Powerful beaks and strong bite strengths mean that parrots shouldn’t be left alone with children or other unsupervised pets. Parrots aren’t predatory animals, but they can be territorial. Even small parrots can inflict painful bites.
Parrots can be dangerous pets since they’re capable of producing grievous bite wounds. Large parrots can break or sever fingers, with the macaw having a bite force of 600-700 PSI. Parrots can be territorial and exhibit cage aggression. Parrots also produce dust, which can trigger allergies and asthma.
Owners should also be aware of the health issues that parrots can introduce. Parrot dust can irritate the lungs and carry bacteria. Likewise, parrots are vulnerable to certain parasites and diseases. Some of these, such as giardia and psittacosis, are zoonotic (transferable to humans.)
Are Parrots Dangerous To Humans?
Parrots have some traits that can make them dangerous to people. These traits can become more of an issue if the parrot isn’t cared for properly or incorrectly trained. The Manual of Parrot Behavior estimates that about 50% of behavioral problems in parrots are the result of being kept in captivity.
Unfortunately, many people get parrots thinking that they are easy to care for. According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, the reality of parrots is that they are:
- Prone to biting
- Need considerable care
At times, the destructive capabilities of parrots can be turned on their owners. Parrots may grow defensive of their toys, cage, and owners. This behavior could lead to parrots biting, screaming, or clawing at items/people.
Do Parrots Attack Humans?
Parrots aren’t predatory and definitely don’t want to challenge creatures larger than them. They will only attack or warn other creatures away if something is wrong or they’re feeling afraid.
The only exception is if the parrot is traumatized. If the parrot is a rescue pet or was re-sold, it may have a history of abuse. This will likely cause a parrot to act more aggressively or defensively than would normally be the case.
A parrot can become territorial over its cage, especially when it’s largely confined to its cage or hasn’t been socialized properly. The cage is seen as its territory or safe haven. Anyone that encroaches on this space may be warned away by a threat display. If ignored, a parrot may bite.
Territorial aggression can be aimed at people, birds, and other pets that get too close to the cage. A parrot may also become territorial over its owner, perch, or any bird it has pair-bonded with.
Parrots are a prey species. Parrots kept in captivity do not have the ability to fly away from any threat, real or not, and will resort to a defensive display. This may involve biting, screeching, and flapping of wings.
A nervous, fearful, or upset parrot may bite out of fear. This type of bite is a warning. Heed it for the time being, but take measures to remove the source of the fear. After this, begin working with the parrot to help it become accustomed to being handled again.
Trauma can impact parrots. They have long memories, and overcoming trauma can be a long, difficult process. Many behavioral problems that arise from trauma, like plucking and biting, can be difficult to break.
Parrots groom by gently preening themselves and others with their breaks. Owners that have bonded with their parrot may experience this gentle nibbling on their:
Very young parrots that are learning their bite strength may bite too hard. If your parrot is startled or loses its balance while grooming you, it may bite hard reflexively.
Parrots may experience a period of aggression during adolescence when hormones are peaking and changing. This is unavoidable, and you’ll have to adjust how you interact with the parrot during this time.
Are Parrot Bites Dangerous?
Evolutionary Biology notes that the Psittaciformes (parrots and cockatoos) are known to produce high bite forces. Depending on the species, most parrots can produce bites anywhere between 300-400 PSI (pounds per square inch). With a bite strength of 500-700 PSI, macaws have the strongest bite of all parrots.
As you might expect, this can make for a dangerous bite. That’s paired with the shearing-crushing effect of parrot beaks. In fact, larger parrots are capable of biting a finger clean off. Like macaws and African grays, handling larger parrots should be done with caution and respect the parrot’s mood.
Do Parrots Carry Diseases?
