The Four-Inch Tall Bully

by DFS-Pet-Blog on October 25, 2009

**Guest post from Keith G.**

Most people have known a bully. Bullies steal your lunch money, tell you what to do, and pick on people smaller or less fortunate than them. But what about when that bully is only four inches tall and feathered? Kiwi, our male maroon-bellied conure, is a bully. While he lacks thumbs to steal my lunch money or the language skills to make fun of me, it doesn’t stop him from bullying everyone he meets, regardless of their size.

At four inches tall, there’s only so many ways you can bully others, but Kiwi manages. If you’re sitting on the couch with Kiwi and not paying attention, he’ll run up your chest and try to bite you in the face. If his cage mate/conure girlfriend Chicken tries to eat from the same bowl as him, he’ll lunge at her. If you are a stranger and come too close to the cage, he’ll run across his comfy perch and start smashing his head against the bars. Did I mention he laughs the entire time he does this? He can be quite the little terror.

Kiwi trying to eat a papaya treat

Kiwi trying to eat a papaya treat

You know the phrase “Pick on somebody your own size?” Well, Kiwi doesn’t. A few years ago Kiwi figured out how to open the door near his water bowl and squirm his little body out of the bird cage. He managed to find his way over to our much larger Amazon’s cage and proceeded to try and enter her cage, presumably to pick a fight.

Unfortunately for Kiwi, Contessa was prepared. Kiwi managed to escape with his life that day, but lost the front half of his beak in the process. His beak still hasn’t fully grown back, but instead is like a little snaggletooth, sharp enough for him to eat just fine, but it doesn’t line up as well anymore, creating a goofy tongue-showing appearance that makes him look like he’s always smiling – or crazy.

Despite the scare and our continued efforts to improve his behavior, Kiwi still tries to bully Chicken and us to get his way, although without much of a beak, who is really going to listen to him? I’m sure he’d probably pick a fight with Contessa again if given the chance, but we’ve since gotten him a different cage with heavier doors and we actually keep them secured with metal clips now. Despite his sometimes-naughty behavior, we can’t help but love the little bully because more often than not he is a sweetheart, not a face-biter.

Do you know any bird or pet bullies? Let me know by posting in the comments.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Neva Jenkins October 26, 2009 at 3:35 pm

About 6 months ago I purchased a Goffin Cockatoo. The people I bought him from really didn’t tell the whole truth about him. They said he was hand fed and tame. Well, He might of been hand fed but he certainly is not tame. Altho I can pick him up when he takes off from the cage and is on the floor, but he goes crazy if I try to pick him up off of the cage. He has not tried to bite me,
and is quiet when I have him on my hand. Does anyone have a suggestion as to how I can
tame him down from this behavior. I have even been trying to sell him and his cage, because
I really don’t know how to deal with him.

Keith G. October 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Neva,

Having a bird can be challenging, but its worth the reward, in my experience. Birds treat their cage as their territory, so any attempt to reach into the cage or to take the bird from “their territory” can be seen as a threat by your bird. Where is the cage located? If your bird climbs on to the top of the cage and puts himself in a higher position than you it signals to them that they are in control. For birds, higher altitude means higher ranking, so it is important that the bird should not be above your heart level while in or out of the cage. That’s another reason not to let birds to ride on your shoulder. It increases their ranking as well as puts your face, ears, eyes, and lips at risk of a serious bite. Most owners need to learn to anticipate the bad behavior or biting and stop it with a stern look and command before it escalates to a bite.

This article may provide you some helpful tips for correcting the behavior: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=112&d=157&category=568

We spend a lot of time with our birds working on step up and step down commands and are always careful to correct bad behavior when it occurs so as not to reinforce it. It took me a lot longer than 6 months to earn the trust of our birds, so I think you’ve probably got some work ahead of you if you continue to try and build a relationship with your bird. Its a lot of work, but the end result is such a rewarding experience that its worth it.

Felicia October 26, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Neva,

Hi, I’m Keith’s wife and “the bully” Kiwi’s mommy. I can certainly understand what you are going through, as I got Kiwi from a couple who didn’t tell me what I was getting into… At first, I was constantly upset by his aggression and biting. Six years later, Kiwi and I are the best of friends. He’s still a bully, but we’ve learned to compromise. In fact, Kiwi is now the most “hands on” bird we have. He lets me pet his armpits, lift up his wings, and even hold him upside down in my hand. It took years of spending lots of one-on-one time with him, but it has really paid off. I can’t imagine my life now without Kiwi. Our other two birds are extremely well behaved and polite. I can count on one hand the number of times both of them together have ever bitten anyone. The shy, quiet birds are easier to get along with, but it’s the crazy guys like Kiwi that have all the personality!

