Biting & Trust Exercises
Many people want a hand-fed parrot baby so they can raise it the way they want and avoid undesirable habits. They are, however, sometimes quite shocked when I tell them that baby parrots bite people too. No, really? Babies? Sweet, cuddly babies? Ha, yes.
You see, this is the number one thing we as parrot lovers don't really love....being bitten by big, sharp beaks. As I raise fledglings, those weaning sweet parrot babies, this is my least favorite thing to deal with.
First off, why do parrot babies bite?
The number one reason parrot babies bite is fear. Fear of the unknown or fear of children running around when they are low to the ground and feel vulnerable. I do not blame them for being scared of young children, toddlers are unpredictable and many times I get elbows or knees to my stomach when playing with them.
The solution for this is safe exposure. The more social and environmental exposures your baby has, the better they will be able to handle the stress of new situations. Introduce them to the situation slowly and carefully. Allow them their space and a safe distance/height to observe.
The next reason is probably the trickiest reason to deal with. Baby parrots bite because....they are exploring and learning about their world!
Babies, especially African Grey babies, love to touch everything with their mouths and experiment what reactions they will get...and how strong their bite can get. And it can get really strong! Baby Greys remind me of ducks, their beaks flapping at everything, trying to mouth everything in sight.
They clamp down on your finger or hand and what you do next is crucial.
The DO NOT's:
- Do not yell or scream or curse. These are fun reactions that make them want to do it again! Plus, they will start cursing at you when they bite.
- Do not grab their beak and shake it or use any physical force. This perpetuates fear, which perpetuates biting.
- Do not think a "time out" in their cage or time away from you will solve the problem.
- Do not be afraid of being bitten. This will lead to more biting.
- Do stay calm. It is okay to get out of the bite. Roll out of it, release their beak calmly, or distract by making them "step up".
- Do say "no" in a quiet firm voice.
- Do give them a disgusted, unhappy look. They really want to please you and do not like seeing you unhappy.
- Do make them step up. Step up 3-4 times in a row. (Instill respect) Note:this works wonders or it doesn't, you will know. Not for the fearful bird.
- Do know that it is okay to give a "time out" if you are not in the right frame of mind to deal correctly with the bite. Just remember, this time out is for you, not the bird! He likely won't remember why he's alone in his cage. Do not put him in his cage, however, if that was the goal of his bite. Instead, put him somewhere else safe while you calm down and re-group.
- Do expect the bite if this is a work in progress. If it is, set aside training sessions where you can handle him without distractions and prepare yourself for the training you are going to do.
- Do end on a positive note. If you have successfully ended the biting and had them step up, distract with a positive. This can be a toy, a sweet talking, a cuddle, etc. End of a positive happy note before you place them in their cage or on their play stand. Show them that this is the behavior that makes both of you happy.
It's not dominating, it's respecting.
There are many different ideas when it comes to the "pecking order" with parrots and their humans. Some people believe you need to assert yourself as a dominant dictator, while other people believe that you all just need to get along peacefully and allow each other to do what you want, what comes naturally.
I believe there is another alternative....respectful behavior.
For example, raising human children. Now that is an adventure! How do they react if you stand over them, controlling every part of their life and not allowing their inquisitive independence? On the flip side, what happens if you allow them their every whim? Go to bed when they want, eat what they want. Neither of these tactics turns out well!
Now, what about if you allow them independence, with boundaries. Instill respect. Show them what is expected, respect their independence, but teach them how to respect you. When I tell a toddler of mine to do something or to come to me, and he doesn't, I get up, go over and assist them in doing what I asked to do. This teaches them that I expect them to respect me and do as I ask. This is not a time where they can choose to do as they wish.
This is the same application in having a parrot "step up" for you. This is not a casual question, you are telling them that they need to respect you enough to do what you told them to do.
How do you gain respect for someone? It's not by being out of each other's hair, it's by getting to know them; to bond and work together. By having your baby "step up" you are working together and building respect. Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust, so make sure you are practicing trust exercises with you parrot as well.
My favorite trust exercises are going in the shower together and play "The Blinking Game".
The first one is pretty self explanatory. All you need is a perch in the shower, though a double shower head certainly is nice. A shower has a huge calming effect on parrots; and they will often let you handle them in ways you cannot outside of the shower. I trim most flight feathers in the shower. It's also a great way to bond and create trust. Make sure to talk and sing! Let them see you go about your daily routine of showering and they might join in on the fun by spreading their wings, etc. It creates a wonderful bond. Try using the hair dryer together (on low far enough away or no heat!). By sharing routines it creates a feeling of a flock bond.
The second exercise is "The Blinking Game". I first found it on an Eclectus website, but the website has since disappeared. My mother told me she did this with her Amazon that she owned for 43 years. It really, really works. I've been able to help quite a few people and parrots with knowledge of this exercise!
Several times a day, find a quiet time to sit where you can clearly see your bird. Make sure it's a distance they are comfortable with. Slowly, while looking at your bird in a non-threatening manner (maybe a small smile or just a serene, happy face), close your eyes for a few seconds, then slowly open them up again. Do this a few times and see if they respond. If they don't respond, try again later, eventually the hope is that they do.
As you do this back and forth, lengthen the time your eyes are closed. Birds won't close their eyes when they are threatened or frightened, so it creates a trust bond when this exercise is practiced. It's a great thing to do periodically, even after you have created a bond with your parrot.