new parront here: biting...

ollielillies

New member
Apr 24, 2021
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hi, i have had ollie for a few weeks now. i got him from a breeder and he is currently 4 months old. his breeder clipped his wings and i would like to eventually let them grow out so he can fly and be happy.

he seems very comfy in his cage and i let him see his playground which he loves to hang out on. well there is an issue, he seems to be afraid of hands... i let him come out of his cage on his own every morning. he is very territorial of his playground and toys. whenever he sees me touch it he will do a little angry squawk at me, and if my hands are near him on his playground, he will try to bite them. he is starting to bite my hands very, very hard in anger. usually i do not react or make a sound when he bites even though it hurts. i do not try to handle him much right now since fingers seem to anger him but then he will walk to me on my work desk (his playground is set next to my desk) and when he sees my hands, he will squawk and bite them. eventually he calms down and puts his head down to my hand for pets, so i gently pet him. then when i stop, he squawks and bites again... sometimes when he comes to my desk and sees my hand move, he runs back to his playground.

when he bites, i have tried:
-walking away
-not reacting
-slowly pull my hand away
-gently lean finger forward to him (he stops biting here but he still squawks angrily)

well whenever my hands are near him at all he gets angry and bitey on and off.. for the past few days i was slowly able to get him to step up on a perch and my hand with a treat and the commands “up” and “down”. it seems to be helping so far...

i know its just my hands he fears because he always comes to me from his playground and tries to follow me to the bathroom. it can’t be hornonal because hes so young, right? could it be a territorial thing? is he over simulated? he does have lotssss of toys... or am i letting him stay out too long too soon? i let him stay out for 6 hours (spread apart throughout the day) since im workingn at home.. he does not get hungry out because i move his food and water out of the cage.

and i dont only handle him only to put him back in the cage. sometimes i let him sit on my hand or the perch just to eat his treat. then when hes done, i return him to the playground.

any advice would be appreciated... i love ollie so much, he is my very first bird. here is a video of him calmed down after some head petting and a treat:

[ame="https://youtu.be/J80Lh2rrgeY"]i love yew ollie - YouTube[/ame]
 

noodles123

Well-known member
Jul 11, 2018
8,141
148
Parrots
Umbrella Cockatoo- 15? years old..I think?
The issue is, you have tried a bunch of responses to his biting, which means you are getting bitten often, which means you are not reading his cues (because if you were, the bite would not occur).

I am not saying that anyone is perfect at it, but for the most part, paying close attention to birds' body language, and the situation should be enough to prevent giving your bird added biting practice. A bite is always the human's fault *no worries-- that stands for all of us, and we have all been bitten*) but you really must KNOW your bird because body language is not as important as your specific awareness of your relationship and the way your bird is acting vs how it normally acts. If your bird is already showing defensive/upset/aggressive body language though, you've already upset your bird, and that is the problem. You want to prevent the agitation altogether. So, you want to be less handsy--- and look for positive/consenting body language that your parrot shows you when it is cooperative. If you wait until you are seeing frustration, you are setting yourself up to fail. Look for "yes" cues from your bird (too many people focus on agitation).

Some birds are weird about hands, but based on what you have said and the short period you have had your bird, I am not sure we can jump to that conclusion yet, as it sounds like you have been bitten a lot and that means you may need to slow way down and repair trust. Your bird hardly know you, so it may be your hands specifically that he fears because he doesn't know what they will do. You need to work at your bird's pace. Biting is a last resort for them in the wild when they tried everything else to communicate and are still being misunderstood. That is how it starts anyway. In captivity, its crucial to give them as little experience biting as possible because, even though it starts as a last resort when body language is ignored, it can quickly escalate to a form of manipulation.

IF you get bitten and you truly had NO idea it was coming and studied body language etc but got nailed anyway, that is when you must ignore (because any other response could accidentally reward the behavior, whose function is unknown). You only ignore in such instances because it is the most neutral response to a behavior whose motivation is unclear. Any response (other than ignoring) when the function/motivation behind the bite is unknown, runs the risk of reinforcing the bite **again, this is only when you have no clue what you did wrong**and you must have trust established before trying to touch your bird etc...So don't just assume it's a fear of hands without considering it could be a fear of yours in particular.

