A common problem that arises for parrot owners’ is the bird that becomes overly bonded to one particular member of the household.
Aggression can be shown to other members of the family, especially when they are in close proximity of their favourite person. The problem can intensify resulting in swooping and attacking in an attempt to drive them from their territory.
This article helps explain why this happens and gives some practical advice on prevention and treatment.
Prevention and rehabilitation
In the wild parrots will very often pair for life and so this type of bonding behaviour is natural. However, most parrots are flock animals so will interact with others in the group. Therefore if we teach our birds good social skills and help form good positive associations with all members of the family, we can prevent problems from arising.
Ideas to prevent problems from occurring
- Avoid allowing a parrot to choose a preferred companion in the household. Everyone must take a turn at feeding or be given some kind of care giving role.
- Certain parts of the parrots’ anatomy is saved for closely bonded mates. Consequently, by touching areas on the body often gives a bird the wrong message! Head rubs and stroking feet are better areas to touch.
- Mates will often offer food to each other from beak to beak. Therefore avoid hand and mouth to mouth feeding where possible. Use a chopstick or offer food from a paper plate or inside an interactive feeder or toy instead.
- To get a parrot used to being handled by the family, try this handling method: In a neutral territory (away from where the bird is familiar), all family members sit in a circle and pass the parrot from one to another through asking for the “STEP UP” (see download page here).
- It is important that everyone is familiar with the command and is relatively competent. Remember we want the bird to have a positive experience.
- During handling, each person should interact positively by giving a food treat or a head or foot rub if the parrot is used to being touched.
- This method should be carried out a couple of times a week. It teaches the bird to interact with all flock members and helps it learn that everyone is a valued part of the group
- Each member of the family should choose an activity that only they do with the parrot. For example one person may be designated as the one to shower the bird (provided it likes water). Another might be the one to provide a favourite food item in a puzzle feeder whilst another might play a particular game.
For birds that are showing extreme aggression, it is advisable to get some professional help and advice. However through short, positive training sessions, it is possible to re-train most bonded birds.
- Teach a simple verbal command such as “Step up” (download free PDF)
- Always try and train in a neutral area – think about it as a school room. Later, as the training progresses and things improve, it can extend to other areas.
- The preferred person should demonstrate the techniques so that the other family members can learn the steps
- When training begins, the preferred person should leave the room and the other family member can now enter
- Using the same method, the other family member can carry out the same routine. This helps with consistency as well as establishing them as a person in a position of control
- If the family member is nervous about close contact with the birds, target training might be a preferred method. For an excellent video demonstration click here.
- Make sure that favourite rewards are given to ensure positive associations are formed
- Favourite toys, treats and games should be saved for the other family members to give especially when the parrot has responded to a simple command.
Dealing with Aggression towards other family members
- The preferred person must let the parrot know that its aggressive behaviour is naughty. A firm “No” backed up with a turned back should be enough.
- If necessary leave the room for a brief spell (30 seconds should be enough – making sure you return before any calling screams kick in). This is because parrots dislike isolation and so gives a clear message that they have done something they shouldn’t.
- The preferred person must avoid picking up a bird that bites someone. This is because being returned to the preferred person may be misinterpreted as a reward.
- Laughing is another no no! Parrots know the difference between this type of response and being chastised.
- Under no circumstances should you hit or shout at your bird. This will just escalate the problem.
- After being told off, the other family member can ask for a simple command and provide a well-timed reward. The idea is to reinforce behaviours we want and ignore behaviours we don’t want.
- With time and consistency things should improve.
- For more information on parrot behaviour visit The World Parrot Trust
Remember that for all cases of aggression, it is wise to get your bird checked over by an avian vet. Illness and pain can lower the threshold for aggression.
If you’re looking for some useful manuals and reading material here are some suggestions: