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Why Are Parrots So Territorial?

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

You may find that a pet parrot guards its cage, toys, food, water, a mate, or a favorite person. If a parrot fears losing something it values, it’ll likely respond defensively.

Territorial aggression has enabled parrots to survive and thrive as a species for thousands of years. They grow hostile when protecting what’s perceived as theirs, which is an adaptive behavior.

Why Parrots Need Territory

According to Royal Society Publishing, animals like parrots act territorially for access to:

  • Shelter.
  • Food.
  • Water.
  • Mating opportunities.
  • Nesting sites.
  • Personal space.
  • Belongings (toys).

Parrots are a prey species, so they must feel safe in their shelter. Parrots are neophobes, feeling insecure if someone they don’t recognize appears or removes something.  

Parrots often form monogamous bonds, remaining with their partners until the end of the mating season (or longer). Parrots become territorial if anything threatens their mate.

Since territoriality is correlated to mating behavior, this is frequently observed in the breeding season.

Most Territorial Parrot Species

The species most prone to territorial behavior include:

  • Quaker parrots.
  • African gray parrots.
  • Mini macaws (Hahn’s, golden-collared, red-bellied, and chestnut-fronted).
  • Conure parrots (Sun conures, golden conures, and green-cheeked conures).
  • Amazon parrots.

Males are more prone to psittacine aggression than females.

how do parrots claim territory?

How Parrots Claim Territory

Parrots claim territory over anything connected to essential resources and breeding.

Parrots have few scent receptors, so they don’t scent-mark their territory like other animals. This means birds don’t release urine or feces in certain places to claim things they value.

Here are the ways parrots lay claim to their territory:

Territorial Control

Parrots spend more time in areas they’ve claimed as territory. It can be difficult to coax a parrot out of its cage or make it happy and comfortable in a different room.  

Once a parrot has bonded with a favorite person, it’ll become devoted to that individual. It’ll follow them around the house and ‘defend’ them from others.

Foot Tapping

Foot tapping (not toe-tapping) is often observed in cockatiels. This involves tapping its foot on its perch (or another item or possession) to signify that it belongs exclusively to it.

How Parrots Defend Territory

Parrots defend their territory with loud vocalizations, body language, and attacks, including biting with their powerful hooked beaks.

Parrots’ reactions are ‘graded,’ meaning they’ll start with a warning (like eye pinning and making themselves look more prominent) before moving on to more hostile behaviors (like lunging and biting).

Although parrots defend their territory jealously, this isn’t bad behavior. Parrots are a prey species, so they’re always on their guard. Defending territory signifies insecurity and fear.

Vocalizations

If you hear a parrot clicking its beak, it’s likely feeling defensive.

Beak clicking occurs when a parrot clatters its upper and lower beak together. In addition to beak clicking, the parrot’s eyes will pin, and its feathers may lift to make it look more intimidating.

The parrot is scared and defensive and wants you (or another bird) to back away.

Don’t confuse beak clicking with beak grinding, as the latter is much softer and signifies happiness.

Other territorial sounds include growling and shrieking. These are both signs the parrot is scared and agitated and wants you or someone else to move away.

Defensive Body Language

A defensive bird will provide clues through its body language. Here are some signs: 

  • Pinned Eyes – Parrots’ eyes will become enlarged before pinning when scared.
  • Ruffled Feathers – Many parrots ruffle their feathers as a warning sign to move away.
  • Pacing – If the parrot is pacing up and down its perch, this could signify fear.
  • Head Bobbing – Some parrots begin head bobbing as a sign of aggression.
  • Tail Fanning – This is a defensive behavior, especially when protecting a mate.

You can respond more appropriately if you become sensitive to the parrot’s body language.

Biting And Nipping

Biting signifies insecurity and defensiveness, not aggression and dominance.  

This is evident when you take the parrot away from its habitat (and the things it protects) because its behavior often improves drastically.

According to TDL Journals, it’s uncommon for a child to be aggressively bitten by a parrot because birds don’t see children as threatening or intimidating.

Parrots grow scared, so animals aren’t always rational when fearful. Also, children don’t always understand the subtle intricacies of calm behavior and careful handling.

Ways You’re Threatening A Parrot’s Territory

Since parrots evolved to be constantly on guard for threats, the following things can scare them:

  • Putting a hand in the cage – We wouldn’t like it if someone trespassed into our home, so expect the parrot to feel the same way.
  • Direct eye contact/staring – Parrots have eyes on each side of their heads, so they only look at each other using 1 eye. Predatory species, like cats and dogs, have 2 eyes on the front of their face.
  • Insufficient resources – Parrots may fight over territory if kept in the same space, so providing ample resources is life-critical for pet birds.

Parrots perceive threats when they fear they may lose a bonded partner. In captivity, a perceived mate can be a person, so other humans are perceived as threatening to the ‘relationship.’

do parrots fight over territory?

Why Parrots Get Territorial Over Their Owners

Parrots are motivated by pair bonding. They’ll seek a partner, especially when they believe environmental conditions are optimal for reproduction.

The HPG Axis is essential to parrots’ biology because it governs reproductive behavior. Good husbandry stimulates the HPG Axis and primes reproductive desire.

The following things act as cues for the HPG Axis:

  • Soft foods, like fruit and vegetables, because males regurgitate food for females.
  • A comfortable nesting material.
  • Physical affection, including petting certain areas.

Treating a parrot well can stimulate its reproductive system, making it believe you’re a suitable mate. Also, a parrot may choose a pet or toy to lavish its affection.

Parrots are intelligent and adaptive, which explains why they form inter-species bonds. Unfortunately, a parrot can become territorial when someone innocently interacts with their favorite person.

How To Stop A Parrot from Being Territorial

Here are some tips and advice for minimizing territoriality:

  • Ignore ‘bad behavior,’ as even negative attention is reinforcing.
  • Avoid putting your hands inside a defensive parrot’s cage.
  • Avoid staring into the parrot’s eyes, especially when initiating the interaction. Turn sideways so that only one eye is looking directly at the parrot.
  • Don’t walk head-on toward a parrot. Instead, walk sideways or backward.
  • When the parrot is interested in something you’re doing, reward it with positive reinforcement.
  • Pet the parrot on its head rather than on its back, as this is less likely to stimulate the HPG Axis.
  • Remove processed sugars and feed the parrot a naturally nutritious diet.

Everyone in the household should take care of the parrot’s requirements. This will discourage it from developing a favorite person and bonding with one individual.