It sounds like your Goffin’s definitely has cage territory issues. Many parrots don’t like having people’s hands inside their cage, even if it’s to pick them up. He may have been “tame” with his previous home, but he just might not fully trust you yet. Cockatoos are extremely intelligent and can understand complex social situations. They also tend to be really empathetic birds and can tell when you are uneasy or stressed. If you approach a parrot with confidence, they will respect you more and be easier to handle.

http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=216&d=157&category=568

Another alternative might be to stick-train your Goffin. Teach him to step onto a longish perch while he is inside his cage to get him to come out. Make sure you have a really good grip on the perch by tucking the last few inches under your wrist and gripping it with your fist, he won’t want to step on it if it’s wobbly. Put it gently up against his chest and say “Step Up.” He should instinctually step up onto the higher stick. Then give him a yummy treat. Don’t give up, even if he complains. Once he’s out of the cage, take him to a neutral room where he can’t see his cage. Then you two can bond. My birds enjoy being read aloud to, dancing to music, and being cuddled. Yours might, too.

Hang in there, I hope you come back to let us know how things are going.

Mike December 9, 2009 at 10:12 am

I have two Sun Conures. One is a 10 year old female and very shy. The other is a 6 1/2 year old male and very outgoing. He turns into a bully whenever I have visitors over. In fact, I have now been trained to go make sure the cage is closed before I let visitors in. He will climb out of his cage and fly to the guest and literally attack at the face and neck. If he’s in his cage, he will be plastered against the cage wall at the closest point to the guest squalking at full volume.

The funny thing is, he is friendly towards my shy female conure but she pushes him away. I was afraid to put them in the same cage at first, but they do just fine. They really do not interact much except to fuss over sleeping arrangements and to fuss over one hogging all the food.

Also, I’ll mention that my 10 year old female is terrified of people’s hands and is very nervous outside of the cage. But she’s well behaved compared to him. She not socialized so she doesn’t know what to do with herself sometimes.

Keith G. December 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

Hey Mike,

Wow, your conure pair sounds exactly like mine in terms of the temperament between the male and the female and the way they act with others. I wonder if that’s a more common social arrangement than I had first thought? My wife often jokes that our female conure has social anxiety disorder. This past week especially the male has been acting crazy, not sure if its the change in weather (temps have dropped and we just got hit with snow) or what. Maybe he’s just trying to tell us what he wants for Christmas? (hint: a trip to the naughty list if he keeps it up!)

judy December 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

i have a 3 year old male indian ringneck that is a bully and mean. His name is pettie bird and he will tell ya. He talks alot but is mean with certain people especially my husband. He has his own room at our house and whenever anyone enters he flies to his cage and sits with this innocent look until people come up to him then he lets out this ear piercing squark and starts snapping at people and lately he flies at them while he is squaking. As soon as you leave the room he will start his talking about being a pretty bird. My husband got him a mirror so he can see himself but he calls it his girlfriend and u can’t get close to it or he attacks you. When he looks in the mirror he makes this hilarious display. He puts his wings out like he is about to fly and arches back and makes his hilarious noice. (i call it his billy badass) He is a very funny bird but I’m not sure what to do about his behavior. We got him from a friend when he was 1 and she had a quaker parrot so she didn’t spend alot of time with pettie. So, because of that we can not handle him at all unless we wear gloves. He bites hard. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve tried to work with him but he tolerates me i guess but i can not pick him up. I’ve gotten to where i can touch his tail without getting my hand bitten off so i guess that’s a start. Any help or advice with this would be greatly appreciated. Is there such thing as bird obedience classes?

Keith G. December 14, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Judy,

Pettie does sound like a bully! Sorry to hear about the biting. Birds will often bite out of fear, stress, any number of things, really. It’s harder to train a bird that has grown accustomed to not being handled, but it’s not impossible. If your bird knows you are afraid of him, it only makes his biting a more powerful tool for him. I’m not sure if there are any bird obedience classes out there (there aren’t by me, but if you live in a larger city there might be something offered by a local exotic birds group or animal behaviorist), but we do have a number of good articles that help with bad bird behavior, including biting, on our site. I’d recommend you check those out and see if they help any with Pettie’s problems. Stick training might be a good way to try and teach him to step up without the danger of getting bit.

