Biting is a last resort for parrots, so they’ll communicate their emotions to you through body language before biting or attacking. If a parrot bites you, it’s likely because you missed the warning signs.
Parrots will bite when afraid, so gain the bird’s trust before handling it. If a parrot is upset or unsettled, keep your distance. In the mind of the parrot, you were warned that it didn’t want you to approach.
Some parrots bite due to hormonal fluctuations and sexual frustration, so keep these instincts in check, being mindful of a parrot imprinting on you and growing jealous of other birds or humans. Also, avoid allowing a parrot to grow overstimulated by petting or playing.
Bigger parrots have strong jaws with a potent bite force. This means a parrot bite can cause serious injury and bacterial infection. So, biting and other unwanted behaviors should be discouraged.
Do Parrots Bite Their Owners?
As intelligent and capable of domestication as parrots may be, owners must never lose sight of the fact that they’re animals. This means there is always a risk that a parrot will bite when angry or afraid.
If a parrot takes to biting, this problem behavior must be addressed. If a parrot isn’t immediately taught that biting is unacceptable, it’ll continue to use its beak to communicate how it feels.
Wild parrots rarely bite each other or rival birds, typically only attacking this way when in fear for their lives or when protecting their young. The same triggers apply to captive parrots.
Unfortunately, the thought processes of a parrot don’t always match those of a human, and what seems reasonable to a bird may seem like an overreaction to you.
Signs A Parrot Will Bite
Biting is a last resort, so if you can understand and interpret a parrot’s body language, you can avoid triggering defensive behavior. The warning signs that a parrot is going to bite include:
- Squawking and screaming.
- Pinned eyes.
- Blushing of the cheeks.
- Puffing the feathers and spreading the wings to look larger and more intimidating.
Never approach a parrot showing signs of agitation, fear, or aggression.
The parrot is attempting to communicate its mood through body language, 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 700 PSI.
As parrot beaks are designed to crack open tough foods in the wild, some of these birds have a very high bite force. The Journal of Zoology confirms that the larger the parrot, the higher its bite force.
Macaws have the most powerful beak, with the green wing macaw having a bite force of up to 2,000 PSI. Cockatoos have nasty bites, and the African grey parrot has a bite force of around 400 PSI.
Even if a parrot is compelled to bite, it’s unlikely to attack an owner as if its life depended on it.
Why Do Parrots Bite?
Some very young parrots explore the world with their beaks, similar to how human babies learn with their mouths. This can result in light pecking with the beak.
There are four broad reasons adult parrots bite humans, all of which can be avoided with training and a better understanding of avian body language. Here’s why parrots bite:
Biting can become a learned behavior, especially if the bird seeks attention or wants its needs met.
Imagine eating a meal with your family, and a free-roaming parrot swoops and steals food from your plate. You try to wrestle the food back from the bird, and it bites you in the melee. You shout, curse, and put the parrot in its cage and cover it.
The parrot won’t necessarily think, “I have upset my best friend and shouldn’t bite.” It’ll likely associate this behavior with getting much-needed attention and being carried back to its cage.
Some parrots bite when they feel they’re being ignored and want attention. The bird will display softer, more subtle behaviors, such as 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 is used to getting physical attention, it’s more likely to bite as it doesn’t yet understand your motivations or intentions.
Applied Animal Behavior Science warns that removing parrots from their mothers too soon can lead to fear of human interaction later in life, while parrots have excellent long-term memory.
As always, a parrot will initially attempt to warn you that it’s afraid and doesn’t want to be approached. Signs to look out for are similar to those related to a bite, including the following:
- Squawking and screaming.
- Hiding at the bottom of the cage.
- Puffing the feathers to deter approach.
- Feather plucking due to stress.
If you miss or ignore these cues, the parrot will assume that your intentions are nefarious and consider biting the only way to remain safe.
Aggression and Anger
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.
Equally, many parrots undergo hormonal changes between 4 and 7. Consider these difficult teenage years of a parrot, during which the bird may experience mood swings and start acting out.
Some parrots grow aggressive when in pain, so if a bird is biting suddenly, consider having them assessed by a veterinarian because the parrot may be hiding an injury or illness from you.
Mature parrots of both sexes that are unable to breed can also experience sexual frustration, which may manifest as anger and aggression. This behavior can also lead to jealousy of others.
Parrots often have a preferred human, even becoming sexually attracted to humans during hormonal shifts. If you show affection to someone, the parrot may bite to become the focus of your attention.
Always pet a parrot gently and watch for signs of it growing uncomfortable or overexcited.
If you’re playing a game that involves physical interaction and the parrot grows aggressive and territorial during the play, it’s too excitable and needs time to cool off.
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 to cool off.
Keep your distance from the cage, but calm the parrot with soothing words if you’re not bleeding or hurt. If you shout, the parrot will consider this a reward for bad behavior.
You’ll need to assess your injury. As per Hand, parrot bites can be more severe than other attacks from pets. Wash the bitten area, ideally with antibacterial soap, and apply a band-aid or bandage if the parrot’s bite breaks the skin.
If the injury feels more severe, such as a broken bone, or you feel unwell, visit the ER.
You may require treatment for a zoonotic bacterial infection such as 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.
How to Stop a Parrot from Biting
If the parrot has taken to biting, there will be a reason. Assess everything to do with the parrot’s lifestyle and consider what could be improved. Key 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 you’ll need to be patient and consistent. The intelligence level of parrots means they’ll eventually learn which boundaries mustn’t be crossed.