All types of birds can have behavioural problems but the larger birds such as the parrot family are the most susceptible to them due to their high levels of intelligence. Sometimes it is a case of thinking of a large parrot a bit like a small child; they learn, they develop and they act out.
Some problems can be related to age or can be simply bad training; others can be an underlying sign of deeper problems or even health issues. Recognising potential problems can sometimes stop them worsening and knowing what to do when a problem develops can help rectify them.
Biting is one of the most commonly reported problems with parrots and it can be a real issue because even a parakeet or cockatiel can do real damage with a bite, especially to a child. Luckily, whilst it is the most common problem, it can also be one of the easiest to rectify. A lot of it comes from knowing why the bird is biting and what you can do to stop the behaviour. Sometimes biting is due to hormonal issues as the bird matures, sometimes it can be something lacking in its diet that it is searching for. Another biting reason can be fear – if the bird is afraid of something it will lash out at anything that approaches it.
Screaming is another problems and this is different from normal vocalisations. All birds will scream and shout in some form, though volume levels vary with the size of the bird. However if a bird is screaming constantly, this is a sign of a problem. One reason for this can be boredom; too much time spent in a cage with no mental stimulation, boredom with the same toys for a long period of time or no interaction with their humans. It can also be a sign of a medical problem, so can be worth checking with a vet.
Destroying things is actually quite normal for parrots because they investigate things by biting them. We might touch something, a dog may sniff it but a parrot will bite it to see what it is. Therefore, they will often shred toys and perches and this is not a bad thing. But if things are being destroyed that aren’t designed for this, it can be a sign of a problem. It may be that they need new toys or other mental stimulation or, again, it may be a sign of a dietary issue or a medical condition.
Sudden territorialism is something that is often related to hormones. It can also be a sign that the bird is unhappy with some element of its home, be it that it doesn’t feel safe where its cage is placed or hasn’t enough to do when in the cage, for example. It can also mean the bird hasn’t bonded properly with those around it and feels the need to defend its territory from them.
There are some simple rules to follow when dealing with a bird behaving badly:
Never hit a bird – not only is it very easy to injury a bird because they are far more fragile than they look, striking a bird can actually cause more psychological problems than it will ever solve
Don’t hold a grudge when they hurt you – birds are very intelligent but also very sensitive so even if they have physically hurt you, don’t hold it against them and don’t let them know you are angry or upset for a prolonged period. A short rebuke is the best option
Never punish a bird – you can’t send them to the naughty step, obviously but also don’t consider withholding their food or not cleaning their cages. It won’t help their behaviour and could lead to health problems.
On the turn side, birds shouldn’t be able to get away with bad behaviour any more than any other pet. There are some simple things to do to let your bird know what is wrong.
Tone of voice – use a soft voice but a stern tone of voice, tell them what they have done wrong. They may not understand the words you are using but your tone will let them know they have misbehaved.
Use facial expressions – frowns and other facial expressions can be understood by birds and they will learn that it means they have done something wrong.
Get eye contact – have the bird step up on to your hand and hold them to eye level with you, using the facial expressions and tone of voice as discussed.
Return the bird to their cage – after you have told them what is wrong, return them to the cage. Get them to step off your hand onto their perch and leave them there for a few minutes. But remember not to hold a grudge and go back after a short time to play with them, letting them know that they are no longer in trouble and that you still love them.
Dealing with a bird’s bad behaviour is a bit like dealing with a child being naughty – you need to have a consistent approach to how you deal with them and make it clear to them what the problem is. Sometimes the behaviours have a root cause that is beyond just acting out and this is when you need to speak to your avian vet to get these things checked out. But if the problem is simply they are going through a naughty phase or are unhappy about something in their lives then the way you deal with them will have a big impact.
Particularly parrots can cause quite nasty damage and a lot of noise when they are unhappy so it is important to get to know their personality from the first day so that you can understand whether they are playing up or genuinely something is wrong. They will push your boundaries just like any other juvenile so you need to be firm but clear in your responses and hopefully, their behaviour will return to normal in no time at all.