Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bitey lovebird

D. Richard left the following comment on this post:
I have a peach faced lovebird that also demands attention seems to be quite happy but the moment you let her out she wants to bite . She will fly straight from the cage to your head or shoulder and within seconds will draw blood from your neck. I thought she was just hand shy and bites when she sees your hands so this last time I deliberately kept my hands down and away, and within 30 seconds she drew blood. Have you had a problem like this and how did you handle it?
Hello, D. Thanks for leaving a comment! I figured it would be easier to respond here instead of in the comments.

Since parrots are not "one answer fits all" birds and I tend to be a bit wordy anyway, I will write a bunch here; hopefully some of it will be useful!

And, just for fun, I will start with a picture of Thomas's favorite lovebird. She was adopted out about 5 years ago, and he still talks about her. She loved to hang out in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirts!Back to the question. The first thing I would do is try to figure out what is happening when she bites. Maybe keep a journal. Does she fly over and bite every time you let her out of the cage? Is there ever a time when she doesn't? What's different? It's possible there is some kind of trigger. If you can identify and eliminate the trigger, you can eliminate the biting.

For example, my caique, Beeps, flies over and bites us if we read magazines on the couch. We can read books on the couch; we can read magazines in the rest of the house; but there is something about the magazine + couch equation that = bite.

You mentioned that she bites after 30 seconds on you. Will she step up for you, or are all of her movements her flying around? If she tends to bite after 30 seconds, I would only allow her on me for 20 seconds. Have her step up, possibly give her some kind of treat, or at least verbal praise for being so good, and put her somewhere where she can't bite you, like a playstand. Keep your physical interactions short and well within the time frame where she won't bite.

If she doesn't like hands, you might try to have her step up on a stick, or cover your hand with a washcloth. Many birds who are afraid of hands will happily step up on a hand that's covered with a shirt or towel.

The problem with biting is that, like with most things, practice makes perfect. Every time she bites, she's perfecting her technique. You want to do everything you can to avoid getting bit in the first place.

Does she give any physical clues that she's about to bite? Some parrots have extremely subtle body language, but they almost always have some signs that they are agitated and may bite. Pay special attention to her feathers -- does she fluff up before biting? Or spread out her tail? Since she knows how to fly, if you spot these clues ahead of time, you can toss her to an appropriate perch and escape danger (we do this with Beeps when he gets agitated.)

You mention in your question that she will fly to your head/shoulder and bite. That makes it hard to watch her body language! In our house, parrots are not allowed on our heads/shoulders (though they do try occasionally and I do have some of those pictures on our blog, but we generally discourage that.) The main reason is that you can't see body language when they're out of your field of vision, so she might be sending off all sorts of signals she's about to bite. If she were on your hand, you could have tossed her to a perch. The other reason is that a face bite is exponentially less pleasant than a bite anywhere else. I know several people who have had to have stitches in their face from a parrot bite. Even though this level of damage is unlikely with a lovebird, I still would not want to take that risk!

If you do want to keep her off of your head/shoulders, you need to try everything you can to prevent her from landing there. When my birds were leaning this rule, this sometimes meant I'd have to quickly drop to the ground or swerve my body so they couldn't land. I would not recommend this with a bird that's just learning to fly, but experienced flyers are able to alter their plan mid-flight and find an appropriate place to land.

Currently, when a bird lands on my head/shoulders, I immediately have them step up on my hand. If they resisted stepping up nicely, I would have to go back to not allowing them to land there in the first place.

Also, you could try giving her a lot of exercise when she first comes out -- a tired bird is less likely to bite! Get her flying, panting, and tired out! This really works for us with our severe macaw, Rocky. He is much less aggressive when he's exercised. (Also true for me!)

