Ask Lafeber

Question:

April 12, 2021

Why did he bite?


Our B&G macaw is my buddy. He loves interacting with my wife though. He runs to see her and he talks more to her, and he just gets excited when she enters the room. He calls for me when I’m gone, and he seems depressed. Not so with her. I hold him for long amounts of time, preen his small feathers on his head. I’m always very gentle and calm with him, whereas she is loud, excited, high pitched voice, flaps her arms about, etc.. She has held him several times in the past few years and has never pet his head at all. She recently started carrying him around the house more often and with much more confidence, and he was fine with her. He has bitten her on the arm he’s sitting on, almost a year ago. She almost needed stitches, but she was wearing a thick sweatshirt. He just bit her arm again yesterday, for apparently no reason, while she was walking with him to get a peanut. This was the worst bite he has ever bitten anyone to my knowledge. We’re the third owners for about three years. He is about 15 years old according to his previous owners. Why did he bite my wife when he seems to adore her so much? They both are having fun, singing, playing, and then …! She wants me to get rid of him now because she is so afraid of being bitten again. If it were just bites like he does to me when he’s upset with me that would be different. These were horrible bites! Why?


Answer:

Hi James,

Bird behavior can be complicated, but one thing to understand is that the parrot always has a reason to bite, and they always give some warning. The key is to understand his behavior and recognize the signs before anyone gets bitten. You have to understand wild parrot behavior to understand why your pet bird does what he does. With wild parrots, a mature Macaw would have one mate, and would have little to no physical interaction with flock members. They live in flocks mainly for protection. But during breeding season, each pair establishes a territory and they keep other flock members away from their mate and nest. So basically we want our pet birds to maintain flock behavior well past the age when they would normally stop having physical interaction with flock members. In your situation, your macaw treats you differently because you both behave differently with him. It sounds like your wife gets him excited and wound up – parrots love being loud and boisterous. But then she gets him too wound up and he kind of short circuits and acts out. But why the bite? If you are present at the time, then most likely he is biting out of jealousy. Maybe he thinks you are going to take him from her, and when he can’t reach you to bite you, he bites her instead. This stems from natural mate behavior – if a rival bird gets too close to a bonded pair, especially when nesting, the rival will be attacked. But also, the male will sometimes turn on his mate and drive her back to the nest. Since your wife was carrying him at the time, if you weren’t around, maybe she walked past something that alarmed him or maybe he thought she was about to put him back in his cage and he was having too much fun. This still comes down to understanding body language and recognizing when he is going to bite. It is unfortunate that this bird has already been passed around to different homes. I do feel like you can work with him and keep him in your home, but your wife needs to be on board, too. She first needs to understand not to take it personally – she is hurt physically and emotionally. Parrots act on instinct, not on feelings.

This is a great question about an unfortunate and all too common situation. We will be having our monthly Pet Bird Behavior Q&A Webinar this Friday. I would like for the behaviorist, Chris Davis, to start the webinar with this question. If you can both view live, it’s free & I’ll post the link below for you to register. If you can’t watch live, please register anyway. After the webinar, we send out an email with the link to the webinar recording on Youtube. Chris has this wonderful way of explaining behavior and how to better communicate with your bird. Please let your wife know, because I think she will feel better and have a better understanding after she watches Chris’ response.

Webinar: Heart to Heart: Pet Bird Behavior Q&A with Chris Davis

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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