As friendly and loving as pet parrots are to humans, we should never lose sight of the fact that they’re animals. This means there’s always a risk that a parrot will bite when confused, angry, or afraid.
If a parrot takes to biting, its bad behavior must be immediately addressed. If it isn’t taught that biting is unacceptable, it’ll continue to use its beak aggressively to communicate negative feelings.
Wild parrots rarely bite each other or rival birds, typically only attacking when fearing for their lives or protecting their young. The same defensive triggers will always apply to captive parrots.
Unfortunately, the thought processes of parrots don’t always pair with that of humans, and what seems logical to birds will almost certainly seem like an extreme overreaction to you.
Signs A Parrot Will Bite Someone
Biting is a last resort, so if you can understand and interpret a parrot’s body language, you can avoid triggering this undesirable behavior. The warning signs that a parrot will bite include:
- Hissing or growling (African greys may cluck).
- Pinned eyes (rapidly dilating and constricting the iris).
- Puffing the feathers (look bigger and protect the body).
- Flattened feathers (attention-avoiding behavior).
- Body swaying (readying themselves while deciding if to bite).
- Crouching (near the ground with the head pointing down).
- Open-beaked (intimidation and readiness to bite).
Never approach a parrot displaying agitation, startlement, fear, or aggression. It may feel this way due to feeling cornered, night terrors, startled, or vulnerable.
The parrot is attempting to communicate its mood through body language and vocalizations, and if it feels you’re ignoring these warnings, it’ll consider biting a reasonable escalation.
Do Parrot Bites Hurt?
The bite force is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI).
For comparison, the average adult human has a bite force of around 150 PSI, while a large dog – often considered the most frightening source of animal bites – has a bite force of up to 550 PSI.
Parrots’ beaks are designed to crack open tough foods (like nuts), so many birds have a strong bite force. The Journal of Zoology stated that the larger the parrot, the stronger its bite force.
Macaws have the most powerful beak, with the green wing macaw having the strongest bite force. Cockatoos have nasty bites, and African greys have a bite force of around 300 PSI.
Smaller parrots don’t bite as hard. For example, the bite force of a cockatiel is about 70 PSI.
Why Do Parrots Bite?
Young parrots explore the world with their beaks, similar to how human babies learn with their mouths. This can result in a light nibbling or pecking with the beak.
Baby parrots also go through a ‘bluffing stage,’ where a rush of hormones is believed to modify their behavior. This happens when parrots are 4-12 months old before ceasing to be a problem.
Adult parrots bite humans for various reasons, all of which can be avoided with a better understanding of avian body language and ongoing training. Here’s why parrots bite:
Biting can become a learned behavior, especially if a parrot seeks attention or wants its needs met.
Imagine eating with your family, and a free-roaming parrot swoops and takes food from your plate. You try to wrestle the food back from the bird, and it bites you in the melee.
You get annoyed, curse, return the bird to its cage, and put the parrot in its cage and cover it.
The parrot won’t necessarily think, “I’ve upset my best friend and shouldn’t bite.” It’ll likely associate this behavior with eating, getting attention, and being carried back to its cage.
Some parrots bite when they feel ignored or jealous and want attention. The bird will display more subtle behaviors, like vocalizations. If these go ignored, the parrot may resort to biting.
Fear And Self-Defense
Fear and the instinct for self-preservation is the most common reason animals bite.
If you attempt to handle a parrot before it trusts you and is accustomed to handling, it’s more likely to bite as it doesn’t yet understand your motivations or intentions.
A parrot will initially attempt to warn you that it’s afraid and doesn’t want to be approached at this time. If you miss or ignore these cues, the parrot will assume your intentions are nefarious.
Anger And Aggression
All parrots have different personalities, and some are feistier than others. Parrots don’t always welcome human interaction, even if they’re usually affectionate and loving animals.
Many parrots undergo hormonal changes between 4 and 12 months old, called bluffing. Consider these difficult teenage years, during which a parrot will experience mood swings and start acting out.
Some parrots grow aggressive when in pain, so if a bird bites suddenly, it may have an injury or illness.
Mature parrots of both genders who can’t breed can experience sexual frustration, which may manifest as aggression. This behavior can also lead to jealousy of others.
Parrots have favorite humans, sometimes becoming attracted to them during hormonal shifts. If you show affection to someone or give them time, the parrot may react adversely or bite.
Always pet a parrot carefully and check for signs of it growing uncomfortable or overstimulated. Any stroking motions should follow the grain of the feathers so they don’t cause discomfort.
If you’re playing a game that involves physical interaction and the parrot grows aggressive or territorial during the play, it’s too excitable and needs 10-15 minutes to calm down.
What To Do If You Get Bitten by A Parrot
While a bite from a parrot can leave you feeling shocked and in pain, you must react calmly.
Immediately after the bite, take a step back to avoid a repeat. Use a firm command – a short, sharp “no” is fine – and return the parrot to its cage.
Keep a distance from the cage. If you shout, the parrot will consider this a reward for bad behavior.
You must assess your injury. According to Hand, parrot bites can be severe. Wash the bitten area, ideally with antibacterial soap, and apply a band-aid if the parrot’s beak breaks the skin.
If the injury seems more severe, such as a broken bone, or you feel unwell, visit ER. You may need treatment for a zoonotic bacterial infection like Pasteurella multocida.
Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice discusses a case where a cockatoo bite led to chronic renal failure due to a Mycobacterium chelonae infection. However, this scenario is extremely unlikely.
How To Stop A Parrot from Biting
If a parrot has taken to biting, there will be an explanation. Assess everything connected to the parrot’s lifestyle and consider what could be improved. Important questions include:
- Does the parrot receive enough attention, stimulation, and exercise each day?
- Have you trained the parrot to welcome human touch and interaction?
- Could you be encouraging the parrot to bite by rewarding this behavior?
Training a parrot not to bite isn’t an overnight process, so be patient and consistent. The intelligence level of parrots means they’ll eventually learn what boundaries mustn’t be crossed.