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Old 03-17-2020, 06:39 PM
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Biting little fellow

Hi everyone!

I'm Alex, and my wife and I recently adopted a GCC (about two weeks ago).
Our lil guy Rio is 16 weeks old and a charm.
The first week was great, we got to befriend him let him out of his cage when he felt confident enough, do a few "step up" sessions a day every day, share meals (his little plate with fresh fruits and veggies etc) share showers and bond a lot! (even some incredibly cute snuggle sessions on the couch).
Everything was great,we were starting to build a great relationship with him.

But now every morning when I open Rio's cage, he comes out flying on my shoulder, asking for some petting and snuggling and being overly cute, but suddenly he will start biting my neck and ears, or digging to get UNDER my clothes to bite my skin and either way he refuses to get down, and comes back up as soon as I get him down.
I cannot get him to step up anymore, he just flies right onto my shoulder.(being nice 80% of the time but I cannot get him down, he will bite and get aggresive when we try to remove him, so I have a hard time making him understand what is allowed and what is not...)
He is also wreaking complete havok to my clothes biting and tearing what he can (I just put old clothes around him right now but i'd like that to stop).
It's also complicated to "punish" him when he's just sitting there being nice, he would run accros the house making localisation screams to find me and fly on my shoulder.

We had to improvise and we used a small bamboo stick to remove him (not harming the bird in ANY way, just using the stick as a perch to get him down since he will bite HARD on our fingers if we try to get him down) but he flies back up right away, and spends most of his day on my shoulders.
Even treats are not working or when they do, he'll just fly back up and eventualy ends up biting or being very hard to remove.

So we figured that if we removed me from the situation the bird could be trained, so I stayed in another room (while making sure that he could not hear me) and my wife tried to bond with him.
Oh boy that went wrong, he started to bite her fingers as soon as he stepped up, climing on her shoulder to bite her neck, ears, moles (not nibbling, real biting) even got her crying and she's now terrified of him and doesn't want him near (he of course feels that and gets even more bity, digging in her hair until he finds a tasty ear to bite or a mole to rip).
He's even biting her when she gives him treats.

But the bird doesn't hate her, every morning when she wakes up, he flies to her for a very brief time to snuggle (until he flies back to my shoulder).
We tried to reverse the task that he didn't like (so I am the one putting him in his cage to sleep she is the one to give him fresh food etc etc).

We love our bird and he's already a family member not just a pet, Rio is a great baby bird, he's very sweet, loves to hug and snuggle, doesn't scream we just know that we need to act now to make sure that was is going on now doesn't stick and we are kinda lost...

I know that there are dozens of accounts of bity conures on this forum of videos online but none really fit our situation or our little guy (we tried the earthquake method at first and it worked great, but not on our shoulders), i realize that the issue is most likely with us and not our baby bird! But we'd like to fix it

To give you some more context, Rio is in our living room, and we both work from home right now so he's with us all the time when he's not sleeping!
He's got a big cage with lots of toys that he loves to chew on and we build him foraging toys daily from fresh fruits and veggies.

Sorry for the wall of text! We love our little guy and we want to make his life as best as possible and I'd love if some of you could give us pointers

Thanks a lot everyone!
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Last edited by Hurock; 03-17-2020 at 06:51 PM.
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Old 03-17-2020, 08:40 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

Aw, Rio is adorable! I’m sorry you’re going through this - but it’s a very common stage after bringing a bird home. He’s young, and doesn’t know how to communicate with you. He’s a toddler with a can opener on his face, he’s feeling comfortable enough to start testing boundaries and I completely understand how painful that can be. Take heart....most of us have been there and survived it

You’re not doing anything wrong, but it’s definitely good to set boundaries....he’ll need them! Using a perch to step up on when he’s abusing your fingers is a strategy that has worked for me with a couple of mine. I’ll tell you - I gave up on the holes in my clothes and I just change when I get home before I let the fiends out....one less thing to stress about.

I stop letting mine onto my shoulders when they can’t be trusted to behave nicely. Too many sensitive areas up there. I create an exciting diversion - toy, treat, etc to move them somewhere safer when they start heading to my shoulder and make it fun wherever I want them to be. Harder to disengage once they’ve latched on. When mine bite, I say “no bite” and move them somewhere “not fun” (back of a chair, a perch with no toys - I don’t use the cage as a punishment, that’ll bite you in the butt later). I ignore for a minute or so - very pointedly, no eye contact, no talking. It has to be immediate when the bite happens so that they make the connection that bite = no more fun. It takes time and complete consistency - you’ll all need to be patient. I choose not to react beyond “no bite” and setting them down, sometimes they can view a reaction as more animated interaction which could be a desired result. Birds don’t bite out of meanness in my experience, they typically bite to communicate something, elicit a reaction, fear, startled, that kind of thing.

