My Bird Bites Me: Causes and Solutions

Some pet birds can be quite temperamental. Having one as a pet can become quite complicated if, for example, your bird bites or pecks you every time you try to get close to it.
My Bird Bites Me: Causes and Solutions

Last update: 04 December, 2021

Many species of birds are becoming more and more common in the domestic environment. From canaries to parrots, budgies, lovebirds, cockatiels, and nymphs (among many others), these feathered animals come in varieties to suit all tastes and colors. Unfortunately though, sometimes the pet-owner relationship can be affected and problems can start to occur. One example of this is when a bird bites its owner.

If your bird bites you, we encourage you to read on. Here we’ll tell you what causes this behavior and, above all, how to act to nip it (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the bud, before it becomes part of the animal’s general behavior. Read on!

Why does a bird bite?

Almost all birds use their beaks to bite (or rather, peck) when all their survival strategies have failed and they find themselves in an extreme situation. Even the most helpless ones (like a canary) will try to use its beak to hurt you if you hold it in your hands. Needless to say, for this and many other reasons, you should never handle your birds aggressively.

However, it should be noted that birds belonging to the order Passeriformes (songbirds with more than 6500 species) rarely use their beaks apart from when they want to sing, eat, or break seeds. A mandarin diamondback, for example, will hardly ever try to peck you, whatever the situation. And even if it should try, it won’t hurt you.

However, with birds of the order Psittaciformes, it’s another matter. This order contains parrots, parakeets, and many other birds that are famous for their intelligence and personality. Most of the species belonging to this group have strong, curved beaks for breaking fruit peel in the wild, so they can do quite a bit of damage.

Another contributing factor is that many parrots and large birds have “clipped” wings and cannot flee from hostile contact by flying away, as a canary would. This, coupled with its character and personality, means that the psittacine won’t hesitate to use its beak and claws to harm you if it sees you as a threat.

Psittacines are much more likely to bite their owner than songbirds. The latter always choose to flee.

A parrot in a tree.

Reasons why birds bite their owners

Now that you know that parrots and related birds are much more likely to bite their owner than other birds, we’re ready to break down the causes of this behavior. Have a look at them.

1. Fatigue and interrupted sleep

Most domestic birds rest a total of 12 hours uninterrupted, almost always during the night. Your bird may bite you if it hasn’t been able to rest well in the last few days, which will make it uncomfortable and irritatable. If this is the case, then try placing a cloth over the cage and putting it in a place without any light or loud noises.

Like humans, birds get cranky if they’re constantly woken up while trying to rest.

2. Hunger and thirst

Birds should have food and water constantly available inside the cage. However, they sometimes spend a lot of time outside their cage investigating the environment and may become cranky if they don’t get anything to eat. Hunger or thirst pecking is especially common in parrots and other psittacines that roam free in the house.

If the bird bites out of hunger, the solution is easy: feed it or put it back in its cage.

3. Disease

Several diseases can affect your pet bird. Respiratory problems, thrush, psittacosis, depression and many other conditions are relatively common in birds that are kept in poor conditions. Stress and anxiety can lead to immunosuppression and thus faster onset of infections.

A previously non-aggressive bird that suddenly starts biting is showing signs that something is wrong inside, either physically or psychologically. See a veterinarian as soon as possible if this is the case.

4. Fear

Birds that haven’t been socialized in early life are more likely to show hostility towards their owners. This is even more evident in parrots and other psittacines that have been removed from the wild for the pet trade. Believe it or not, these animals are very intelligent, and remember that their captors are humans.

Your bird may also be afraid of you because of a previous experience or a mistake during its upbringing if it has been bred in captivity. The best possible approach in these cases is to handle the animal gradually, preferably with the assistance of an animal trainer.

5. Hormonal changes and mating season

Some birds become more aggressive during mating season, especially if they have a nest to guard. If your bird bites you when you try to approach its eggs, it’s best to leave it alone. Respect their incubation time and don’t interrupt it unless there’s a medical problem.

6. Interacting with their environment

Some birds, especially psittacines, have a tendency to use their beaks to move, grab objects and interact with the environment. This behavior has no violent or hostile basis, and is often called “beaking”. In reality, the bird is trying to climb the body of its owner or recognize it on a gustatory level (as its tongue contains many nerve endings).

Beaking is soft and superficial, while an intentional bite pierces flesh and draws blood.

What to do if your bird bites you?

Your bird can bite you for many reasons, but keep in mind that, in most cases, it’ll be an accidental act. It’ll only be an example of real aggression when the animal makes shrill sounds, ruffles its feathers and shows other signs of clear aggression. This act is unique to psittacines and you won’t see it in a canary or any other passerine.

If the bite is malicious, follow the steps below:

  1. Don’t make sounds: Birds often interpret sounds as positive reinforcement, even if they’re screams or whines. If you talk or vocalize after the bite, the bird may think you’re encouraging the behavior.
  2. Don’t put the bird in the cage: If you’re handling the animal gently, and as instructed by a professional, you shouldn’t return the bird to its facility after the peck. If you do, it’ll think that you’ll release it every time it hurts you. Don’t panic and distance yourself from it.
  3. Learn to handle it gently and gradually: Some birds are hostile because of their personality, while others have had traumatic experiences and associate humans with danger. Be that as it may, changing this behavior is possible with time and perseverance, especially if you have the help of a professional in the field.
A parrot.

As you can see, your bird may bite for many reasons and almost all of them stem from physiological or behavioral problems. However, if none of the above works, we recommend that you go to the vet with your pet as soon as possible. It may have a disease and require immediate attention.

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