Attack Bird 101
In the wild, parrots can fly away from threatening situations, but occasionally, you can witness this kind of aggressive chasing / lunging in wild birds. Many of us have seen brave little birds chase hawks and other bird of prey away from their nesting site. If fleeing doesn't work, they are proactive in chasing away a perceived threat to protect their young.
In captivity other types of "lunge biting" have developed. In addition to territorial, aggression and protective lunging, some parrots have learned to entertain themselves by lunging at people; the reward being the dramatic reaction as the human panics, turns, runs away, maybe shouting and thrashing their arms around. In the eyes of the bird, this makes for great entertainment and, therefore, encourages lunging behavior.
Reasons for Lunging:
Territorial Defense: Some parrots, particularly the Amazon parrots, are especially known to lunge at a person that the bird perceives as a rival for its person's affection. The bird may encourage such individual to come over, appearing to be friendly and attention-seeking, but as the person responds and comes over the parrot lunges at him or her, often biting.
Jealousy: A bird attacks what he or she perceives to be his or her rival.
Rough Play: Some owners unwittingly encourage and train their birds to display this behavior by playing rough with their pets. Rough play encourages biting and establishes very bad habits that will be difficult to break.
Protection: Some times lunging can be a mate protection issue. This parallels the behavior described above of birds chasing away predators from their nest; or a parrot may feel their mate or human favorite to be in danger and may lunge to protect them.
Macaw Games: Macaws have been known to play two games; one of which is the a non-aggressive form of "Boo!". The macaw may be sitting on your lab and all of a sudden jump up and let out a loud shriek - causing a strong reaction of surprise in the human, very much to the delight of the macaw. Another macaw behavior which is commonly seen in mini-macaws is the "hit and run." If you are not paying attention, the macaw will sneak up on you, bite and run back to its cage. Even though the bite may still hurt, this is not aggression on the part of the macaw, it's a game; and the more surprised you are, the more fun the experience is for the bird.
Cockatoo's Attention Grabbers: Cockatoos are especially known for this "lunging technique." They may lean forward and grab someone who comes too close - and this may very well just be a ploy for attention rather than a sign of aggression. The cockatoo may jump off his perch or the couch and chase a person around the room. Sometimes this is just a game for them, while in other situations there is aggressive intent. The aggression is usually directed at a perceived intruder or rival. Of course, the more dramatic a person's response is, the more fun it is for the cockatoo.
Aggressive Biting: Initially governed by a bird's instinct to defend itself, the reward they get is the extra entertainment in form of the dramatic response by the person they are lunging at. This is how the instinctive aggressive lunge to protect itself, may turn into a habit that is challenging to break.
Summary: In going over the reasons for lunging, you will see again and again that the dramatic response by their victim / perceived playmate that follows a lunge is really what drives this behavior in most cases.
Stop the Lunge Biting:
The most common and worst response is anger or even aggression. Aggression will often result in more aggression from the bird.
Anticipate This Behavior and Prepare: Identify the events that trigger that behavior. Knowing when it happens, allows you to prepare. If you feel more comfortable, hold a cushion in front of her and ring a noisy bell to startle her. This usually stops them in the tracts.
Identify what situations create this behavior and prevent them from occurring. An example of this would be territorial lunging caused by perceived intruders getting too close to a parrot's cage. The best cause of action is to move the cage out of the traffic path; placing the cage or play gym in a more protected area. This being said, it is important that the cage is situated in the area where the family normally spends their time. Parrots are social animals and need to be part of a family -- they shouldn't be placed in a spare room with little attention. Find a protected area in the family room (if this is where the family usually is), however out of the path of traffic. Taking a parrot out of the traffic area has effectively stopped lunging in many cases.
Time-outs: Taking away privileges is one way of letting your bird know that this behavior is not acceptable. This punishment has to be applied consistently. This is the key. Your parrot has to understand that the punishment, such as time-out, will be a result of lunging. Note: A time-out should not be placing the parrot in the cage for the rest of the day. Place the parrot into his cage for about five minutes and then give the parrot another chance. Schedule daily training sessions lasting half an hour or more a day. The parrot should be given out-of-cage time and should be rewarded for good behavior, undesired behavior resulting in time-outs. Being calm throughout is important. Shouting and anger is counter-protective.
Do Not Reward Lunging with Drama: If you at all can, learn not to flinch from a lunging bird or acknowledge a sneaky bite. Immediately after the bite, place him in his cage.
- Addressing Jealousy Issues: If there is a person in the house who is particularly at risk of being lunged at, they may want to spend some time gaining the bird's trust - offering a treat and talking to him or her softly would be one way to do so. As you approach the cage, do not come closer than the parrot is comfortable with. You will see his body posture change if he feels threatened. Go as close as you can, offer a treat from afar ... go closer if he seems more comfortable. Don't be impatient. A little session every day should eventually change the dynamics of the relationship.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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