All behaviors are rooted in 4 categories--- 1. Attention (eye contact, proximity, touch, verbal, entering the room etc) 2. escape (to avoid a situation, task, person, physical touch, location, routine or object), 3. Tangibles (to obtain a physical object, toy, treat etc) and 4. sensory (as a result of a natural reaction or bodily process--e.g., limping when injured, tail-bobbing when sick etc).

No bird or animal does anything for any reason other than those 4 things. Granted, there is sometimes overlap etc. This is based on behavioral theory called ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and it works. ABA is about finding patterns in behaviors based on antecedents (the thing that happens right before a behavior) and consequences ***NOT PUNISHMENTS---Consequences are just whatever happens right after the behavior. people tend to think of punishment erroneously when they hear "consequence" but it is just whatever occurs immediately after the behavior that will either increase of decrease the likelihood that the behavior will reoccur.

A consequence that INCREASES a behavior's likelihood is called a reinforcer and the 4 reinforces are 1. attention, 2, escape, 3/ tangibles and 4 sensory. A reinforcer (positive or negative) can only be deemed a reinforcer if it increases a behavior. For instance, a dog isn't going to "sit" for a hundred dollar bill. Why? It has no value to the dog.

People and animals do everything they do because of these reinforcers. When you do something called ABC charting (antecedent, behavior, consequence) it allows you to find trends in behavior and therefore isolate the likely driving factor (reinforcer) that is motivating the behavior. Once you know what the motivation is rooted in (aka, one of the 4 reiforcers) then you can manipulate it by providing more acceptable means for them to gratify that need.

If a bird bites whenever you go to touch it, it is likely some form of escape or avoidance behavior (biting out of fear also falls into the category of escape because it's like, "HEY DON'T TOUCH ME".

Here's another example set with a different function:

antecedent- playing checkers with my son with parrot on my shoulder
behavior- parrot starts talking to me
consequence- I keep looking at the board and talking to son *this becomes the antecedent in a chain, remember)
behavior- bird lunges and bites son on the arm
consequence- I yell and pick up bird, son runs out of the room crying
behavior- bird sits on my arm and
Consequence-I carry him to his cage and tell him he was naughty


This one could also be a slight combo-platter, but attention is the motivator here--- with a hint of escape in that the son (the object of jealousy) does get removed from the room as a result of his reaction to the bite. Notice how the bird tried talking first and that didn't get him any attention, so instead, he decides to bite because he knows that gets everyone's attention. If the biting doesn't happen when the bird is getting the mom's full attention, but happens in situations where bird is getting less attention, then we can assume that attention is the driving factor. Therefore, we must find a way to give attention when more desirable behaviors are occurring and make certain not to give any form of attention when undesirable behaviors are occurring. Attention can come in many forms--- you may think that yelling, screaming, scolding, etc etc are bad things, but attention seekers are like addicts and will take that attention in any form (whether or not you perceive your attention as positive or negative).

You basically will want to create an ABC chart (column 1=antecedent, 2= behavior, 3= consequence (which will also become the antecedent for the next behavior in a chain*.

I know that is a lot but if you change your mindset, I think you will start to see that you have more power than you think.

Here are some examples:

Antecedent- "said, it's bedtime" and told to step up
behavior: bird bit hand
consequence: left bird out of cage to go get bandaid


Another:

Antecedent: Put on my work shoes and reached for bird to step up
behavior- bird ran away
consequence: reached for bird again *Note- the consequence becomes the antecedence in a chain of related behaviors*
behavior- bird bit hand
consequence- Asked husband to deal with putting the bird up instead.
behavior- bird continues to play on playstand
consequence- I go to work and husband puts bird up an hour later


Looking at these examples, can you guess the function of the behavior?

In this example, the function (or motivation) behind the bite is likely escape, as all 3 examples involve AVOIDING a specific situation (going back in the cage). The only one that could possibly be considered "attention" as well might be the last example in which the person asks her husband to deal with the bird because she has to go to work. Theoretically, that once could be a combo platter, especially if the husband is a preferred person, but either way, all of the consequences relate to escape. In the examples above, when the bird bites, she is getting rewarded by NOT getting put in the cage (bird has figured out, when I bite, I stay out longer so when I don't want to go in my cage, I will bite because it works). This also means that when a bad behavior rooted in attention occurs, your response should be one that provides no reaction or actively removes your attention. So, you want to teach acceptable ways to get attention, but actively remove attention if an undesired attention-seeking behavior occurs.

