Behavioural problems in caged and aviary birds are relatively common and tend to occur for several reasons e.g. because of boredom, cage issues (lack of natural light, poor size and thoughtless positioning), fear, sleep deprivation or illness. Trying to resolve bad behaviours once learned is a difficult task and they are better approached with an understanding of cause.
Once you know why your bird is behaving a certain way, you can make changes to its routines and lifestyle. Sometimes it’s a simple case of providing better enrichment (toys, perches, mirrors etc) or relocating the cage, while other times the misbehaviour is more ingrained and requires the attention of your vet.
Screaming and screeching – parrots are naturally loud birds with a tendency to make lots of noise. However if your bird starts screaming excessively then you may have a problem, especially if your neighbours can hear. Screeching is often caused by stress, fear, loneliness or boredom, although poor diet and illness can also contribute to the problem.
Take the time to train your bird out of this with positive reinforcement. If you’re in the room when your bird screeches, ignore him until he quietens down. When he finally settles, reward him with lots of praise. If you’re not in the room, only return when he is silent again. Birds respond best to verbal praise and facial expressions, so don’t always be tempted to reward with treats.
Biting – birds use biting to communicate with us and investigate things, whereas we might touch something and a dog might sniff it. Even so, biting can case real damage, especially if it happens to a child or older person. Sometimes birds will bite through fear or because sudden movement causes them to panic. So, if you have children who regularly interact with your bird, it is important to teach them the appropriate way of acting when they are in close proximity to each other.
Feather plucking is a common behavioural problem that involves self-mutilation and happens when a bird is sick or stressed. Not only is it upsetting to witness but it causes serious harm to your bird and is often difficult to correct.
Territorial behaviour – in the wild, birds like parrots would find and claim the best territory for feeding, breeding and raising their young. If the territory met their needs in terms of food, water and shelter, they became very protective of it, to the point of displaying aggression. Domestic birds retain this territorial instinct and can become very excessive about it, preventing you from even approaching the area or controlling the bird while in it.
To overcome this, think about moving the cage to another room or buying a new cage altogether. Some experts recommend dominance training to reinstate the status quo, which may involve clicker training. Others suggest that territorialism is more about security than greed and only happens when a bird feels unsafe or un-bonded to its owner.
Over-bonding to one person – this also includes over-dependency, which is usually the result of boredom or stress, and tends to happen when there is only one primary caregiver. It is well known that caged birds can quickly form strong attachments to one preferred member of the household and reject (or even attack!) the others. This can be very distressing for everyone involved and lead to distancing because of fear and intimidation. The bird is also affected by the solo bonding and can easily become stressed when its preferred family member is out of sight or interacting with someone else.
This negative behaviour should be nipped in the bud as soon as possible, otherwise it becomes very difficult to correct. Rotate who gives your bird his food and treats and who interacts with him on a daily basis. If you are the favoured one, while it might be hard at first, try reducing the amount of time you spend with your bird. Over time, he will become accustomed to seeing you less and won't react so negatively to your absence. Remember not to reward excessive noise or displays of aggression with your attention. Refrain from any sort of praise until your bird starts behaving again.
By treating the underlying cause of misbehaviour and modifying how you respond and interact with your bird, you can really help address a behavioural problem. However, if you think the issue is more serious or if family members are starting to suffer because of it, it might be worth speaking to an avian vet. If you have any comments or questions, please post them below or contact me directly: [email protected]
Written by Hannah Dyball