Biting and Screaming in Birds
A bird may bite out of fear or aggression. If the bird does bite, try to remain calm and try not to react.
"NEVER hit a bird, as they do not respond to this sort of discipline, plus they will lose their trust in you and may learn to fear hands."
If you do react, the bird will learn that biting gives it control and gets a response and perhaps it will learn to bite more. By reacting, even negatively by yelling at the bird, you are inadvertently positively reinforcing the biting behavior. If the bird is on your hand and biting, put him down and walk away – like giving a time-out to a child.
NEVER hit a bird, as they do not respond to this sort of discipline, plus they will lose their trust in you and may learn to fear hands. Only go to pick up the bird again when it is calm and when it will step up on your hand without biting. If the bird continues to bite, stop attempting to pick him up at that time. If the bird repeatedly refuses to step up without biting, you will have to regain the birds trust in a gentle, gradual fashion.
"Only go to pick up the bird again when it is calm and when it will step up on your hand without biting."
You can start by slowly and gradually hand-feeding a novel, sought-after treat that is not available to the bird at any other time. First offer the bird the treat directly without asking him to step up. Once he takes the treat several times without attempting to bite, offer the treat in such a way that the bird has to initially step with one foot onto a perch and eventually with both feet onto the perch to receive it. This may take several days or weeks of practice before the bird trusts you enough to step fully on the perch.
Once the bird has mastered stepping on to a perch for treats, you can then teach him to step up onto your hand to accept a treat in the same manner. This process can take a long time, so be patient. You will also have to pay attention to the bird's body language to understand that he may need some personal 'space' at certain times. He may lean forward with his head to bite, lean away from your hand, or make an unhappy vocalization to indicate to you that he does not want to step up at that time, before he actually attempts to bite. Consult your avian veterinarian for advice on how to deal with behavioral problems if you encounter these with your bird.
This is a common complaint from bird owners and a challenging dilemma. The most talented talker can also be a skilled screamer. Screaming or loud vocalization is a natural way for wild parrots and other birds to communicate with each other in their flock environments. They will also scream if they are alarmed. Birds will squawk if frightened, bored, lonely, stressed, or not feeling well. Pet birds often squawk when people are talking loudly, vacuuming, chatting on the phone, or playing music, as birds may see these times as appropriate for vocalizing back as part of normal loud 'flock' behavior. Birds usually scream in the early morning and towards dusk when they naturally gather in the trees to socialize and to eat. As you are part of their flock, they likely simply want to communicate. Unfortunately, what may be natural behavior for them can be a very annoying behavior to us in the confines of our homes.
"The most talented talker can also be a skilled screamer."
So, how do we deal with a perfectly natural behavior? The bird does NOT understand that it is NOT acceptable to scream and squawk or otherwise communicate in your house. It is a human problem. The bird is screaming to communicate or 'talk' and to get attention.
There are many different approaches for dealing with this situation. Often, people make it worse while trying to control the situation by yelling back at the bird and inadvertently positively reinforcing the bird’s screaming. Rushing to the 'aid' of a distressed screaming bird or yelling at him, in fact, simply gives him the attention he is demanding with his screams. If you go running to your bird when it screams, even to reprimand him for screaming, he will quickly learn that when he screams, he will get the attention he is seeking, and by getting this immediate response, he is likely to continue screaming for attention in the future.
"The best way to respond to a screaming bird is to ignore him when he is screaming..."
Some people cover the cage or turn off the light when the bird screams. This is another form of positive reinforcement for the bird, as you have given him attention, even if it is just to come to him to cover the cage. Any acknowledgement of screaming, even a seemingly negative response, should be avoided when a bird screams.
"Screaming or loud vocalization is a natural way for wild parrots and other birds to communicate with each other in their flock environments."
The best way to respond to a screaming bird is to ignore him when he is screaming (as hard as that can be, at times), and pay special attention to him only during times he is sitting quietly or making acceptable vocalizations. This response positively reinforces quiet behavior. When a bird sees that screaming does not accomplish this same response from you, he will ultimately stop screaming in favor of quiet behavior to get attention. Of course, birds are not machines, and there may be times when even the best behaved bird screams inappropriately. Overall, however, positive reinforcement training – positive reinforcement of acceptable behaviors and ignoring unacceptable behaviors - is the best way to deal with problem behaviors in birds.
There are many good training books and videos on positive reinforcement training of birds available for reference. Your avian veterinarian may also be able to help or may refer you to a bird behaviorist for a consultation.
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