Houdini loves me... aggressively


New member
Oct 4, 2019
I have a quaker named Houdini who is about a year old. I remember being so thrilled when she first let me hold her, but now I can't seem to get her off of me. This wouldn't be an issue if she wasn't hurting me. She likes to preen my hair but she does it so aggressively that she's pulling my hair out and pecking my forehead. She likes to nibble my cheeks, ears, and freckles, which is cute until she bites down. I don't know how to stop this behavior. I don't want to discourage her from being affectionate, but she causes me physical pain. She doesn't let me pet her either. She wants to be on me at all times but tries to bite if I pet her.

I've also been feeling very guilty about all the time she has to spend alone. I used to be able to spend hours with her every day but since starting college I'm only able to see her a few times a week. My stepmom goes into my room every morning to change her water and visit with her but they won't let her out of the cage unless I'm there because I'm the only one who is able to get her back in. . I'm a relatively new bird owner and I'm desperately in need of some advice


Staff member
Super Moderator
Dec 18, 2013
Maya (Female Solomon Island eclectus parrot), Jolly (Male Solomon Island eclectus parrot), Bixby (Male, red-sided eclectus. RIP), Suzie (Male cockatiel. RIP)
Hello, and welcome to the Parrot Forums family!

Okay. There are two separate things to be discussed, here. Her behavior and your available time.

As far as her behavior is concerned, you need to draw a clearly defined line as to what is acceptable and what is not. Just as how she is not shy about letting you know what she doesn't like or with which she isn't currently comfortable - ie petting.

In order to draw an appropriately clear line, you need to be very consistent with what is deemed acceptable. No conflicting messages. Now, first thing you would need to decide is whether you are going to draw the line at any nibbling in general, or merely at bite pressure.

Just to be clear, stopping all nibbling would not be tantamount to discouraging affection. It would rather be a matter of encouraging alternate forms of affection. For example, my male ekkie, Jolly, had a thing about nibbling ears. His bite pressure was always gentle, so it wasn't a matter of pain, but it made me uncomfortable. I just don't like being nibbled on the ear. (Not via bird beak, at least. Lol!) So, I welcomed him onto my shoulder and enthusiastically encouraged all appropriate forms of affection. But whenever he would move on to my ears, I would say 'no' in a firm, yet even voice. (Nothing high-pitched or hysterical, as your bird might find that interesting enough to prompt her inner scientist into testing just how reliably she might inspire that reaction.) And any time that he continued despite my warning, I would say 'No' again and then put him on timeout for 5-10 minutes. No longer than that, or I'd run the risk of him losing sight of why he was put there in the first place.

He didn't learn overnight. Dude really loved my ears! Lol! But with time, he came to understand that my ears were strictly off-limits for nibbling. The replacement behavior? Now he rubs his beak against my cheek. Consistency and clearly defined boundaries got us to where we are now. The same would work for you and Houdini.

If you decided to go by degree of pressure rather than full extinction of inappropriate nibbling behavior, the process might be a little more painful for you... as you would need to wait until the nibbling became unpleasant before saying your 'No', but it would still be very doable. Just remember, some birds are more stubborn than others. Training the behavior out could take days, weeks, or even months.

Of course, there are common sense things to keep in mind. If your bird is in a highly excited state, that would not be the time to invite her anywhere near your face. When birds get very excited, they become far more likely to lose control and accidentally chomp away. Don't invite a breaking of the newly established rules. Know what I mean? Do your best to stack the deck in your bird's favor so she will get used to doing as you ask.

Another tactic with a proactive theme is to begin 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 she's about to take that beak-pressure to the next level. When she does, interpose the bird-safe item between your flesh and her beak. This may divert her attention by giving her something else to gnaw. I'd recommend leaning more toward the first method, as this is more band-aid than ultimate resolution, but figured I'd outline all your options.

There is also the issue of time. Keep in mind that her desperation to see you might be a contributing factor to her aggressive affection. She likely needs more interaction than she is currently getting. Perhaps you can start other members of your family off with baby steps. Ask them to read to her on any days that you will not be seeing her at all. Perhaps give her treats through the bars of the cage. And then when you are there, you can involve them in the training process. And target training in particular. Once things progress to the point where she will respond to their targeting demands, they might be more willing to let her out even when you're not there.

Here's a link to targeting: [ame="https://youtu.be/HaOicTtwIZo"]Beginners guide to target training parrots - YouTube[/ame]

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