Once in my youth, I went away for a family reunion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t bird-friendly, so my typically sweet cockatiel had to stay home.
I remember getting back home and rushing to his cage, excited to play with him.
As soon as I stuck my chubby little paw in that cage; however, he took a vicious nip of my finger, killing that excitement. For birds, a bite is like a slammed door.
Why is my bird suddenly aggressive? Many factors could cause aggressiveness in your pet bird, and thus will require you to do a process of elimination to discover the exact reason they are acting out. Each cause is easy enough to pinpoint just by observation on your part and a little bit of knowledge of your particular bird’s history.
While you might feel that you have done something wrong, sometimes that is the case, but don’t worry there are ways to train them to behave better if the aggression is situational or just power through the moody buffing stage.
Read further to learn the many reasons why your parrot or other pet bird is acting aggressive and what you can do about each one.
Reasons why your parrot has turned aggressive
The motivations behind your bird acting out are numerous, and unfortunately, we can’t ask them what is going on. A few common reasons why your bird is aggressive are:
- Fear (Here are 10 potential reasons why your parrot is afraid)
- Not hand feed when young
- Previous traumatic experiences
- Lack of socialization
- Baby parrot mouthing
- Territorial behavior
- Hormone changes in young birds
- They do not like what you are doing
These can be narrowed down into a few explanations why your bird is trying to chew your finger off; previous experiences, hormonal, and as a way of communicating their needs.
It might not be easy to understand why exactly they are aggressive at first, but observe when they act out.
Is it always with a particular person, or is it an action that that seems to make them mad?
Have they been this way since you got them or are they a young bird?
How do they act when you are not trying to interact with them?
Do they seem fine, or do you sense some agitation or depression?
Before taking the next step to prevent this behavior first, we need a clear understanding of why they are acting this way.
Talley up their:
- when you adopted them
- If they had any previous owners
- How they behave when they are not handled
- Who they are attacking
- When they attack
Past experiences have made your parrot weary of human interaction
When we adopt an animal that has had previous owners, we have no idea how they were treated. Of course, we hope that they were given a loving home.
However, that might not be the case, and your parrot has learned some lessons along the way. Some of this isn’t necessarily bad.
Maybe they didn’t handle your parrot that much and your bird now feels that it is an invasion when you reach your hand into the cage. Parrots remember their previous owners! We explain what that means for you here!
Don’t fear! Parrots are highly intelligent animals and can learn a new routine.
Like all animals who have experienced trauma in the past, the most important thing to keep in mind is how you approach them. During all retraining make sure not to make any swift movements that might agitate them or to speak to them in a frustrated or angry tone.
If they are not used to human interaction, any rapid actions will throw them off and seem to them as an aggressive move, and they will do what they need to protect themselves.
For birds that have who were mistreated in the past, they might see it as a continuation of the treatment that they previously received. While your bird might not recognize the words, you are saying they fully understand the tone that you take.
Baby talk to them. You know you already do anyway, and it makes them feel loved. Sound and movement apply to when you first make contact with your parrot to when/if they bite you.
I know I know your automatic reaction to getting a bite is to jerk your hand out of there fast with a yelp of pain, try as best as you can to control it however during the training process.
To bond with your parrot understand that it might be a slow process, accept it and let them inform you when they are ready for the next step. Don’t push or try to accelerate the process.
These actions will only traumatize them more. The proper term for this technique is permission-based training. The idea is to incentivize your parrot to step up on their own.
By forcing anything, you make the process stressful, and it will feel like a chore to them. None of us like something forced upon us, so don’t do that to them.
Target Training your Parrot
The best method to get your bird to get comfortable around you and become used to human interaction is target training, also referred to as stick training. This method is excellent training for your bird regardless of their reason for biting you.
Eventually, with even practice, you can use this same method to train your parrot to fly where you want them to go. This training is a two-step process because first, you will need to clicker teach them.
The point is to train your bird on how to interact with you while keeping your delicate finger away from their sharp beak. Typically clicker and stick training are straightforward, however, if you bird resists, be patient and observant to how they react.
What you will need:
- Clicker (We recommend this one)
- Long enough stick made of natural material to prevent them from biting at your fingers
- Their favorite treat, if you don’t know what that is then a sunflower seed or peanuts work just as well
Clicker training is used to let your bird know that they did something right.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, but in a much less cruel way, we want them to understand that when they hear the click, then they did the right thing.
Clickers are not expensive and can be purchased online or at any animal store or most of the time in the animal aisles at your local grocery store. If you do not find it in the bird section, head over to the dog aisle.
Most avian trainers recommend using a clicker. But if you bird has had a traumatic past and you notice that the clicker upsets them, or you don’t like at any extra accessories, you can also use verbal cue or whistle to get the same effect.
If you wish to do it the proper way, then have someone use the clicker in the other room so that your parrot can still hear it, but it isn’t as loud. From there all you need to do to clicker train your parrot is to click, or whatever you need to do, and then give them their favorite treat.