In your specific case- I think that the bites are likely rooted in escape (which may be rooted in lack of trust/fear of YOUR hands etc). To fix this, make sure that you are reading cues and not moving too fast. Make sure that your hands are as positive and stress free as possible. If the only time you try to pick him up is when you have to leave the house and lock him up, that could also play a role. Another important thing- if you are not getting bitten away from the cage, then it could have to do with cage territory issues which are also rooted in escape (get away from my house/stop cornering me).

Please note, while you can reward behaviors with treats, you must always ensure that your reaction/consequence is targeting the reinforcer for a specific behavior. If someone is screaming for attention, giving them candy when they are good isn't really addressing their need for appropriate attention. Consequently, while it doesn't hurt to layer rewards (treat+ attention) a treat alone would be inadequate "reward" by itself for a that bird craves attention. Now, you could go pile on the attention and give a treat at the same time-- that is fine-- but I just want you to understand that the consequence needs to match the function of a behavior if you want a behavior to increase. If you want to decrease a behavior, make sure your reaction DOES NOT feed into the function of that behavior.


Your reactions must always account for the behavior's function, because the same exact reaction (for instance, you walking away) could be undesirable for an attention-seeker but the jackpot for an escape seeker.
 
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Scott

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Aug 21, 2010
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Parrots
Goffins: Gabby, Abby, Squeaky, Peanut, Popcorn / Citron: Alice / Eclectus: Angel /Timneh Grey: ET / Blue Fronted Amazon: Gonzo /

RIP Gandalf and Big Bird, you are missed.

noodles123

Well-known member
Jul 11, 2018
8,141
148
Parrots
Umbrella Cockatoo- 15? years old..I think?
I forgot to mention the importance of "setting events". On your ABC chart, make a note out to the side of any setting events. Parrots need 10 hours sleep on a set schedule each night. A setting event to a bite the next day might be that you covered your bird but then had people over and made a bunch of noise until 11pm. Another setting event might be a new manicure, or a new boyfriend/girlfriend coming over. It could be a new furniture set or change or cage location...It could be coming home late from work or forgetting to do some ritual your bird loves... All of these seemingly little things have an impact on behavior...new shirt...new haircut, someone mowing the lawn by the bird's window, a storm, illness...all setting events. At sexual maturity, environmental factors are MAJOR setting events (which is why you must always ensure that you do not allow your bird access to shadowy spaces, make sure you pet on the head and neck only (the rest is sexual at puberty), do not allow access to huts, tents, under furniture, boxes or other shadowy spaces etc etc). Hormones are HUGE and they will amplify all other behaviors, so please start your bird off on the right foot by avoiding allowing him to do things that will lead him on or feel sexually frustrating in the future.

Therefore, it is also to important to manipulate setting events in order to help curtail undesired behaviors. If your bird only bites when your kid is around and you need to get your bird back in the cage, make sure your kid doesn't come into the room during that time..If your bird is upset by a certain shirt (and you notice that little annoyances seem further amplified when you have that shirt on, wear a different shirt). I am not saying walk on egg-shells forever, but if you know that you can prevent a bite by manipulating the environment a tiny bit, then you should, because with each bite, you harm your relationship a little and your bird learns more about how to manipulate your responses and it is stressful for them, which adds to negative feelings/associations and increases the likelihood that it will become a habit. You can build your relationship back, but think of trust as a bank. If you are bitten, some of that trust is removed from the bank and that means that you have to work even harder to just break even (as you will get further in trust debt with each bite). It can seem like you are pandering to your bird and as humans, it sometimes feels like, "well he just needs to get over that because this is life and I don't have time to deal with imaginary nonsense and ridiculous fears" BUT your parrot's reality is real to him/her, therefore, we must respect that as much as we can, even when trying to see things through their eyes is difficult.


I know I'm jumping all over, but here is another important distinction to understand about frequent misunderstood/misused terminology relating to reinforcement. A negative reinforcer is still a good thing to the subject--it still increases the behavior, but involves removing something undesirable that makes a behavior more likely (e.g., if you eat your spinach, you don't have to your chores). Negative just means that something highly aversive (chores) was taken away, thereby increasing the likelihood that the desired behavior(eating spinach) will occur in order to avoid that thing(in this case, eating spinach will get the person out of the chores they hate). A positive reinforcer also increases the likelihood of a behavior, but it involves you adding something that increases a behavior (e.g., a treat, verbal praise, a dollar, whatever). For instance, if you do your work, I will give you $10. Punishment (which should be avoided with parrots) is adding an unrelated/arbitrary experience that will upset the subject-- for instance, playing a painful sound, hitting, shaking the cage or your arm,covering the cage in the day time, taking away toys etc. DO NOT PUNISH.



