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Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Discuss the methods and techniques of clicker training, target training and bonding. These are usually the first steps in training a young parrot.

Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Desire Mercy » Sat Mar 01, 2014 8:55 pm

About a week ago, we purchased a couple of hand weaned Quakers. They are very docile, friendly, and affectionate. However, one of the two in particular started developing this habit of biting my fingers and, and especially likes gnawing on my nails.

It doesn't seem aggressive. They come to my finger, try preening me, then start nibbling. They are fully flighted. Sometimes they lock on. No sign of aggressive behavior. I'm a bit confused, this being our first birds.

EDIT: I should mention, its REALLY hard bite. Like I couldn't help but yelp.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Pajarita » Sun Mar 02, 2014 11:42 am

It's called 'beaking' and it's the equivalent of a puppy chewing on things or babies biting down on teething ring. When he/she starts doing it say: "Gently, gently" in a very soft voice and, as soon as he/she begins to increase the pressure (don't wait until it hurts), just say "No" and take your hand away. You are providing them with two or three different types of soft-food, right? And have some formula handy, just in case? Because baby birds always regress a bit after weaning, especially when they go to a different home...
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Wolf » Sun Mar 02, 2014 11:51 am

I don't know about you but I do consider a really hard bite to be aggression. you should teach your birds not to bite you and you need to look for their signals as they may be trying to tell you something. Most animals use a lot of purely visual cues, and birds are one of these. Eyes pinning, feathers ruffled, feathers flattened, body position all have meaning. Some of these signals can be quite subtle especially if you don't know to look for them. A birds beak is very sensitive and is used just like another hand and they are very much aware of how hard they are biting, so watch for your birds signals and rule out that you are not listening to your bird and giving it no other option than to bite hard to get your attention. If this is the problem you will eliminate most biting by listening to the bird. Training is good for both you and your bird and always it is both the bird and the human that need to be trained.

It also could be a thing called beaking which is kind of like a puppy gnawing and can be worked out by moving your hand and telling the bird to be gentle or no. Beaking could also mean that the bird is getting hungry and this is their way of telling you.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Desire Mercy » Sun Mar 02, 2014 3:54 pm

It's definitely not aggression. They are coming to me and otherwise being affectionate up until they bite down. They have the freedom to fly away (and generally do when they get annoyed). They are "preening" my arm hair and then just decide to scoot over to my fingers and gnaw.

I emailed the breeder last night, and this was his two cents on it:

This can be tricky, she may be asking for a treat. but you can't give her a treat when she bites you. I would with little pressure pinch her beak just enough to stop her from doing this. let her walk on you for just a moment and put her back in the cage. leave her in it for at least 15 min. then try giving her something to eat. apple peppers what ever she may like to eat. but never give her a treat for biting, but you can treat them somewhat like a puppy. bad behavior can cause them something they don't like, even a little push off with the bite.


They have two options of food right now. They have a parakeet seed feed, and then a homemade "chop" (cauliflower, carrots, wheat berries, chia seed, flax seed, pinto beans, garbonzo beans, whole grain pasta, and a few other things I can't recall off the top of my head). They really like it and chow down on it. It's super nutritious.

This behavior DID start shortly after I started giving them sunflower seeds as treats. I'm wondering if their desire for treats is what's eliciting it.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Wolf » Sun Mar 02, 2014 4:52 pm

Agree for most part with what breeder had to say. You don't want to reward your bird for biting as this would only serve to reinforce the biting. This being a young bird, it may be testing the boundries of how hard of a bite is acceptable to you, still this type of biting should be discouraged. Any way you look at it, the bird knows how hard it is biting and so this needs to be discouraged. If the bite causes undo amount of pain and/or draws blood then the bite is too aggressive. Aggression does not have to mean that the bird is biting and biting and biting, it does not mean that the bird has to threaten to bite, It simply means that the bird intentionally bites too hard regardless of the reason behind it. Sometimes aggression is the only option available, but it is still aggression.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Pajarita » Mon Mar 03, 2014 2:51 pm

Please don't pinch their beaks. Birds are not hard-wired for punishment and it not only does not work, it's actually completely counterproductive. Breeders don't usually keep pets so their advice on behavior is iffy at best.

I also do not agree that parrots are aggressive. They are not hard-wired for aggression as they are not predators (so their survival does not depend on it) and they don't live in a hierarchical society (where lower individuals fight the higher ones for their position) and Nature does not give an animal a trait that it doesn't need. Furthermore, it's not true that parrots 'know' how hard they bite us. This is something they need to learn because their nips and bites are meant for another bird, a being that has a thick plumage protecting their skin and which would not be hurt at all with a nip or even a not too hard bite -while we do because we are 'defective' birds with no protection.