So my Tango was a fierce biter, and can still pop off a bite once in awhile - but I’m generally able to read the body language and respect what she’s saying. I don’t force my birds to do something I want them to do - unless there is safety involved. Tango took a couple of months to move past the “tie my hood tight under my chin and bandaids to pad my fingers” stage.

Stanley was given to me a piranha who would chase people down and bite their faces. It took about a month and a half - and we very seldom mis-communicate anymore. He’s a snuggler.

There’s hope....you’ll get there....ask questions, and I’m sure others will add their tips and tricks as well .
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Old 03-17-2020, 08:52 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

Hello Alex, and welcome to the Parrot Forums family!

A few questions. Where are you in relation to the cage, on average, when Rio starts to bite? Does it happen more often when you're near to it?

And do you free-feed Rio (food is constantly available in the cage) or do you have pre-determined meal times?

I ask about the feeding times because much of what I'm about to suggest is aided by pre-defined mealtimes. My eclectus parrots, for instance, are not free-fed. They get two large meals per day. (Some do three, in smaller portions. It's fine either way, so long as you are consistent.) Why is there a training advantage to designated mealtimes? Because I get to know when they are at their hungriest and, therefore, at their most treat-motivated. Now, don't confuse this with withholding food for performance. I abhor that practice. The difference is simple, yet vast. They get their meals at the designated mealtimes every time. Regardless of performance. Withholding food is cruel. No, what they are earning in this instance, is the chance to have a little something extra... when they most want it. Strategically-timed training.

So, let's say dinner is at six. (Just an example) You might engage him with a lesson at 5. He'll be at his hungriest, and therefore at his most treat-motivated. You'll be surprised how quickly they pick things up when properly motivated. When he does as you ask, praise him for it. Always use the same words and tone. This consistency is important, as he will begin to associate the words and tone with the treat he so enjoys. (Of course, you will have learned his favorite treats beforehand and made sure they are never in his regular meals. They should be something that he only gets while training.) Association is how birds tend to learn.

And when he doesn't perform as expected, he doesn't get the treat. But be reasonable with your expectations. Baby steps. Don't set him up to fail.

And when dinner time arrives, let him go to his cage to eat. This is important. He should always eat his main meals in the cage. Why? Because it reinforces the feeling that the cage is his home. A place of shelter and the primary place where his hunger is satiated. This is huge when it comes to timeouts. You don't want him ever looking at the cage as a bad place. Do this little bit of preparation, and it will never be a problem.

Now. The biting. First, check out this thread on the causes of biting: BRAINSTORMING: Biting Parrots Very much worth the read, as it goes into many of the causes of biting behavior. And very importantly, it focuses on avoiding the bite before it occurs.

Second, here are some threads on bite pressure training and dealing with the bite as it's happening: Bite pressure training?
Bird Bites ALWAYS

Okay. So you have an aggressive biter. You haven't determined the cause of the biting just yet. But you do know that he can't be trusted on your shoulders. Being allowed on the shoulders is a privilege, not a right, and Rio needs to earn that right. From the shoulder, a bird can go after your face. Step one is not to allow him past your elbows until you've worked past this issue.

Now, I know you're thinking easier said than done. And you're right. It's not easy. But it works, so long as you are consistent enough. There are two things you can implement, here. Either temporarily dial back on outside time and work on target training him through the bars of the cage, or introduce him to a more rigorously consistent set of consequences for any given action... as well as equally consistent rewards for desired behaviors. (Consistency is required with both approaches, but consequence comes more into play.)

Okay, in case you're not familiar with target-training, here is a link to the best video I've seen on the topic:

Target-training is important for two reasons. First, it's a bonding tool. This is because a basis for communication is being forged. Once he comes to understand that performing this task will lead to yummy goodness, he'll come to enjoy training time. Both for the treats, and for the stimulation of earning said treats.

And second, it teaches a valuable skill. It gets him accustomed to going where you direct him.

So, if you target-train through the bars of the cage, you'll be protected from his bites while building the bond between you.