Continue this process until you notice that your bird wants their gift once you have clicked. After they are fully clicker trained, it’s time to stick teach them. Commonly referred to as target training because you need to use the end of the stick to point where you want them to go.
Before we get your parrot moving, however, we need them to stop ripping up anything that comes near them. It is ok your bird is in the cage at this point, you probably can’t take them out without being bit or scaring them anyways.
The position of the stick needs to be placed near enough to your bird so that they can reach it, but close enough so that they feel like it is an intrusion.
If you have no idea what that might be, point the stick at their chest and slowly move it into the cage. Once they start to act, agitated slowly bring it out again. Remember that point.
During this first step, the goal is for your parrot to touch the stick with their beak without biting it. Don’t worry if it is hard for you even to get the stick in the cage, be observant of your bird’s behavior, and take your time.
Once you can get the stick near enough to them, without poking them hold it there to see how they react. At this point, we will also incorporate the clicker or your verbal cue.
If they bite the stick or act aggressively, slowly pull the stick out of the cage and do not click. Remember the clicker is there to reinforce good behavior, do not click when they exhibit behavior that you do not want.
Step away if they are aggressive and come back after they have settled down or even the next day. Continue this process until they interact with the stick gently or with curiosity, then click and give them a treat.
The next step is to use the stick to direct them onto your hand. Use the point of the rod to point to your hand. Continue clicking for good behavior and patience if it takes time.
Once your parrot is entirely on your hand, use the stick to show them how to get off as well so that they know it is safe and ok. Eventually, you can stop using the stick and instead use your hand and the clicker.
If your parrot was once lovely and then all of a sudden they are hissing and biting you whenever you try to interact with them, think about how old they are.
If they are between the ages of 4 months to a year, then what you are encountering is the bluffing stage, your parrot’s hormonal teenage period. Like every mother tells herself after her teenage child yells that they hate them, they do not hate you; it’s just their hormones.
Now instead of the traumatized bird above, they are trying to rebel, so when they bite you gently push your finger forward showing them that this kind of nonsense is just not going to work.
Unfortunately, like with teenagers, there is no way to accelerate the bluffing period, which can last from a few weeks to a few months.
Just keep up with the positive reinforcement and frankly ignore the bad behavior. Eventually, they won’t be embarrassed to be around you and return to the loving bird that you loved with a little bit of maturity.
The same process goes for a baby parrot that is mouthing. Just be patient and caring while they are going through this phase. Providing them with toys to play and chew on will relieve some of that tension as well. These can be found at your local pet store.
You might not notice any aggressive behavior from your parrot until someone else, be that human or animal, comes around, and then they lose it. Parrots grow attached to both to the person who takes care of them and the space in which they live.
If they have very little interaction with anyone besides their caretaker, anyone else that comes around will be viewed as an intruder upon their territory, and they will react accordingly. That means that other people are going to have to pitch in to help take care of your parrot.
From your family, helping feed your parrot and clean their cage or even people who come to visit playing with or to feed your bird. Make you’re your friends and family talk to your bird is a happy and loving voice to entice your bird with their tone.
Take it slowly at first, it might take a while before they are past the why is this random human near me phase, but socializing your bird is worth it.
It also would be a good idea to sever the ties that they have to the cage itself. The more they are isolated in that one area, the more territorial they will become.
If you can afford to provide them with two types of cages, one a day time cage that is large enough for them to be active in and nearer to the family the other their nighttime roosting spot.
If that is outside of your budget, consider place perches around your house and let them fly free. Think about your situation and your comfort level beforehand.
Communicating their needs
There are times where the behavior problem isn’t with your parrot, but with you. They are not young, or under handled or territorial, your parrot is just trying to communicate a problem that they have with, well, you.
Maybe it Is a way that you handle them that causes your parrot to take a nip at your finger. Or perhaps they are in a high traffic area of the house, and all of the noise is causing them stress. Maybe they are bored enough that being aggressive with you adds some spice to their life.
When all other options are either invalid or don’t work look at how you treat them, try placing their cage away from any busy areas in the house, preferably in the corner of a room to make them feel safe.
Make sure you take time out of your day to play with them or let them interact with the world around them. Birds out in the wild are active and able to go where they please, sitting in a cage day in and day out will cause them to be lethargic and to lash out.
If your parrot acts up every time you perform a specific action, adjust it to accommodate them.
Each parrot is an individual with different tastes pay attention to them like you would your friends or loved ones, be helping when you can, and be loving, and they will show you complete adoration and love.
In cases where your parrot is aggressive with no apparent outer cause, then it is time to take them to your nearest avian vet to ensure there are no underlying causes.
Which parrot has the worst bite? In general, the more significant the parrot, the worse it bites will be. As far as different breeds go the macaw is touted as having the worst bite out of all the parrots. Since these birds can do real damage to your fingers, make sure to target train them right away.
What is the best parrot for a family? Cockatiels are voted the best parrot for families — both down to earth and exceptionally loving. Their easy-going nature deals better with clumsy and sometimes too aggressive little hands that want to pet the pretty birdie. In a close second is the African Grey Parrot.