Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Biting Parrotlet

I've had a young parrotlet since January (he was hatched in November). He's always bitten if I put my hand in his cage, so I wait til he comes out before approaching him with my finger. Lately, tho, he's started biting when he's out, too. How should I react when he bites, and how can I get him to stop??

Thank you for your help.

Dear Claudia:

Thank you for your email. I’m sorry I did not respond sooner. Somehow the message got stuck in my SPAM filter so my apologies.

Parrotlets have a well-deserved reputation for being territorial when it comes to their cage and they can be very aggressive when it comes to defending their home. This is how Nature designed them in order to survive in the wild. Pacific parrotlets originate in a very dry desert-like region where they compete for everything – food, nesting sites, etc., and almost everything preys upon them including other birds. Indeed, spiders are bigger than they are so they must be very bold and aggressive when it comes to protecting their space. This works well in wild, not so well in captivity.

I always recommend that people teach their parrotlets the ‘Step up” command as soon as possible. First, make sure the bird’s wings are clipped. Then, after the bird has been removed from the cage, you place him on your index finger to perch. Place the index finger of your other hand in front of the bird, just above the feet and gently turn the finger the bird is perched on away from the other finger. Repeat the command “UP’ or “STEP UP” and as the bird’s center of gravity shifts, it will automatically step up. As soon as he does, praise him lavishly and excitedly. Repeat this over and over for a few minutes every day when you take the bird out of the cage. Do this over a couch or bed in a room the bird is not familiar with. If he flies away, just pick him up and start again. Do not try to restrain or restrict him from flying or he’ll bite. Usually after a few days, the bird learns the command. Once this is done, when you reach into the cage, immediately place your finger up to him and say very firmly “UP” or “STEP UP” and they will step up. You need to do this as soon as you place your finger in the cage or the bird may go into defense mode and bite your finger.

If the bird is now biting when you take him out, again, make sure his wings are clipped. Unclipped birds are not only a safety-hazard but they also learn very quickly that they can fly and you cannot so a good hard nip is all it takes for you to let go and for them to have ‘freedom’. Once his wings are clipped, you can work on the Step Up command. Making the bird step up over and over is called ‘doing ladders’ or ‘laddering’. You should do this while training the Step Up command but you can also do it to keep the bird occupied and eventually it will tire the bird. This is one way to stop the nipping. Another thing you can do is say “NO!” very loudly when the bird bites and either blow a puff of air into the bird’s face or lightly shake your finger the bird is perched upon to distract him. Do not shake the bird, or shake your finger hard enough for the bird to fall. Never throw the bird. You can also place the bird on the floor (if its safe) for a couple of seconds. This is a very vulnerable position for a parrotlet and they will usually look to you to pick them up and make them safe. As soon as the bird stops biting, praise him lavishly. Over and over. This is what teaches the bird not to bite, the reward and praise. Not the punishment. You always want them to learn through positive reinforcement not punishment.

On another note, I do have to say that your bird’s change in behavior may be because the bird is molting. Most baby parrotlets go through their first molt at 4-6 months of age and it is a long, arduous process that is uncomfortable for the bird and can affect their mood and behavior. If the bird is molting, don’t push him too much with the training and if he is really hard to handle, let him be for a day or two. You can help the molt go faster by feeding a few higher protein foods in the diet like cooked eggs or peanut butter on whole grain bread a few times a week. Spraying him daily with warm water from a plant mister will also help.

I do hope that you can try some of these things that I recommend. It sounds to me like your parrotlet is going through typical parrot-learning behavior and just needs a little training and guidance. You will need to be patient and consistent but I think eventually you will get the sweet little pet you want. I’ve also written three books on parrotlets that you might find helpful. The most recent one, The Parrotlet Handbook by Barrons, is available both on my website at www.parrotletranch.com and at amazon.com

Best of luck and please let me know if any of these things help!

Sincerely yours,

Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.
Secretary, International Parrotlet Society

I hate to ask a stupid question, but what exactly is molt? I'm thinking it's when a bird loses many feathers. I've only owned parakeets & budgies and haven't experienced much in the way of molting. If I'm correct, Pita (my bird) isn't molting.

Pita steps up really well, is curious, has learned to say a few phrases and mimics some melodies I whistle to him. I have toys in his cage and a little "playground" I put on the table while I'm working or eating there. He doesn't like to be sprayed, but if I walk him over to the water faucet, he'll kind of bathe there.

I'll look on Amazon and check out your books. Thank you so much.
And don't worry about my email going astray. I'm just glad you found it at all and responded.

There are no stupid questions Claudia. Molting is the process by which feathers are replaced. Each feather falls out and a new one grows in. They are not supposed to fall out all at once or have bald spots otherwise the bird would not be able to fly nor keep itself warm. Generally it should only be a feather or two every day or so. The process takes weeks because it goes so slow.

Most parrotlets do not like to bathe - this is because they come from a dry desert-like area. However, just because they don't like it doesn't mean it isn't good for them. They do get wet when it rains so it isn't going to be a problem for them. The purpose of misting is not really to 'clean' the bird so much as teaching them how to preen correctly and to encourage circulation and the spreading of natural oils to help the molting process along.

Hope this helps!


Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.
Secretary, International Parrotlet Society

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