Training Aggressive Birds

Taking the bite out of bird ownership

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.

There are 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. And if you want a book that will truly get you well on your way to learning how to train your bird, Karen Pryor's book, Don't Shoot The Dog will get you understanding so much about this amazing teaching method grounded in science. 

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, use the following tips and techniques to 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 her, 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 and force contact. Try and leave it up to the bird to decide when she 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 recommended that you train a bird who is not able to be handled to step up on a stick. This is less invasive and easier for a bird who is fearful or who has been traumatized in the past to accept this way of moving her without force. 
  • Never yell at your bird. Raising your voice in anger (or pain) will not make your bird understand that he has done wrong. In fact, it is more likely to reinforce your bird's bad behavior as he will love getting a such a big reaction out of you.
  • Try bearing gifts. Offer your bird treats and speak in a soothing voice when you are trying to handle him. 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, she will more likely become more comfortable and open to a closer relationship with you. Many people try and force interaction hoping that this will result in the bird giving up 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 experience with your bird, the more likely she is to train with you. 
  • Repetition is key. Make time to work with your bird at least once a day to ensure training success. It sometimes takes a while to build up trust with a bird. Don't give up!
  • Don't overwork your bird. Keep training sessions at a fifteen-minute maximum initially. 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.

    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. If there are no physical reasons for your pet's undesirable behavior, contact a certified parrot behavior consultant for an expert opinion on your situation.


    Edited by: Patricia Sund