Not reinforcing a behavior is sufficient enough (not reinforcing a bad behavior is NOT punishment)- you don't need to add punishment on top of everything else. Let's say a bird bites for attention though and following a bite, you leave the room to deprive it of attention. That is 500% okay and not a punishment because it relates directly to the function and that is how you should do it...Assuming you are 500% sure your bird is attention motivated. This was just an example--- at the moment, your bird seems escape oriented (likely due to unfamiliarity, trust or possibly a negative association with your hands and what they tend to do).

Ultimately, I think you need to focus on building trust and keeping interactions with your hands positive. Remember, hanging your arm in a cage with millet may SEEM positive to you, but if the bird is fearful, that is far too intense and will add more fear. Instead, if a bird hesitates (despite your good intentions) respect that. Perhaps instead of trying to feed from your hand, you just place the millet in the dish or on the cage top and then sit in a chair 8 feet away or something, reading out loud from a book. Sometimes we get too intense without realizing it because we are so focused on the intent of our actions that it often obscures the reality that our behavior elicits. Your intent is not as important as your parrot's perception of that intent.

Parrots move in slow motion, unlike dogs or cats. They are not domesticated and they are extremely complex and intelligent, but also prey animals, so they take a long time to build genuine bonds and you need to just make sure you are moving at the parrots pace and not your own. Imagine if you went for a coffee with a person you just met and within 15 minutes, they were proposing and trying to move into your house. That is the speed at which many humans tend to move at around their new birds, and it's too much.


This is a good video on positive/affirmative cues: [ame="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej8dal0tx-g"]Avoid Parrot Biting - Body Language and Bite Warning Signs - YouTube[/ame]


He is spot on- if you wait to back off and stop pushing an escape-seeking parrot until they are showing defensive behavior, you are literally teaching them that you only back off once they take things nuclear. You are saying, I don't recognize your needs until you blow up. That is negative reinforcement, in that you are removing yourself (when the absence of you at the moment is a positive thing for the bird) but only after they show signs of aggression, thereby increasing the likelihood of aggression in future situations, as opposed to teaching your parrot that you recognize when it wants interaction and will follow his/her lead (within reason). Remember, negative reinforcement STILL INCREASES a behavior-- it just means you are removing something the parrot dislikes in order to increase a behavior. If you are the thing that the parrot doesn't want, then if you only back down when they shown aggression, that is reinforcement of that bad behavior.

Again, to reinforce a behavior (aka, increase it) you must know the function of a behavior because that function will be the reward for that behavior, but also for any replacement behaviors that are more appropriate. You want to NOT enforce undesired behaviors, while finding new and better/more acceptable ways for the parrot to meet that same need. Maybe if your bird doesn't want to step up and it walks away, that means respecting that communication so that the bird gets the escape it wants without feeling compelled to bite as a last resort. Maybe it means ignoring a bird that screams for attention, but praising and giving tons of attention to that bird the second it makes a sound other than a scream (while using preventative strategies and manipulating setting events to decrease the likelihood that the bird will feel the need to scream. See where I'm going with this? I am not telling you to let your bird do whatever all the time--- you need to teach independence and boundaries etc, but try to follow the bird's lead when it comes to touching/interaction.


Sorry to ramble and write so much. ABA WORKS so I want to try and help you change your mindset, because once you start thinking this way, things do get easier in terms of knowing how to respond.
 
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ollielillies

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Apr 24, 2021
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Thanks so much for your responses!! I have followed the advice for the past days and he hasn't been biting. And I'm moving slowly and allowing him to come to me. Today he jumped into my bed and walked to my hand... I thought he was going to bite but the most he did was nibble and then he went under my hand so I softly pet his head and he fell asleep. :)
 

Scott

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Aug 21, 2010
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Goffins: Gabby, Abby, Squeaky, Peanut, Popcorn / Citron: Alice / Eclectus: Angel /Timneh Grey: ET / Blue Fronted Amazon: Gonzo /

RIP Gandalf and Big Bird, you are missed.
Awesome progress, thanks for the update. Not always linear, sometimes two steps forward, one back... but the trend very promising!
 

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