Last Updated on: 21st August 2023, 02:18 pm
Once tamed and trained, African greys make friendly and affectionate pet birds. Biting should rarely happen, but it’s an ever-present risk. That’s why you must understand the triggers and subtle warnings.
These large psittacine birds have powerful hooked beaks with a bite force of up to 400 PSI.
A bite from an African grey can cut through the skin and cause heavy bleeding. There are also reports of parrots biting lips, severing ear lobes, and breaking bones in hands and fingers.
The risk of an African grey parrot biting can be reduced by learning its negative body language cues and vocalizations. Heeding a parrot’s warnings will significantly reduce the likelihood of being bitten.
Signs An African Grey Is About To Bite
An African grey parrot may display defensive behaviors, including the following:
- Puffing the feathers to appear larger and more intimidating.
- Flattening the feathers to avoid detection.
- Pinning the eyes and staring directly at you.
- Lowering the head and crouching.
- Opening and closing the beak in readiness to bite.
- Vocalizations, like hissing and growling.
Forcing an African grey to accept handling in light of these warnings will lead to getting bitten.
Why Do African Grey Parrots Bite?
If a parrot bites you, especially with force, it’ll have warned you through its actions and sounds. It’ll only resort to aggression when it has exhausted all other options.
Here are the most common reasons why African greys bite humans:
A scared African grey will defend itself fiercely when it fears its life is in peril.
Although African greys are a large species, they could be apprehensive about petting or handling from unacquainted humans or be spooked by loud noises, bright colors, or unfamiliar objects.
Although African greys are intelligent, they have fears and phobias that seem irrational to humans.
For example, a parrot may think a plush toy is a predator, especially if lighting conditions deteriorate. If you’re introducing this toy (perceived threat) to the bird’s cage, it’s likely to act defensively.
An African grey can grow frustrated without regular intellectual stimulation.
Cognitive exercises inside and outside the cage are essential to keeping an African grey calm because boredom will lead to behavioral problems and stereotypies.
African greys should never be subjected to more than 8 hours of solitude.
As well as exercises for the mind, African greys need to interact physically, spending 3-4 hours outside the cage. Don’t clip a parrot’s wings because flying is essential for robust mental and physical health.
Play fun games with an African grey outside its cage that offer physical and mental stimulation. However, be mindful of signs of overstimulation because excessive excitement can lead to biting.
As large parrots with a long life expectancy, African greys can take up to 7 years to reach sexual maturity.
When an African grey reaches adolescence, it’ll go through a bluffing phase. A bluffing African grey will be uncharacteristically aggressive, biting and lunging at anyone approaching the cage.
This stage can shock owners because the bird’s personality changes overnight. Unfortunately, the bluffing phase can last up to 8 months, so you must be patient and understanding.
African greys also enter the breeding season at least once a year, sometimes twice.
When an African grey wants to mate but is denied the opportunity, it experiences an increase in testosterone or estrogen, leading to frustrated and agitated behavior.
This agitation may be directed at you, or the parrot may target other people that visit your home. An African grey may see you as its mate and react jealously when interacting with others.
When parrots’ feathers become tired and worn, they’re molted and replaced. While this is entirely natural, it’s an irritating and uncomfortable time. Consequently, molting parrots are likelier to bite.
Larger birds molt less frequently, so an African grey may molt once every 12-24 months.
African greys can grow territorial, especially in a small cage. This parrot may start lunging and biting when approaching a cage, even if you’re providing food or changing water.
Consider upgrading to a larger cage, and ensure it gets to leave its enclosure. The less dependent a parrot is on its cage for feelings of safety and sanctuary, the less it’ll defend its territory.
Do African Grey Parrot Bites Hurt?
The force of a pet bird’s bite is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI.)
For comparison, the maximum PSI of a healthy adult human is around 160, while that of a large dog like a pit bull or alsatian is about 235. The PSI of an African’s grey parrot is between 300 and 400.
This means the full-force bite from an African grey parrot will be extremely painful.
Biomedical Engineering explains how a force of 1,485 newtons is enough to break a human finger. This equates to a PSI of around 333 – well inside the maximum bite force of an African grey.
An African grey is highly agitated or deathly afraid to bite with this much force.
Can an African Grey Bite Your Finger Off?
As painful and damaging as an African grey’s bite can be, it’s unlikely to sever fingers.
Just because an African grey can’t sever a finger doesn’t mean a severe bite won’t have long-term repercussions. In addition to broken bones, severe or permanent nerve damage is possible.
The absence of teeth won’t preclude a bird from breaking the skin and causing bleeding. As mentioned, many accounts of cut lips and severed ear lobes exist.
What To Do When An African Grey Bites You
While a bite from an African grey parrot will be painful and cause shock, don’t react.
Yelling at a bird will startle and frighten it, potentially causing the parrot to clamp down harder or bite again, and shaking or pulling at the bird will have the same negative result.
Move away from the parrot once it releases its beak. If an African grey feels that its point has been made and the perceived threat has been gone, it’ll calm down shortly afterward.
Now, turn your attention to yourself. Wash the bitten area with antibacterial soap and apply a bandage if the skin is broken. Remain vigilant about side effects related to the bite.
Can Parrot Bites Cause Infection?
Parrots’ beaks host bacteria, most notably staphylococcus, streptococcus, and Escherichia coli.
The wound could become infected if an African grey drew blood when biting. As explained by the journal Hand, the answer to the question, “Can you catch anything from a parrot bite?” is yes.
Zoonotic diseases that can be passed from parrots to humans through biting include psittacosis (aka parrot fever,) mycobacterium avium complex (MAC,) acute compartment syndrome (ACS,) which can lead to tuberculous, and tetanus (lockjaw.)
Bird bite infection symptoms usually manifest within 24 hours of the parrot’s attack. Be mindful of the following symptoms, especially if they last for more than 24 hours:
- Prolonged pain.
- Loss of motor function.
- Excessive bleeding.
- Redness and swelling.
- Cramping and locking of the jaw.
- Involuntary muscle spasms and stiffness.
- Spikes and falls in the heart rate or blood pressure.
Most African grey bites are sterilized and stitched before prescription antibiotics are administered.
How To Train An African Grey Parrot Not to Bite
While this behavior is undesirable, African greys won’t bite without reason. If a parrot has developed a habit of nipping and biting, keep a diary of patterns preceding attacks.
- Were you handling the bird against its will?
- Were you bitten before or after it had eaten?
- Does the parrot bite at certain times of the day?
- Do certain clothes or scents agitate the bird?
- Was anyone else in your company (humans or animals)?
- Did you show affection or give time to someone else?
- Did you attempt to introduce something to the bird’s cage?
Once you acknowledge a pattern in the bird’s behavior, make certain changes to see if it helps.
Equally, spend as much time with your African grey as possible. Parrots thrive on consistent interaction with their owners as they require near-constant mental and physical stimulation during the day.
African grey parrots aren’t prolific biters, but the bird’s large size and bite force have consequences.