Behavioral Problems in Pet Birds

Animal-Medicine

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax

www.theexoticvet.com

 

Behavioral problems in companion birds are common, and often negatively affect the relationship between birds and their owners. With proper socialization, training, and husbandry, some behavior problems can be completely prevented. However, even in mature birds with well established habits, behavior problems can often be resolved or improved by consulting with an experienced avian veterinarian or certified avian behaviorist.

Prevention:

By properly training and socializing birds during the hand-feeding stage (which is when most pet birds are acquired), many behavior problems can be prevented. Baby birds should be handled gently, exposed to a wide variety of experiences, and socialized with as many different people as possible. As early as possible, birds should be taught several simple commands, including “step up,” the command to step onto an owner’s hand, and “step down,” the command to step off the owner’s hand onto other surfaces. Birds must also learn to “stay” on a play gym or perch. This is an excellent time to introduce young birds to clicker training and target training.

Independent play should be encouraged and rewarded. However, young birds should also regularly experience “interactive play,” where their human “parents” show them how to handle toys and explore new objects in their environment. This helps young birds learn how to safely negotiate the surrounding environment, and serves as a huge confidence builder.

Owners should not allow their bird companions to perch on human shoulders, as it is very difficult to properly observe and respond to the bird’s body language when he/she is in this location. Riding around on human shoulders can stimulate inappropriate mating behavior in some birds. Finally, some birds may bite/scratch and inadvertently injure their owner’s faces when startled by sudden environmental changes. It is best to hold birds on your hand or arm and keep them below eye level to maximize the ability to respond to changes in their body language.

Common Behavior Problems:

The most commonly reported unwanted behaviors include biting, aggression, screaming, and feather destruction.

  • Screaming: Birds who scream may be bored, attempting to attract attention, or simply letting off steam. It is normal for parrots to have a short period of loud vocalizations in the morning and in the evening. In the wild, birds locate each other through vocalizations, so it is a natural bird behavior to call for its flock members (aka humans in the case of companion birds) when separated. However, since it is impossible for most people to constantly stay within visual range of their pets, birds must learn to accept separations and entertain themselves when left alone.

Birds who scream for unacceptable periods of time should be ignored until the behavior extinguishes itself. Although ignoring the behavior may be extremely difficult, when owners scream back or otherwise interact with the bird, they are rewarding the bird with attention and reinforcing the behavior.

  • Aggression: Aggression can occur for many different reasons, including inappropriate mate bonding, poor socialization, past abuse, and fear. However, one of the most common causes for aggression is lack of attention to the bird’s body language and lack of respect for the bird. Birds are usually very good at telegraphing their intentions with body language. Most birds go through a variety of “pre-biting behaviors,” signaling their discomfort with the situation at hand, and their willingness to use physical force to escape it, if necessary. When these body language cues are ignored, the bird has “no choice” but to bite the person. Most bites can be avoided entirely if people take the time to learn, understand, and correctly respond to bird body language.
  • Feather damaging behavior: Birds that are pulling out their feathers or self mutilating should always be evaluated for underlying medical problems. Many health problems have been reported to cause feather picking. The diagnosis of psychological feather picking can be made only if the bird is determined to be healthy in every other way. Effectively treating mental disorders in birds is often very difficult. Behavioral modification, correction of underlying behavioral or husbandry problems, and the selective use of antidepressant or antipsychotic drugs can sometimes be helpful. A behavioral consult with a veterinarian or certified animal behaviorist is ALWAYS strongly recommended.

If your bird is exhibiting any of these behavior problems, please contact the veterinarians at the Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine right away and schedule a behavior consult session. Behavior consults usually last at least 1 hour, and consist of an extensive interview regarding your bird’s home environment, health history, and behavioral history. In addition to behavioral modification techniques, recommendations for diagnostic testing and/or changes in husbandry may be discussed. We will do our best to help improve your relationship with your bird!

 

March 30, 2015

Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:

The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine 

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax

www.theexoticvet.com