Correcting bird biting behavior: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=112&d=157&category=568
Why do birds bite? http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=113&d=157&category=568
Influences of Bird Behavior: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=2453&d=157&category=568
How to Teach Your Bird to Step Up: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?c=5059&articleid=216&d=157&category=568

Crystal Simmons July 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Hi Keith,

I have 3 birds, 2 cockatiel and conure. I have a question for you about conure. Three weeks ago, I brought a conure from the pet store, it’s a baby but it’s not full grown yet. My mother name her or him Rainbow because it is so pretty color. Rainbow get nippy and easy to bite. Rainbow love to be around me and want me to get closer to rainbow.
My question is: How can I stop Rainbow from biting my ears, my chest, and my finger? I keep telling rainbow ” no bite “, many time and it doesn’t help, rainbow is not listening to me when I said ” no “. My friend at the pet store told me I need to buy a click trainer for bird and teach conure a lession. Once while Rainbow love me to pick up to put on my shoulder. Rainbow love to play my hair and hide rainbow’s face. It is so cute. I’m afriad if rainbow will keep biting my ears, my chest, and my finger. I like to rub Rainbow’s neck. Anyone who can explain to me what is the best I can do for Rainbow? Will you please help me to understand what to do and teach rainbow a lession? Thank you Crystal Simmons

Keith G. August 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Hi Crystal,

A lot of people like to put their birds on their shoulders but this is actually not recommended because it actually tells your bird that it is on the same status level with you and does not necessarily have to respect your rules. I would recommend holding your bird no higher than chin level on your finger and see if that helps curtail some of behavior. If the bird still goes to bite, you can drop your finger down a bit to make the bird unsteady, essentially reprimanding them for their behavior. Birds don’t like to be off balance. Don’t do it so forcefully that he falls, just enough for him to know “hey, if I bite, she makes me off balance – not cool” You can also read through some of the articles on our site (linked in my response above) and see if any of the ideas in there help. Keep in mind that the biting could be related to other issues, such as health or stress, so re-evaluate your bird in that context as well to make sure there’s nothing awry.

Lulu DoLittle February 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I rescued 4 conures-2 DNA sexed male greencheeks, and 2 DNA sexed peach face girls. I have a large finch aviary and separately my pride and joy Moose, the Moustache Parakeet, almost a year old. The conures (or “devil conures”…”dam* conures”) are quite the bully gang. They spend most of their day standing atop the finch aviary. One male, Buster, is either the most scared or the most bold. One female, Cherokee now shortened to Cherub (since she isn’t–irony is everything) is the most outrageous food thief. Quail and Roy seem quieter, but take every cue these vixens launch. And should Buster or Cherub get into Moose’s cage–very nasty!
My concept: isolate each devil baby conure (thou they are all full grown and wild) and get a good level of step up and BE HAVE! Get acceptable conduct, then slowly reintroduce to their little flock..any support?

Felicia (Kiwi's Mom) March 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Sounds like a good plan! Show ’em who’s boss with Step-up commands. I’m not sure if you want to isolate them in different rooms, or just in different cages. I think it should be enough to put them in separate cages, otherwise you may have a mutiny on your hands of constant contact calls from all corners of your house.

It may also help to not allow them up on top of cages anymore. Birds standing on top of cages think they are the boss. Kiwi is never allowed anymore on shoulders or on things that are taller than everyone in the room. It seems to help! The higher up physically a bird is, the higher their status. If a bird is up on top of a cage, its their instinct to protect that high status in the flock. Trying to remove them from that spot is an insult, like saying, “you’re not king of the hill anymore.” But if they are not allowed to be high up (say, higher than chest level with you), they can be more manageable.

You could also try taking them to “neutral” territory to interact where there are no cages. Parrots can be very cage aggressive, staking out and defending territories from all invaders, even you or their flock-mates.

Drs. Foster and Smith carry a lot of nice foraging toys, too, to help keep the naughty birds from getting bored and frustrated. Any distraction from bullying is a good distraction. We have been trying them with Kiwi, and he seems to be beating up his toys and his flock mates less.

Tara April 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

Interesting story. I have two love birds who bully everyone, they are horrible, but they are also loving and amazing with me, however they try to bully all my other birds, . So little and so terrible LOL. I had no idea how they are , would never get any more love birds again, but I will let these two stay. The bully my doves, my Indian Ringneck and my conure. They fight with the conure like little pit bulls, its just pretty funny I guess. I have to say that I have been training them, and they are doing better and better day by day.

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