Bird Behavior Basics

Most changes in bird behavior are associated with growth development, environment, or bonding with humans.

Fortunately, birds are normally healthy and seldom show sudden behavior changes unless ill. Most changes in bird behavior can be associated with growth development, sexual maturity, environment, and even bonding with humans. These behavioral problems can be as simple as pacing in a cage (also known as “fence walking syndrome”) or as complicated and serious as psychogenic feather picking.

  • Aggressive behavior in older birds.
    Larger, sexually mature birds, by nature become more aggressive, dominating, territorial and, if kept alone, bond strongly either to a male or female in the household. These can be difficult times for the owner or mate of the owner. Establishing dominance over the bird at a young age, with training, toys, and some environmental modification, can help to lessen aggressive behavior in the older birds. Early exposure and handling the bird frequently by other adult members in the household can help reduce this behavior problem as well.
  • Biting.
    In larger birds such as macaws, Amazons, and cockatoos, biting can be a serious problem. Sometimes it is a protective reaction to a hand or finger in the cage or a reaction to something in the environment.
  • Feather fluffing, dilating eyes and body positions
    are all signals the bird gives to its owner. The challenge is to determine if it’s friendly behavior or a precursor to aggressive behavior and a bite to follow. Learning to pay attention to attitude can help prevent a bite, which is usually a last resort to try and communicate with its owner. Biting, under any conditions, should not be tolerated. Always use non-aggressive reprimands to correct this behavior.
  • Feather picking.
    Birds spend most of their time grooming their feathers, and it is not uncommon to find feathers on the bottom of a cage. Molting and feather grooming is an orderly loss of certain feathers during the molting times in a bird’s life. If a bird suddenly starts pulling or plucking feathers, however, this is an abnormal behavior, which is very complex and can have many causes, both medical and psychological.

    Among the causes are:

    • Boredom
    • New family member
    • External stress
      Or something more serious, like:
    • Parasites
    • Bacterial infection
    • Beak or feather virus
  • Toy phobias.
    Birds are observant about new things added to or placed in their home. A bird that normally plays with the same toys over and over can suddenly be traumatized by new introductions into its cage and develop a phobia or neurosis with new toys. Introducing new toys frequently and changing older toys, stimulates birds and keeps them from becoming bored. Shy birds, however, may benefit from a slower introduction to toys.
  • Regurgitation.
    Regurgitation is the act of bringing up undigested food from the crop and regurgitating on you or mirrors is common and normal in parakeets, cockatiels and some larger birds. As strange it seems, your bird is strongly bonded to you and trying to “share its feed.” This can occur more often during the breeding season. It is not a serious condition, but should not be encouraged.

It is important to note that birds hide illness very well. By the time you recognize a sudden change in your bird, it may have been ill for some time. Any sudden change in behavior such as a bird on the bottom of its cage, sleepy eyes, or difficulty balancing on a perch, indicates a very sick bird that needs immediate veterinary attention.