you are a bad owner or that your bird does not love you—but it does mean that you should pay close attention to the way that you react to your pet's behavior. Your bird sure will! To make sure that you and your pet make it through the bluffing stage with your relationship and bond intact, keep these tips in mind when confronted with your bird's bad behavior:

  • Never scream at the bird. It will only encourage his undesirable behavior, as birds do not see loud vocalizations as negative.
  • Try not to pull away from bites. This can be hard to do, especially since those beaks can be so painful, but if you can keep your cool and actually push into a bite rather than jerk away from it, the parrot will soon learn that biting gets him nowhere.
  • Never strike at your bird. Aside from being extremely dangerous, it is pointless as the bird cannot see this behavior as a consequence of his actions.

Patience is a virtue when dealing with a bluffing bird. Depending on the individual, the bluffing stage can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. With plenty of work and positive reinforcement, however, you will find that your angry little bird will eventually be nice again—and it will be worth all the aches and pains that come with avian adolescence!