Babies go through the beaking stage when they wean and yours are at that age so although I would not allow a hard nip, I would not consider it aggression. I also do not like using the cage as punishment. They spend so much time in it that I feel they should never associate it with punishment... Walking away from them has the same effect.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Wolf » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:40 am

I am not advocating for any form of punishment to attempt to deter the biting as I feel that simply removing your body part or the bird from a position where it can bite along with a firm no bite or be gentle is much more effective. I also am aware that their nips and bites are actually meant for members of their own species but when confronted with a pain reaction from the human they quickly recognize that they are biting too hard just as when they bite one of their own too hard. I also realize that at first there is a learning curve involved as to how hard is too hard, same with any other behavior. We do not know all of these things at birth and must learn them through trial and error from our parents and peers and I see no difference in that with birds or any other living being for that matter. However they are aware of how much pressure they exert when they bite else no amount of training in the world could teach them that this is too hard of a bite.

I also do not lock my birds in their cage as a punishment as I feel very strongly that their cage is their safe place. We all need a place or space that we can relax and feel safe and secure from the challenges we encounter each day in the world at large and their cage is this place for them.

When faced with aggression it is our place or responsibility to understand that in most cases addressing aggression with aggression only leads to more aggression as well as distrust and fear. It becomes an increasingly phobic cycle and benefits no one.

I am not saying that in their natural environment or in any other that a parrot is naturally over aggressive but they are aggressive at time regardless of the environment. They have no choice but to be this way as they are as you say hard wired for it. If it were not true no parrot would ever defend its feeding grounds or even the food it was eating at the time, nor would they defend themselves or their nesting area from other predators. Not all of their aggression is bad per se but it is what it is and when applied to humans, we must address it to some degree. Some aggressive behaviors are so hard wired in that no amount of training will ever eradicate it. but even in these instances we may be able to inspire enough trust as to lesson its impact or to elicit an alternative response from them.

Also I would like to say that I really do respect your opinions and advice as they are very beneficial and helpful. I also don't see much difference in what our responses appear to be. But there are numerous difference in our perspectives on what and why some behaviors exist and possibly why they occur in some circumstances. While I don't always agree I find your viewpoint refreshing and at times very insightful, thank you.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Pajarita » Tue Mar 04, 2014 3:34 pm

I think our differences are mostly a matter of semantics, Wolf. To me, an aggressive animal is one that initiates the behavior (as an aggressive dog would bite a stranger that is just passing by minding his own business) but wild parrots never do that, only pet ones and then only the ones that have 'issues'. When a parrot bites, it's not doing it to become dominant or to punish us, it's doing it in order to defend, protect, out of fear or pain. We can certainly teach them to bite by reacting the wrong way, mistreating or abusing them but it's not a behavior a well-balanced, content parrot would show out of the blue. It could very well become a habit with some of them but this is mainly when they are treated wrong and lose their trust in humans but even these birds slowly learn to trust and stop their aggression altogether. I have a handfed ex-pet Yellow Nape male amazon that was punched by his second owner when he bit him (he actually admitted it to me) and, from then on, the bird would attack any and all humans even before they approached him (smart cookie wasn't taking any chances -LOL) but he stopped once he realized that I was no threat to him and he doesn't attack anybody now. Babies are like a blank page in the sense that they haven't developed any type of bad behaviors and haven't lost their trust in humans so they are not really aggressive at all. They are just learning their way around things.
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby Wolf » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:36 pm

definitely agree with that!
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Re: Gnawing on Fingers, Especially Nails

Postby jparrothead » Wed Mar 12, 2014 1:54 pm

This is an important thread and one very relevant to my 4 month old Green Cheeked Conure. Darwin, like the Quakers, both seem to enjoy this 'chewing'--I would distinguish it, like Pajarita, from a bite, as it does not seem in anger at all, and mine is affectionate, steps up, and bonded (or bonding).

The chewing--or beaking, rather--is a problem though. I have read that this is so from GCC's (and Pajarita and others have confirmed this!!) and can happen again in the 'terrible two's' stage (somewhere between 1 and 2 years old).

The biggest issue is that Darwin 'bit' my friend--actually, beaked, but to her, it was a bite that left a black and blue mark and some raised skin. She is not me and obviously not the parrot's bonded person, and it was NOT in anger, but it hurt her enough to not want to try it again any time soon. That is sad to me, but I understand.

I want to do the right thing, and use the right techniques. I have seen first hand how a parrot can dominate in a relationship and turn from 'beaking' to biting, and then all seems lost.

But there is so much conflicting advice. Don't react, React. Don't say anything, Say something softly. Put it in the cage, Dont put in the cage. Touch the Beak, Don't touch the Beak.

A whole thread could probably be written on the subject of 'conflicting advice' alone! That tells me that there are likely many ways to deal with this--and other issues, too.

Right now, when the chew/chomp beaking happens--several times a day, I out my other hand's fingers on the gap between the lower and upper portions of the beak and very gently un-chomp them. That stops it, at least immediately. Sometimes it won't happen again for an hour. Sometimes it will happen in a just a few minutes.

If this is truly a stage, I can deal with it, and then regain confidence for a few close friends with target training and the usual methods. But I want to deal with this right. I see this as the first major challenge, 10 days in to having Darwin home. Any advice or thoughts are welcome!
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