The fun and educational site for parrot loving kids of all ages!

Why Does My Bird Chew Things Up?

chewingChewing is a natural, instinctual behavior for parrots where they use the "power of the beak" to chew nesting holes in trees. Chewing is one of nature's way of keeping a parrot's beak fit and trim. Providing opportunities for your parrot to chew is very important considering all of the activities a parrot must accomplish using its beak (eating, climbing, preening, defense, nest building and more).

The drive to chew can create some problems if we don't give them suitable objects like destructible toys to chew.  Otherwise, our parrots will gladly find their own chewable items within our homes like furniture, doors, baseboards and moulding. Many an antique, doorframe, window sill and favorite chair have fallen prey to the almighty beak. Unsupervised exploratory chewing also poses extreme dangers to our birds if they decide to chew on toxic plants, through live electrical cords, etc.

Although you can't halt a bird's drive to chew, this instinct can be re-channeled towards more appropriate objects such as:

  • destructible wood and leather chew toys
  • foraging toys
  • hard shell nuts
  • natural perches
  • calcium blocks or cuttlebone

A few other great benefits of chewing is that it provides a release for excess energy and alleviates boredom. Providing acceptable chewing outlets will be of great benefit to your bird's physical and emotional health as well as to your own peace of mind.

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Why Does My Bird Scream?

social vocal 250Birds use a wide variety of vocalizations to communicate with their flock members in the wild.

  • Contact calls (sort of a Marco Polo technique) are used to locate other flock members when they are separated in the forest canopy.
  • Warning calls are used to alert the flock to an intruder or dangerous predator.
  • Angry screams are used when defending their territory.
  • SOS calls are used when a bird is in distress or under attack.
  • Mellow sounds are used when chattering with a mate.
  • Begging sounds are used by hungry babies in the nest.

In our homes, parrots also use a variety of vocalizations to get our attention and express their needs.  They are constantly calling out to their human flock with the equivalents of:

  • "Where's dinner? to let us know they are hungry
  • “Hey, where is everybody” to find out where we are
  • "Help!" because something scared them
  • "Get the heck out of here!" - to warn us of danger
  • “Time to get up and going" to greet us in the morning
  • "Yea! You're home!" to greet us when we get home from work
  • "Gotta go nite nite" when they've had enough for the day

Bird owners need to listen to and try and interpret their bird's calls relative to the time of day and what may be going on in their environment so they can address their needs.

Sometimes a parrot's vocalizations can become excessive and prove to be very trying.  Noise levels and screaming are often cited as reasons for birds being turned over to shelters.  Parrots can be very vocal animals; yet many people try very hard to force their birds to be quiet. We must accept a certain level of noise if we have birds in our homes – but there are things we can do to control the noise.

  • When we are in another room and a parrot calls out to us, if we don’t answer them, its calls will get louder and more persistent.
  • When your bird first begins to call for you, simply use a contact call in response to let them know you are still there and ease any anxiety.
  • A simple whistle or phrase, such as “I’ll be right back!” or “I’m right here!” can work. If used consistently, the bird can eventually learn that your call means that you will be coming back. 
  • Some screaming is a learned behavior. Too often when we hit our noise tolerance limit the tendency is usually to come running back to the bird room and yell back.  Don't reward your parrot's screaming behavior. In doing so a bird learns that she must scream very loudly to be reunited with her flock and get attention.
  • When your bird quiets down, return to the room and praise the good "quiet" behavior.

Others actions that help to avoid the development of a screaming problem are to:

  • give your bird lots of things to do (toys, foraging opportunities)
  • spend ample social time with your bird
  • give your bird opportunities for outside of the cage time and exercise
  • establish additional perching and play areas in other areas of your house so your bird can be part of your other household activities.

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Why Does My Bird Bite?

biting parrotBirds use their beaks for a wide variety of tasks, including eating, climbing, exploring and nest excavation.  Parrots rarely bite in the wild and when they do it is for defensive reasons. A parrot's first instinct is to flee danger but when they feel cornered or threatened they will bite.

If you observe your parrot closely and are familiar with your bird's body language then you will realize that your bird most often gives fair warning of an impending bite.  In captivity, biting is largely a learned behavior that a bird uses to avoid doing something they don't want to do.  This behavior arises out of frustration over the fact we fail to recognize and respect the clues they provide to us via vocalizations and subtle changes in body posture and feather position.

Since a bird uses its beak for so many things, one question to ask is, "was it really a bite?"  For example:

  • Since they use their beaks to explore and their surroundings your bird just might not realize that this exploratory activity may cause discomfort.  If your skin is a little red or your bird plucked a few stray hairs, this activity was likely just touching and tasting, not biting.
  • Parrots mutually preen each other, this activity is called allopreening and often parrots will preen their favorite human as a sign of affection.
  • Parrots often use their beak as a third foot to test the sturdiness of a branch (or your hand) before stepping up.

There are different degrees of "biting":

  • Small "nips" and "pinches" are usually because a bird is trying to get your attention about something she wants. These bites usually only leave a small impression and/or redness on the skin.
  • Bites that cause minor bruising and small cuts will often result when a bird is reacting out of frustration.  Parrots will use slightly more aggressive biting in an attempt to control their environment and the humans in it.
  • If your bird leaves a deep bruise or cut and there’s lots of bleeding, this is a "chomp.” These bites can come from a very scared or overwhelmed bird that is protecting itself, its mate or his cage.

A bird will bite if:

  • They are fearful of a situation or an unfamiliar individual.
  • They feel they need to protect their territory (cage agression).
  • They want to be left alone because they are tired, stressed or not feeling well.
  • They become over-stimulated by play activities.
  • They are hormonal.

To avoid getting bitten:

  • Carefully observe and learn to interpret your bird's body language.
  • Never force a bird to do something it doesn't want to do.
  • Train your bird to respond to the basic commands: "step up", "step down", "NO" and "okay".

If you are bitten:

  • Stay calm. Don't react with lots of drama as this "rewards" your bird.
  • Put your bird down and give your bird a "time out" by quietly withdrawing all attention for a few minutes. NEVER punish a bird by yelling, hitting or causing any other harm.
  • Try analyze the situation from the bird's perspective and determine why the bite happened. Realize that your bird was reacting to something in the environment.
  • Avoid similar scenarios in the future (i.e., remove source of fear, change your behavior).
  • Don't take it personally, bites are more often than not our fault for being oblivious to our bird's needs and attempts to communicate to us.

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