You can also, however, target-train outside of the cage. Given how good a flier Rio is, I'd suggest trying to have the target-training progress into flight drills. Having him fly off a to of that excess energy will make him less likely to bite. A tired bird tends to be a more cuddly bird. Whereas an amped up bird will sometimes bite because he's too excited and doesn't know what to do with himself. (Overstimulation is one of the potential causes of biting you'll come across in the Brainstorming thread)

Another thing that might help is carrying either a small, bird-safe piece of wood or hard plastic around with you. (Small enough to carry comfortably in your pocket or even the palm of your hand, and hard enough to withstand a good gnawing.) And then learn the warning signs for when he's about to attack. When he does, interpose the bird-safe item between your flesh and his beak. This will serve the dual purpose of shielding your hand/arm, and also diverting his attention from you as the object of his ire. Most birds will be distracted enough by this that they will momentarily forget their desire to eat you.

Once you become more adept at reading his moods, you'll be able to prevent many bites simply by not putting yourself in the position to be bitten in the first place.

If he clamps down on you, tell him "No," in a firm, yet even, tone of voice. This is to make sure you're not training him to bite you. You see, when you react animatedly to a nip or bite, he has no point of reference for your decidedly human body language. So if you yell, or jump about cursing up a blue streak, it is entirely possible that he might find the display AMUSING. And then he'll of course prove his hypothesis of cause and effect by doing it again. And again. So try your best not to react excitedly. Keep your movements controlled and precise. Keep your voice calm.

But don't just take it. Remove the beak from your skin, say "No," and immediately put him back in his cage on timeout. There is no interaction during timeout. Leave the room if at all possible. Or, at the very least, turn your back. This should go on for 5-10 minutes. Long enough to be a significant consequence, but not so long that he's forgotten that he's on timeout in the first place. When you taker him back out, don't hold onto any of the negative energy from before. Clean slate. If he bites again, wash, rinse and repeat.

Consistency is key. Depending on how stubborn he is, it might take a while. But he'll eventually get it. I rarely have to put my birds on timeout anymore. We understand each other very well.

And yes, the no shoulder part will be tough to enforce. But you just have to out-stubborn him. Tough, but not impossible. And every bite gets him a timeout. A nip that is merely uncomfortable rather than painful might get a warning, "No," first. But a second such nip ends in a timeout as well.

I apologize if this is a bit more rambling than my usual. Long day at work and I'm a bit tired. But if you have any questions, just ask away.
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Old 03-17-2020, 09:26 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

Thanks a LOT for both your replies! You've given me a lot to consider!

"toddler with a can opener on his face" that DOES fit him a lot!

For your questions Anansi, the cage is never far I did notice that he gets a bit more bitey close to the cage, especially for the "step up" attempts, not the random ear tasting.
I do free feed him (with fresh fruits at pre determined time to make sure that they don't go bad), but transitioning him to specific meal times seems like a great idea!
It would also allow my wife to be the "food provider" and have positive interaction with him.

After reading the brainstorming, I think that overstimulation might play a BIG part of his biting, since he often goes CRAZY in our hairs - clothes - shirt buttons before biting.

I will definitely start target training tomorrow using our "rio removal" stick / perch
The shoulder thing will most likely be the hardest part, since he doesn't care much about toys when he is outside of the cage (I kinda think that I am the toy).
I'll keep using the perch to have him step down until he quiets down.

I will keep you posted on his progress.
We also bought a second cage that we want to put in another room to make sure that he can get the best rest possible, I feel like being in the living room (even though we stop the tv and hush when he is sleeping) is not ideal and we'll let him have a "night cage" in a quieter room.
(Not saying that bad sleep is the cause of our issues or that he even sleeps bad, but to make sure that every option is considered )

Once again thank you for your replies and the help!
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Old 03-18-2020, 05:51 AM
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Re: Biting little fellow

You're welcome!

I'm so glad you mentioned the sleeper cage. I'd meant to mention that but, in my tired state, promptly forgot all about it. Sleep can be a HUGE factor, actually, so your idea of a second cage in a quieter room is a good one. 10-12 hours is good for parrots.

If you suspect overstimulation, look out for those telltale body language signs (well covered in the Brainstorming thread) and make sure to anticipate his point of overload. Heading it off before he gets there by easing up on the intensity of play, giving him time to cool off before he loses his mind, is ideal.

Remember to stay strong and consistent, and we'll definitely be looking forward to updates.
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Old 03-18-2020, 06:58 AM
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Re: Biting little fellow

Welcome to you!
Wow, great advice and support so far.
You are a great example of new parronting... reaching out, being open-minded, dedicating yourself to your bird's happiness.
Please be patient with yourself... you're doing a great job. Keep in mind that, since conures aren't long-domesticated pets like dogs or cats, so you may always have to tolerate a bit of... uhhh... rowdiness... at times? Parrots have a spectrum of personalities, too, just like people... some are gentle and humble, some try to be home invaders. My Patagonian has always been a big challenge, but I love him.
I wish you a long and wonderful relationship!
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Old 03-18-2020, 12:48 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

THe problem with flighted parrots that have not learned shoulder manners is that they will fly direct to your shoulder and begin to bite, and if you try the time out method they just fly somewhere else defeating that. Controversial as it is on this forum, you may want to consider a light wing clip , just enough to allow him to glide to the ground without gaining altitude. Now you can train and there is no ambivalence about what you want him to do. Once he is trained to respect the shoulder and hands, you can let the feathers grow out and he can regain his flight . Just a thought.
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Old 03-18-2020, 09:06 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

Hi everyone!

