Last Updated on February 9, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
A cockatoo’s (Cacatuidae) beak differs from other Psittaciformes.
If you look at the lower mandible of a cockatoo, you’ll notice that a “U”-shape appears to be missing. When biting, this gives the beak three points of attack, creating significantly more force.
The bite force of the average cockatoo is up to 350 pounds per square inch (PSI.)
That’s not hard enough to sever a human finger. Still, a cockatoo’s bite can cause cuts, bruises, bleeding, and even bone fractures, especially if it’s determined to send an important message.
Cockatoos can be nippy, especially when young. They’re also emotional birds that demand attention from their owners. If they aren’t provided with this, a cockatoo may vent its frustrations with its beak.
Cockatoo Bite Types
There are three types of cockatoo bites:
|A cockatoo will sink the sharp edge of its beak into your skin before backing away. This will be a short, sharp shock but can still cause bleeding and infection.
|The cockatoo will bite harder, keep its beak locked around the bite area, and twist the skin. This bite can inflict significant pain and discomfort.
|A cockatoo will bite down as hard as it can and hold onto the area, refusing to release. This bite can cause severe damage, possibly even fracturing a bone.
Why Cockatoos Bite People
A cockatoo will have a reason for biting, though you may not always understand why it’s upset.
Some of the most common reasons include the following:
- The cockatoo doesn’t want to be handled.
- You haven’t given the cockatoo enough attention, so it bites to get a reaction.
- The cockatoo is jealous of other birds or humans in the home.
- Something has spooked it. This could be a brightly-colored shirt you are wearing, a noise you are making, or something you carry. A range of seemingly innocuous things can trigger birds.
- Hormones are at elevated levels. The cockatoo may be bluffing (the avian equivalent of puberty,) or a mature cockatoo may be sexually frustrated during the breeding season.
- The cockatoo is overstimulated by excessive noise, light, or exercise.
- You’re not providing the cockatoo with an appropriate lifestyle, leading to stereotypies.
Young cockatoos lightly bite and nip to demonstrate love and affection toward an owner.
Signs A Cockatoo Is Going To Bite
As cockatoos have crests at the top of their heads, owners receive a warning if the bird is annoyed. If a crest is flat against its head, approach cautiously, especially if it’s hissing and puffing its feathers.
If the bird starts dropping its wings, opening and closing its beak, and lunging or walking purposely toward you, it may bite with force as you’re deemed to have ignored its warnings.
Bite Force of a Cockatoo
The bite force of animals is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). If aggrieved, a cockatoo can bite with a PSI of up to 350, almost equivalent to a husky’s jaws.
Cockatoo Bites Hurt A Lot
If you’re wondering, “What does a cockatoo bite feel like?” it’s painful. If a bird feels compelled to bite, it sends an unmistakable message that it wants you to stop something you’re doing.
A bird may issue a lighter bite as a warning, only escalating to a full-force bite as a last resort.
A cockatoo’s bite hurts a lot due to the anatomy of the bird’s beak. The lower mandible of a cockatoo has 2 prongs. Coupled with the sharp upper beak, cockatoos have a “three-way bite” that causes pain.
Cockatoo Can’t Bite Your Finger Off
A bite force of 350 PSI is not sufficient to rip off a human finger from a healthy adult. It’s still strong enough to crack or break a human bone, especially that of a young child.
Cockatoo bites are sometimes considered worse than macaw bites because they bite more frequently and are likelier to become agitated enough to bite with maximum force.
Risks of A Cockatoo Bite
There are certain risks associated with bites from cockatoos:
Cockatoos have sharp beaks that can break the skin when biting a human finger or hand.
Bites to the ear or lips are even likelier to bleed profusely. A bandage or band-aid must be used to stem the bleeding caused by a cockatoo bite.
Apply pressure to the bleeding wound, especially if it appears deep. If the bleeding continues for 10 minutes or longer, seek medication attention because you likely need stitches.
If a cockatoo bites hard enough to draw blood, it may result in an infection. A bird’s mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, and it’s possible to contract zoonotic diseases.
Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice details a case involving a severe cockatoo bite infection revolving around Mycobacterium chelonae to an immunocompromised individual.
Psittacosis is a concern for anybody bitten by a cockatoo. Hand stated that up to 40% of pet birds carry the psittacosis virus, sometimes asymptomatically, and can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
Tetanus (lockjaw) is also a risk if a cockatoo bites you. If you haven’t had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, you may experience a cramping jaw, muscular stiffness, spasms, and seizures.
It’s rare for a cockatoo to exert enough pressure to fracture a human finger, but it’s possible. A cockatoo’s beak can wrap around a bone, and injury can follow if it refuses to relinquish its grip.
Wearing Gloves To Handle A Cockatoo
Wearing gloves while handling a cockatoo is one way to avoid pain and injury if it bites. Cockatoos bite to send an unambiguous message, “I don’t like what you’re doing.”
If you wear gloves and don’t heed its warnings, you risk damaging the relationship with your cockatoo.
What To Do if A Cockatoo Bites You
As much as you’ll experience shock and pain, remain calm and avoid reacting. This sense of calmness makes it likelier that the cockatoo will release its grip sooner.
Return the cockatoo to its cage, remaining calm all the while – don’t make your cockatoo feel like it is being punished for biting. This will only serve to aggravate the bird further.
Once the cockatoo is secured, inspect the area where you were bitten.
Wash the wound with antibacterial soap and stem any bleeding. If the injured area continues to throb, turn red, swell, or ooze pus, seek medical advice from a doctor.
After cleaning yourself up, work on making peace with your cockatoo.
Parrots can hold a grudge, so you may need to try to restore your bond. Food and attention will go a long way to making things right, but you may need patience.
How To Tame A Cockatoo That Bites
Cockatoos are more prone to biting than other parrots, so you may need to train them to avoid this behavior. The first rule is to do all you can not to respond, as it’s a form of attention.
Spend time with the cockatoo, teaching them to enjoy your company. If a cockatoo still bites occasionally, consider other explanations for biting. These can include the following:
- Small cage. The cockatoo’s cage is too small to extend its wings and move around.
- Overstimulation. Move the cage to a quieter area with less footfall, noise, or artificial light.
- Hormonal. Minimize access to direct sunlight and be mindful of where you pet the bird.
Reinforce good behavior by offering treats and praise when the bird behaves appropriately. Clicker training can also help a cockatoo anticipate a reward and distract it if it gets annoyed.
Cockatoos are loving birds and wonderful companions but can be prone to biting. There can be unfortunate consequences when a cockatoo sees fit to bite an owner.