I decided to create this series of articles to address the top questions I’ve been asked as a veterinary technician. I’m a CVDT (Certified Veterinary Dental Technician), have been in the field for over ten years and have noticed a trend in the most commonly asked questions by pet owners. The answers found in these articles will reflect how things have been done in my experience only; keep in mind that all veterinarians and veterinary hospitals have varying policies and techniques.
I’m going to switch gears today and talk about bird behavior. This basically applies to all pet birds that are handled on a regular basis. The reason I say this is that there are some pet birds that do not require a whole lot of handling and interaction, therefore behavior in general isn’t much of a concern for the owners. These kinds are generally the waxbills, or finches and canaries.
Behavior problems are extremely common among bird owners. Think about it; birds are highly intelligent creatures. Their minds need to be constantly stimulated, tested and pushed to learn more. While some breeds need more stimulation than others, it is important to realize that when they don’t get the interaction they need they can and will act out in a number of ways.
When a bird has a behavior problem, owners often take it as “meanness” or even assume the bird is just ill-behaved out of his own accord. Now, I won’t sit here and tell you that there is no such thing as a spiteful bird, because there is! What I am saying is that all birds start from somewhere and more often than not, bad behavior has become a learned behavior as a way to take out one frustration or another.
Why do birds act out?
There are a number of reason why a bird will begin to act out. By understanding some of these, we can better cater to the bird and prevent the problems are nip them in the bud before they get to be a huge problem that can be too difficult to deal with later. We’ll take a quick look at just a few of the most common causes.
Boredom is one of the most common causes for bad bird behavior. In the wild, bird forage all day for food. They are constantly flying, climbing, and chewing and rooting through leaves and debris. A bird that sits in a cage all day, even with just a couple of hours of “free time” may still be lacking the stimulation he needs.
Diet is another reason birds can begin to have some bad behaviors. An all seed or all pellet diet is one of the worse things an owner can do for their bird. Feed your bird a diet that mimics what he would get in the wild. Otherwise, he’s not getting the nutrition that he needs to keep him in tip top shape. It may come as a surprise, but bad behavior can be one of the earliest signs of an unhealthy bird.
Fear is very common among birds. They can be afraid of anything from a spouse or child to a certain TV show, household trinket or another pet, even other birds. Look closely at your bird and his surroundings. Take a look at everything from his point of view!
Pretty much all birds go through a stage where aggression can be magnified. It usually starts around four or five and can last for several years. It is the equivalent of the “terrible twos” in children. They are simply learning how to push their limits and find out what they can and can’t get away with. During this time it is imperative to set rules and standards for these birds as it will be the foundation that the rest of their lives sit upon.
What are some bad behaviors?
Bad behaviors can be just about anything that is unacceptable to you as the owner. However, keep in mind that there are some parts of bird ownership that just go with the territory. All birds scream. It’s natural. You cannot completely avoid screaming with any bird. It is normal for noise to be worse early in the morning and late in the evening. Again, this is very similar to how they would be in the wild. Constant shrieking, however can be a bad behavior and can require some extensive training to remedy. Evaluate your birds routine, surroundings, diet and health status and try to avoid this problem at all costs. Screaming is one of the most common reasons that birds are given up.
Feather plucking is very commonly a behavior problem. At times it can be a medical issue. Either way, it can be next to impossible to fix once it’s been allowed to continue. Some breeds are more prone to feather plucking than others and they tend to be the more “needy” personality birds. When under stimulated, bored or lonely they simply begin to pluck. Plucking leads to more plucking and it just continues in a vicious cycle.
Biting is a common bad behavior but can be relatively easily fixed. The biggest thing about biting, is to identify the problem. Does your bird bite when a certain person is the room? Does he only bite at certain parts of the day? Perhaps biting started all of a sudden with no obvious clues.
If you are unable to identify why your bird has begun acting out, it is important to have him evaluated by an avian veterinarian. Again, behavior changes can be a sign of health problem that could potentially be easily fixed.
What can I do about a bad behavior?
All birds are different therefore all treatments will be different. The most important thing you can do to address a new, or old bad behavior is to find the cause. It may be something so simple that you simply have never noticed it. For example, I once knew a gal whose bird suddenly started plucking his feathers. After weeks of trying to figure out why, she realized it was because her household feline had recently taken a liking to a window sill that the bird could see. When she stopped the cat from sitting in the window, the bird stopped plucking. So you see, it can be a big reason, or a small one. It just takes some investigating.
Birds live a very long time so it’s important to get serious about any bad behaviors before they become a habit. It is unfair to both the bird and the owner to confine an ill-behaved bird to a cage simply because of something like biting, screaming, etc. Identify the problem and fix it!