Figured I could give you a small update on how we tried to implement changes and a new set of rules!

First thing, the meals: we did not yet switch to specific meal times because we didn't want to change EVERYTHING at the same time and confuse our bird too much, so what we did was remove every food source outside of the cage (Rio used to have food bowls on the living room table all day long + food in the cage).
So now the cage is the only feeding station, we will slowly work towards well defined meal times. (even though the bird kind of does that by himself since he wants to eat when we eat )

Second thing, the shoulders, we decided to let Rio be out of the cage as much as possible during the day and to be 100% consistent (if that doesn't work out, we'll reduce out of cage time).
So we removed him with a perch everytime he flew up there, it was less tedious than I expected, he kept trying throughout the day of course, but on every occasion he got tired of it after 3-4 attempts.
We immediatly put him on a perch or on a finger and if he stays put we give him a treat (while praising him profusely)

It will take time and dedication to make it work, and while I felt by the evening that we made progress, I realize that tomorrow morning will be another story!

Third thing, the bites!! overall during the day we noticed that less shoulder time meant less bites, so it was a first step..
We went with the cage timeout method, and the firm NO for the smaller bites.
We also used the "NO" for the bites on our clothes (nipping is OK, tearing holes is a No, that part doesn't work great yet but we'll keep at it).
He did spend quite a bit of time in time out today, and I feel like he understand why and is testing us!
He came to bite my fingers several times today to take small nip at them then look at me and slowly but surely increase his pressure until he got time out (could be anthropomorphic to assume that he is making a "bite scale" but it felt like it!).
During time out I also remove the food from his cage, because I do not want him to think that "bite = my human will carry me to food".
I left all of the toys in the cage, so during some "time out" he would screeeeaaaaam at us to get him back, or just play randomly.
Unsure about what I should do regarding the toys, removing them seems too harsh, he is in time out not in jail.

Overall Rio was VERY confused today, where is the food bowl?
Why can't I come to your shoulder anymore?
What's going on?!
He was looking at us strange and looking for food everywhere,and biting out of frustration when we took us down from the shoulder, I'm glad that I posted here for advices before all of the bad habits got to stuck in his head!

We got to do a few "step up" sessions today, who went VERY well (the absence of food in the living room table really changed the frequency of his meals so he was more willing to impress for food!).
Overall I think that this whole new strategy will turn out good Not cheering too soon of course, maybe today was just a good day but I'll take it nonetheless

Tomorrow we will start target training, and keep up with all of these new rules!

I want to thank you all once again for all the feedback and responses, you're a GREAT help and I will keep posting updates to let you know how everything evolves.

Regarding the wing clipping, Rio was clipped(ish) because the breeder did it, but he can fly pretty well and far already.
I know that it can be very helpfull to keep birds clipped while bonding and creating the relationship/ training but I'm not a fan of it (even though I am very poorly informed on the topic, so I'm talking from emotion not reason here) IF I am able to make it work without If the little dude turns into a demon and clipping can help fix it, I might do it

Last edited by Hurock; 03-18-2020 at 09:17 PM.
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Old 03-18-2020, 09:38 PM
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Re: Biting little fellow

I’m happy to hear that you have a strategy and are implementing! Sounds like a good plan and i look forward to hearing how things progress. Don’t forget that there will be plenty of days that you’ll feel like he forgot ABSOLUTELY everything you taught him - that’s normal, we all have bad days, don’t get discouraged. Just stick to your plan and tweak it as necessary (when he’s not understanding something, but not when Rio decides he doesn’t like the new rules).

Awesome job you’ve done so far! .
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Old 03-20-2020, 02:20 AM
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Re: Biting little fellow

We also have a female GCC named Kiki. She being a youngster is at the tail end of those same traits. She just started the crawling inside the shirt stunt too. Cute at 1st, but gets on you nerves after a bit too.
Hang in there keep on doing what the others are suggesting to you. We also have 2 cages for her. 1 downstairs & 1 upstairs in our son's room. Each day it gets a lil better...

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