Parrots do not bite children

Author: Drs. Jan Hooimeijer, Bird Vet, Parrot behaviourist
Clinic for Birds, Meppel
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Fear of the beak
When handling and keeping parrots, the majority of the owners have a certain fear of the beak of a parrot, macaw or cockatoo.
Everyone knows that parrots can exercise great power with their beak.
Beaks are used in nature for cracking nuts or strong seed casings.
In addition the beak is used to increase the size of cavities in nesting trees.
In captivity, we can see how the beaks are used to demolish thick branches, to loosen tightened nuts or for example for the destruction of toys or furniture.
It is impressive to see how parrots with a lightweight skull and a lightweight beak can develop that much power.
There are strong muscles involved and the upper mandible has a pivotal role.
Due to this combination the beak acts as a pair of strong and sharp pliers.
The beak is used for an important part when climbing in the function of an extra leg, or to scan materials in combination with their sensitive tongue.
The beak is also used to care for their own feathers and for the care / cleaning of the plumage of a partner and of course while caring for their young.

The parrot has to go
Biting behaviour is one of the reasons why parrots are discarded and disappear into the trade or end up in shelters.
The fear of the biting behaviour is why parrots are discarded when a baby is born in the family. Parents are afraid that the parrot will seriously damage on of the child’s tiny finger, ear, nose, or worse.

Beak is not for biting
It is remarkable that it is extremely rare for wild birds to exhibit biting behaviour in which parrots seriously injure each other. There is every reason to believe that purposely want to damage or even kill conspecifics, is not a natural behaviour for parrots in the wild. Parrots appear to possess a weapon to do just that and it seems like it would take little effort to bite off a leg or a wing of a rival and thus damaging it in such a way that the bird is doomed. In nature, this kind of behaviour is very unusual. The wounding of conspecifics is in fact not in the interest of the species.

There are skirmishes, but it usually involves behaviour to impress and mock battles and is not intended to cause real damage. Birds learn from childhood to understand body language and know very well their value to each other. At a young age playful romps are part of the learning process in which they develop their social skills.

Does biting happen in captivity?
In captivity, we see major problems especially with the cockatoo. The male cockatoos injures the female cockatoo seriously, sometimes even with deadly consequences. There are no reports that this behaviour is ever observed in nature. In captivity, housing hinders normal behaviour in which birds can go out of each others way when the body language tells them to. Aggressive behaviour or behaviour based on uncertainty can be suppressed if there is a natural way they can react. Biting behaviour to conspecifics can therefore be regarded as unnatural behaviour in captivity. With cockatoos that are kept as pet birds, we see examples where the beak is used to self-injure. This self-mutilation is never been observed with cockatoos in nature.

In captivity we see in different species that sick birds or birds with injuries are killed of by conspecifics. With budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds we see that sick birds can suffer severe damage to the skull. It is not unusual that dead birds are then eaten. To what extent this behaviour occurs in nature is not known.

Biting Behaviour expression of uncertainty
Biting Behaviour in captivity can be seen as an expression of uncertainty and therefore we can consider it as part of a behavioural problem. Uncertainty we can see with birds that are not treated with respect. This uncertainty we see with birds that are hormonal / sexually active and with birds that have physical or health problems. Birds with a strong bond with the owner show partner behaviour, where partner behaviour is ultimately the cause of territorial behaviour. This territorial behaviour is often regarded as aggressive or dominant behaviour when in fact it is insecure and defensive behaviour. The same bird behaves quite differently outside its own territory.

Biting behaviour rarely leads to medical help!
There are constant notices and examples where owners of parrots experience to have been bitten by a parrot or parakeet. First of all, it very rarely comes to biting where medical help is needed. This fact is remarkable because when a parrot would really bite to actually hurt, seriously a severe and even permanent injury will occur.

Parrots do not bite children
Looking at the experience when it comes to biting behaviour towards children, it is remarkable that within the Clinic for Birds from 1983 no examples are known where a child really has been bitten by a parrot. From the practice we constantly ask about experiences or newspaper articles which biting incidents emerge but up to now, there are no known examples from the author in which the media attention is paid to the problem with parrots children would have bitten. It would be obvious that if a child is bitten there really would be the loss of for instance a finger, an ear or nose.

Parrot does not want to bite children!
The experience is that parrots respond quite differently to children than to adults.
Apparently, parrots consider children as adults usually consider children.
Children are not seen as threatening and apparently do not make birds uncertain.

This is all the more remarkable because it is known that if owners of dogs are afraid that the dog will bite children they radiate their uncertainty, this in turn makes it very likely that the dog is going to bite children. Children are turned into an uncertain factor by the dog owner. Despite the fact that almost all parents exhibit uncertainty when it comes to "the risk" that the parrot would bite their child, parrots have no inclination whatsoever to start biting children. At most, we see that parrots play a game in which they pretend to attack without the intent to bite. The startled response of the parents can be seen as a reward for this unwanted behaviour. Apparently something in parrots "naturally" prevents them from biting children, even when there appears to be every reason to do so and nobody could blame them for it. This is all the more reason to have respect for the natural behaviour of parrots, since despite the mistakes often made in dealing with the birds, biting is not part of their normal behaviour. At the very most they end up with a bruise or superficial damage mostly caused by pulling back.

Biting parrots are their owners fault! Biting behaviour can be seen as learned behaviour for which the parrot has often been inadvertently rewarded. Parrots that show biting behaviour are usually not treated with respect. Showing fear of a parrot is in fact not showing respect for the parrot. If the parrot observes that the owner has a problem, the parrot has no respect for the owner, and the owner in turn makes the parrot uncertain. It is remarkable that parrots are not made uncertain by children, despite the fact that most parents do not show any confidence in the parrot.

Respect the goodwill and intelligence of the parrot. There is every reason to have great respect for the intelligence and the normal behaviour of parrots. This is even more true when we consider that parrots are able to be placed under very unnatural conditions and still manage to adapt and integrate as companion birds. It is all the more impressive when we consider that parrots do not bite children whereas far too many children are victims of child abuse by their own parents.

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