Finally, and this is not the solution I'd choose first, perhaps you need to clip his wings and work on teaching her appropriate behavior. We did this with Beeps. He was very effective at using biting in a previous home; in fact, his previous owner was in the process of releasing him outside in winter, to his certain death, when his rescuer happened upon him and saved his life. The reason? Apparently he'd bitten her so badly she needed to go to the emergency room for stitches. His rescuer, a wonderful person but with little parrot experience, kept him in his (large) cage for 9 months because the few times he came out, he flew at and attacked people.

Thomas and I took him in the day he was surrendered to foster him and teach him manners (then we adopted him.) The first thing we did was to clip his wings in order to work with him on appropriate behavior. When he could no longer effectively launch attacks, he learned that good behavior got him treats and attention and bad behavior was no longer effective.

One last thought that is purely anecdotal based on my experiences at the bird rescue. I have never seen anyone else mention this, so I could just be imagining things. Frequently, the birds that bite and attack the most are among the more intelligent birds. I'm probably anthropomorphizing, but in my mind, they get bored with captive life and start to act out -- just like gifted kids sometimes do in school.

I'm a big advocate of clicker training; here is a link to a free yahoo group that can get you started. Much of Beeps's undesirable behavior vanished once we gave him an outlet for his intelligence through learning tricks.

And, for more fun, I will add a picture of my favorite lovebird. He's still up for adoption, and it is a struggle not to bring him home after I visit!Good luck and hopefully some of this will be helpful. If you have additional information/questions/comments, please let me know and I will do my best to answer.

Thanks for caring enough about your lovebird to try to fix this problem instead of rehoming!

2 comments:

D.Richard said...

I agree that the greater the intelligence , the more problems you may encounter .and the greater the rewards . Did I mention she talks and is only 5 months old .
Giggles history ; I got her from a house that has a zoo , 6 cats that I saw , 4 dogs , Giggles , a Cockatiel and a parakeet,Several Quakers Giggles had her own cage
The cats were allowed to crawl all over the cages and try to reach through . Giggles is only 5 months old but likely developed biting as its survival depended on it . I was offered the parakeet also but declined . as I think about it tho it might have been in the parakeets best interest if I had . The Parakeet and Cockatiel never left the center of the cage .
I have bought books on parrots and have tried to find triggers . But the little guy will take food from your fingers and then strike then continue accepting food .
I love the little girl and will be getting her a larger cage soon since she spends so much time in it . I put her right beside my chair that I spend so much time in .
And just for the record , your blog means more to me than I can tell you . You are special people .
You can see pictures of my birds here
The last two are of Giggles
Conure Linus
Quaker Charles (Dickens)
Fischer Ruby
Peach Face Houdini (RIP)

Mary said...

I'm so glad you responded, and the additional information gave me more thoughts (of course!!!)

If she is only 5 months, that means she hasn't had years to practice biting, so that is great news! I think you are right on with your assessment of why she's biting. But you can change this!

One of the hardest thing about working with these guys is having patience. I reminded myself of that recently with Steve. We've had him for 2 1/2 months and he still isn't stepping up out of his cage! Frustrating! It may help you to start a blog about her or just write down what she's like because that way you can look back and see that you have made progress.

When I was getting down about the fact that Steve wasn't stepping up, I'd go back and read some of the first entries about how he'd growl when I'd enter the room. I'd kind of forgotten about that, and it reassured me that we were heading in the right direction. If you record things about your life with Giggles, you may notice trends, like a decrease in biting, that you don't recognize when you're living it every day.

Anyway, what I would do is continue to offer her treats, but not in a way that she can bite you. Maybe this means a sprig of millet, or putting the food on a spoon, or holding a tiny corner of the food so she has to reach for it and your fingers aren't in her reach, or setting the food on a corner of her cage where she can get it without your fingers being involved (can you tell I have experience with Rocky biting the hand that feeds him?)

You want her to associate you with good things.

I think having her next to your chair is a great strategy. She can observe you, see that you're not going to hurt her, and as she becomes less fearful, she should resort to biting less frequently.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see your pictures :( If you have them in a system like photobucket, you might be able to post a link to them?

Keep us updated!!!