by Mattie Sue Athan
One of the best ways to prevent biting in parrots is to work with the bird early in its life to help stop this behavior from starting in the first place. This article provides practical training advice of benefit to all parrot owners but was written with Quaker Parrots in mind.
Question: How can I work with my baby Quaker while it’s still young to help prevent excessive biting later?
PREVENTING BITING BEHAVIORS IN THE QUAKER PARROT
Like humans, if Quaker Parrots do not learn cooperative habits and limits of acceptable behavior by they time they reach sexual maturity, they may be completely out of control. As a matter of fact, Quaker Parrots appear to learn cooperative behavior best just after weaning. Otherwise it’s very easy for them to develop territorial and aggressive behaviors during the developmental period sometimes called the “terrible twos” (this usually hits Quakers at about 12-18 months, but can be seen sooner).
We can’t address poor behavior in Quaker Parrots with punishment. We must help the bird to form successful habits in order to ensure it’s happy life.
Almost all behavior is comprised of a series of habits that are routinely reenacted. Cooperation can be habitual. Biting and chasing can be habitual. A companion Quaker parrot that learns to habitually cooperate will be less likely to express aggression toward humans or to try to dominate humans in the environment. In order to create good habits and to establish a pattern of cooperation in the bird’s behavior, we practice a couple of interactive exercises — step-ups and the towel game — most days in neutral territory.
In order to expect the bird to respond dependably from the cage or other established territory, the bird must first be patterned with regular and diverse step-up practice to cooperate in neutral territory. A bird that will not cooperate in neutral territory will probably usually refuse to cooperate in its own territory. From the bird’s first days in the home, daily step up practice should include:
- stepping the bird up from an unfamiliar stationary perch to a hand
- stepping the bird up from hand to hand
- stepping the bird onto and off of hand-held perches
Later when the bird is expressing it’s normal Quaker tendency to protect the cage or when it’s feeling feisty for any other reason, the habit of cooperation can be maintained, without fear of nipping, by handling the bird with hand held perches. Hand held perches may be occasionally necessary or necessary for some people in the bird’s established territory, as a typical Quaker Parrot may behave like a total brat toward most people at the cage and a little green angel away from it.
THE TOWEL GAME
A new baby Quaker Parrot can easily be carried around in a towel like a human baby. Continuing and maintaining this behavior in a playful way will help to ensure the bird’s disposition for a lifetime. A bird that routinely plays peek-a-boo in the towel and is unafraid of the towel will have a much easier time when it goes to the veterinarian or groomer.
Because of the Quaker Parrots’ instinct for territorial aggression, it’s important not to service the cage with the bird in it. A hand that touches a Quaker’s food dish or favorite toy should expect a ferocious attack. This is provocative behavior at its worst. It will stimulate biting and, if repeated, will pattern habitual chasing and biting behaviors.Just open the door, let the bird come out to the top of the door, then step the well-practiced bird up to a hand or hand-held perch and put it on a play pen. Then food, water, toys, or perches can be safely changed, and the bird will not learn how much fun it is to chase hands and other human parts.
GOOD GROOMING AND TRANSPORTATION DEPENDENCE
Flying Quaker Parrots are especially prone to accidents in the home, including flying away. Wing feathers must be trimmed at least a couple of times yearly to prevent drowning in the toilet, burning up in the skillet, or crashing into the ceiling fan. In addition, the flying Quaker Parrot may become increasingly territorial, domineering, and belligerent. Under just the wrong circumstances, a flying Quaker can take chasing to a whole new level.
If the bird’s wing trim is properly maintained and the bird has multiple places on which to spend time, then it will have to depend upon humans to move it from one place to another. This transportation dependence combined with access to multiple territories will contribute significantly to maintaining non-aggressive behavior in the Quaker Parrot.
Mattie Sue Athan has been a companion parrot behavior consultant since 1978. During that time she has averaged two to three new Quaker clients per week. Her first book, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot, is an industry standard. Her second book, Guide to the Quaker Parrot, sold out the first printing in 5 months. She also wrote Guide to the Senegal Parrot and Its Family and Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior.