How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Pet Birds

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos fighting, Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia
Jochen Schlenker/Photolibrary/Getty Images

There's no such thing as a mean bird. There are, however, birds that are fearful and those with emotional problems that cause them to want to avoid being handled. When one of these birds finds itself in a situation as a pet, it can be problematic for both bird and owner, possibly leading to bird aggression. Fortunately, you can train your bird to enjoy the time it spends with you.

Why Are Pet Birds Aggressive?

The most common causes of aggression in birds are fear or previous traumatic experiences. These can lead to handling problems, bites, and attacks when birds are interacting with their owners and others. Yet, birds are complex and any number of things can lead to aggressive behavior:

  • Fear often develops in pet birds that were not hand-fed when they were young.
  • A lack of proper socialization may lead a bird to be afraid of humans, other birds, or new experiences.
  • Some birds become jealous when their owner interacts with other people. This plays on the natural "pair bonding" instinct many bird species have and, in captivity, you may be seen as your bird's partner.
  • If you adopted an older bird, it's possible that it was mistreated or neglected in some way by its previous owner.
  • Some birds become aggressive during their adolescence due to hormone changes. This will typically pass once the bird gets through this stage.
  • Protecting their claimed territory, such as the birdcage or feeder, can lead to aggression.
  • Birds that are stressed or lack mental stimulation may also act out.

How to Stop Aggressive Behavior

If your pet bird bites you when you try to handle it, you must set aside time each day to work on handling your feathered friend. This doesn't have to be anything specific; you can incorporate your attempts to reduce your bird's aggression into normal handling. For instance, you might need to work on bonding with your bird or train it to enjoy petting. You can even teach it how to do fun bird tricks. The point is that the more you work with your bird, the more it will enjoy your company, and the less aggressive it will act.

When working with your pet, a few tips and techniques will help it to learn that handling is safe and fun. 

Move to a Neutral Location

If possible, move your bird's cage to a neutral location during training sessions. Removing a bird from its "territory" can sometimes make it more willing to cooperate with its owner and prevent any territorial aggression.

Don't Force Contact

If your bird lunges at your fingers when you place your hand near it, try not to jerk away suddenly out of fear. Your swift movements will likely make your bird even more nervous and apprehensive.

Taking it slow and easy is the better method; don't try to force contact. Try to leave it up to the bird to decide when it's comfortable enough to step up or accept a treat.

Try Stick Training

Training a bird to step up on a stick or a perch is referred to as "stick training." It's the recommended alternative to training a bird that's not able to be handled at first. It's a less invasive approach and easier for a bird that is fearful or was traumatized in the past to accept this way of moving without force.

Avoid Yelling

Raising your voice in anger (or pain) will not make your bird understand that it has done something wrong. In fact, it's more likely to reinforce your bird's bad behavior as it will love getting such a big reaction out of you. Whatever happens, avoid the temptation to yell at or punish your bird.

Bear Gifts

Offer your bird treats and speak in a soothing voice when you're trying to handle it. Using treats and praise will help your pet be more willing to interact with you and it's much more effective than discipline. If every interaction with your bird results in a positive experience, it will likely become more comfortable and open to a closer relationship with you.

Many people try to force interaction in the hope that this will stop the bird from resisting and it will simply give in to being handled. This is referred to as "flooding" and it's not recommended as a training technique.

Build Trust Through Repetition

With birds, repetition and consistency are keys to training. Make time to work with your bird at least once a day to ensure success. Keep in mind that it sometimes takes a while to build up trust with a bird, so don't give up!

Don't Overwork Your Bird

Initially, keep training sessions at a 15-minute maximum. Birds are intelligent and sensitive creatures, and they need to have some fun in order to maintain their mental health and keep from becoming stressed.

Break the Pair Bond

If your bird becomes jealous of your interactions with other people, you will need to enlist the help of family members and visitors. The goal is to better socialize your bird and show it that these people are not a threat to the relationship it has with you.

Try various confidence-building exercises with other people and stay nearby to show your approval. You might, for instance, have visitors offer your bird a treat whenever they enter the house. To reinforce good behavior, they should also praise the bird in a happy, upbeat voice while making eye contact.

Another exercise is to lay out your bird's food on a towel in front of the bird and have your family pick at it with their fingers, just like a bird does with its beak. If you do this regularly, your bird may want to join in the fun. They can also help you clean the cage or give your bird food or water so it is comfortable with your family's presence.

Keep a Flexible Routine

Birds need mental stimulation and many enjoy a routine, so regular time for food, play, and other interactions each day is a good idea. However, some birds may react negatively if a routine is too rigid and gets disrupted.

For example, if you get home from work at a certain time each day and immediately let your bird out for playtime, being late one day could lead the bird to act out. Try to employ some flexibility in your daily routines that involve your bird. It will help the bird better tolerate change and understand that things won't always happen in a particular order or at a certain time, but it will happen.

Get Professional Help

If you put in the necessary effort, chances are you will be able to train your pet in a reasonable amount of time. If your bird is so aggressive that you cannot attempt training exercises, the first thing you should do is visit your ​avian veterinarian to rule out any health concerns. When no physical reasons can explain your pet's undesirable behavior, contact a certified parrot behavior consultant for an expert opinion on your situation.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.