How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Birds

Getting Your Pet to Stop Biting

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

There is no such thing as a mean bird. It's true! There are, however, birds that are fearful, and birds with emotional problems that cause them to want to avoid handling at all costs. When birds with these problems find themselves in pet situations, it can be disastrous for both bird and owner, leading to aggression that must be deterred. Fortunately, with time and patience, you can train your bird to enjoy the time it spends with you.

Why Do Birds Become Aggressive?

Aggression in birds can be due to any number of factors. Fear or previous traumatic experiences are among the most common, which can lead to handling problems and bites when interacting with their owners. Yet, birds are complex and any number of things can lead to aggressive behavior.

  • Fear often develops in pet birds who 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.
  • 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.
  • Protecting their claimed territory, such as the birdcage or feeder, can lead to aggression.
  • Birds who are stressed or lack mental stimulation may also act out.

Birds are as complicated as they are fascinating, so understanding them is not entirely simple. There are, however, resources where you can learn the science of applied behavior analysis and positive reinforcement. Lara Joseph's "Animal Behavior Center" is a wonderful place to start. For a book that will get you well on your way to training your bird properly, Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot The Dog" is perfect. It will help you understand so much about this amazing teaching method which is grounded in science.

How to Stop Aggressive Behavior

If your pet bird bites you when you try to handle it, it is critical that you address the issue. To do this, you must set aside time each day to work on handling your feathered friend. When working with your pet, a few tips and techniques will help your pet understand 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.

Have Respect

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.

Slow and easy is the better method; do not try to force contact. Try and leave it up to the bird to decide when it is comfortable enough to step up or accept a treat. This takes time and patience.

Use Tools When Necessary

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

Never Yell

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

Bear Gifts

Offer your bird treats and speak in a soothing voice when you are trying to handle it. Using treats and praise will help your pet be more willing to interact with you. 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 and force interaction. They hope that this will stop the bird from resisting and simply give in to being handled. This is referred to as "flooding" and it is not recommended as a training technique. The more positive the experience with your bird is, the more likely it is to train with you.

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.

Professional Help

If you follow these guidelines and put in the necessary effort, chances are you will be able to train your pet in a relatively reasonable amount of time. If your bird is so aggressive that you cannot attempt any of these 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.