Wow. Where to begin. Here's my take on Senegal Biting.1. The Bluff Bite
- Perhaps the most common type of bite I see from my Senegal Parrot is the bluff bite. If I approach Kili from behind or when she is busy playing with something, the first thing she will do is swing around with open beak aimed right at my hand. I'm not truly sure if I manage to pull out every time or if she terminates the bite before making skin contact, but I do know I don't want my fingers there to find out.
Another case I often see of the preemptive/bluff bite is when a stranger approaches Kili she will bite them immediately just in case. However, this does not necessarily indicate that she is aggressive or will keep biting. Often times she can be really sweet to someone after this but she'll bite first to test them.
I think the bluff/preemptive bite is the most misunderstood of Senegal Bites. In my experience/observation of Kili I have found that the bluff bite scares people away (which positively reinforces doing it) but the fact is that she often will not bite beyond that. When people are tough and overcome the initial attempt to bite, Kili will not continue to bite. Also I've noticed that once Kili is done biting or trying to bite someone she will usually not bite them anymore for the remainder of the interaction session. This is why I consider the preemptive bite a bluff as well because it does not signal that she is aggressive toward the person but is often more of a test. If the preemptive bite can be dodged, the parrot is still satisfied and will continue non-biting interaction beyond this point. Unfortunately many people get frightened away by the initial test bite and don't experience the mellow non biting bird beyond that point.
The best way to get past the bluff/preemptive bite is to withdraw your hand just far enough that it is out of reach but without suddenly pulling away. Definitely do not back down, jerk your hand completely away, or leave. That is what the parrot is trying to accomplish and if it succeeds, you have inadvertently negatively reinforced preemptive biting.2. The Nip or Squeeze
- Sometimes the Senegal Parrot wants something or doesn't want something and will nip to make this known. Often, rather than nip, the parrot will take a finger in its beak and give it a squeeze without going too hard. These are two ways the parrot tries to communicate it's displeasure with some result. This can best be avoided by ignoring the nips and not rewarding them with what the parrot wants. This way the parrot learns that nipping does nothing and it should reduce nippiness. Using a distraction can help stop the nip as well.3. The Defensive Bite
- This can result from touching the parrot where it does not want to be touched, taking away something, or getting into its territory. This kind of bite is purely out of self defense and is best avoided by not infringing upon the parrot's territory so abruptly.
The best way to overcome defensive biting is by systematic desensitization through positive reinforcement. Rather than just trying to grab the parrot's wings, start with having hands close to bird, then a small touch to wing, then cupping wing in hand, then opening slightly, then opening more, etc while progressively rewarding each step. This can take anywhere from 5 minutes to forever depending on how defensive the parrot is and how unpleasant what you are doing is. 4. The Accidental Bite
- For me, this is generally the only serious kind of bite I have ever received from my Senegal Parrot. Kili never bites me on purpose but sometimes what happens is that she doesn't realize it's me. This can be because she isn't paying attention, because of a scary context (me taking her out in presence of groomer), or because something happens too quickly.
The best way to avoid the accidental bite is to go slower and be more deliberate. If you want the parrot to step up, rather than flying your hand in full blast at your parrot and suddenly asking step up, open your hand like a perch and bring it toward the bird at a steady pace while saying step up before your hand has even reached it. This way the bird already knows you just want a step up rather than grabbing it or doing something unpleasant. Never make sudden motions toward the bird (even if you are the favorite person) because instinct will kick in quicker than rational thought.5. Displaced Aggression
- Sometimes a parrot will bite the nearest thing (you) when something else is scaring it. If you grab a parrot and carry it over to something highly aversive (like that broom) it could bite you because it wants to get out of your grip to get away from the broom.
To avoid displaced aggression don't be in close proximity of your bird if something aversive is nearby or going on. Try to avoid having the aversive around if you are in contact with the bird. Never be the originator of the aversive and do not develop an association between yourself and an aversive.6. Expected Bite
- It often seems that if you expect to get bit you do, as a self fulfilled prophecy. If you are nervous, the parrot can sense that something is not right and will also be nervous.
The best ways to reduced expected bites is to work on yourself so that you do not expect or do not fear a bite. A good way to do this is to use some kind of barrier between yourself and bird so that it is impossible for the bird to harm you. For instance instead of stepping onto your hand, you can have the bird step onto a perch or wear a glove. This way you can be more confident and avoid making tension with the bird because of your own fear.
As you probably know, I do not have much problem with Kili biting me but Kathleen was often the victim of Kili's aggression. Here are some things we've done to reduce biting and make it so that Kathleen can handle the bird:
1) Positive reinforcement based target Training to step up
2) Having her own bird to train and learn about bird handling
3) Building confidence handling birds by handling other (often bigger) birds at the bird store
4) Not clipping and letting the bird fly reduces fear based bites cause it can fly away
5) Recall training bird to fly A to B between people for treats
6) Cuing parrot to perform known tricks for standard food reinforcement
7) Taking parrot on outings, socializing, and handling
8) Providing best treats, meals, and being the one to take in and out of cage
9) Empowering parrot to make choices or only asking parrot to do something you already know it wants to do
Since Kili prefers to be with me, it is hard for Kathleen to reward Kili with attention or social interaction. However, there have been several occasions where I left Kili with Kathleen at her parent's house and everyone else was less familiar to Kili than Kathleen. So guess who she flew to and hung around the most when I was gone? These kind of friendships through common enemies help build trust and interaction with the parrot. Sometimes you have to deprive interaction between the parrot and favorite person in order for it to give the additional person a chance. This is why, for the last few weeks only Kathleen takes Kili in and out of the cage to see me. If Kili wants to see me, she must not bite Kathleen first. While getting taken out by Kathleen may be undesirable, spending time with me is, so Kili is learning not to bite Kathleen in order to get to be with me.
Also, I've been having Kathleen give Kili all of her meals. In the evenings Kili is usually out training till 10PM at which point she gets put away and is fed veggies. That is the absolute safest time for Kathleen to handle Kili and not get bit. If Kathleen fills Kili's food bowl up, she can walk up to Kili holding the bowl, ask her to step up, and put her away in cage without the least problem. We've been expanding this by having Kathleen do other meals and step up training for extra special treats. We recently realized that Kili likes banana (she used to hate it) so Kathleen put Kili away in her cage and reached in with her bare hand to have Kili step up for rewards of banana. Kili already prefers me, so it does not harm my relationship with her by having Kathleen reward her better than I do. This helps make up to Kili the difference in relationship status between us.