Parrots do experience diseases, and some of these are even transmittable to humans. These include:
Proventricular Dilatation Disease
This is more common in parrots/macaws than other species of birds. It is non-curable and will be fatal without treatment. The symptoms include:
Psittacosis / Parrot Fever
Psittacosis is caused by a Chlamydia bacterium variant. Infected parrots are highly contagious, even to humans and other animals. It is fatal in parrots if left alone but is treatable when caught early. Symptoms include:
- Lack of appetite
- Eye and nose discharge
- Ruffled feathers
- Labored or difficulty breathing
- Eye infections
Be aware that some parrots will display mild or no symptoms. The bacteria spreads through contact with the parrot or contaminated waste. Inhaling particles of dried droppings is often how the disease spreads.
How Does Psittacosis Affect Humans?
Psittacosis affects humans with flu-like symptoms, leading to the disease being dubbed Parrot Fever. It leads to severe symptoms and death. However, this only happens to people who are immunocompromised or elderly.
Psittacosis is rare in the U.S. due to strict laws regulating the pet trade. In humans, psittacosis presents itself as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle pains
This disease is untreatable and has a high mortality rate. Polyomavirus affects parrots more than other species, especially those kept in cages. It’s contagious between parrots and impacts younger birds severely. Symptoms include:
- Appetite loss
- A swollen abdomen
This is a fungal infection that affects the digestive tracts of all bird species. It is normally secondary to a primary illness and can be a symptom. The yeast colonies that live in the digestive system overpopulate, causing these symptoms:
- Appetite loss
- White lesions in and around the mouth and throat
- Slow-deflating crops
Is Parrot Dust Harmful?
Parrot dust, or bird dust, is a naturally produced power that keeps a bird’s feathers healthy. When birds groom themselves or shake their feathers, this dust is loosened and released into the air. The particles themselves are small but still visible and are easily airborne. While parrot dust is rarely harmful, it can cause problems.
Air thickened with too much dust will cause breathing difficulties or irritation of the nose, lungs, and mouth. This is true for both people and birds. People with allergies or asthma experience reactions. Such reactions will vary in severity, depending on the amount of inhaled dust and the strength of the allergy.
Occasionally, parrot dust contaminated with feces will result in a condition called Bird Fancier’s Lung. The rapid onset of flu-like symptoms will develop, including fever, chills, and a dry cough. There may also be chest pain. Parrot Fever can also be contracted through inhaling airborne fecal matter particles.
As parrot dust can cause health problems, cleaning your parrot’s cage is important. This is something that should be done frequently. If your parrot produces a lot of dust, then an air filtration system is recommended.
Can Humans Get Parasites From Parrots?
Living near animals often means that there is a risk of cross-contamination. However, this won’t be a common issue for most owners. Preventing parasites depends on:
- Keeping a clean, hygienic environment for your parrot
- Not allowing your parrot near the kitchen or food areas
- Washing your hands after contact with your parrot
Some symptoms of parasites in parrots include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Odd breathing, including coughing, sneezing, or gasping
- Irritated eyes
- Eye and nose discharge
- Tail bobbing
This is an intestinal parasite that is transmitted through water or food. These sources will usually be contaminated with infected feces. Cryptosporidiosis can also infect the lungs, causing breathing difficulties.
This parasite originates in opossums and is spread via their feces. Parrots mainly get it through eating insects, which in turn have already eaten those feces. Feces can also contaminate water and food. Usually, only parrots that are kept in outdoor aviaries will be infected by such a parasite.
Sarcocystis infection can cause rapid death, and your parrot may not show symptoms until its final hours. Once in the intestines, the parasite rapidly breeds and creates cysts in the muscular tissues and organs of the parrot. This causes:
- Balance problems
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive thirst
This is a common intestinal parasite that infects food and soil. It’s common for people that have no contact with birds to contract giardia. Outbreaks are not uncommon where there is a contaminated water source.
When cared for correctly, parrots make loving pets. However, it’s important to remember that parrots have a strong bite force, produce feather dust that can exacerbate respiratory conditions, and carry diseases.