I’m nursing a bruise on my knuckle.

Stewie bit me “for no reason!” (Gratuitous use of quotation marks? No, keep reading.)

He was sitting on my arm while I was working on the computer and he ran down my arm, bit down hard on my knuckle and wouldn’t let go. I yelped and flailed around ’til I basically shook him off.

(If you’re asking, Why didn’t you just ignore the bite? You’re supposed to show no reaction whatsoever… um, have you ever been bitten by a parrot? It’s almost impossible not to react when a parrot bites down. But more on that in a later post.)

The way to stop a biting habit is to avoid getting bitten in the first place, and Stewie and I have worked pretty hard at getting to the point where I trust he’s not going to bite just out of the blue … under normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, if he’s sitting on me, he’s actually very gentle.

Non-ordinary circumstances include (but are not limited to) me holding certain evil objects; the mouse joins the Swiffer and my cell phone (the new one, the old one was just fine) on the list of things that Stewie will not tolerate me having contact with. Those I had to find out about the hard way (which means getting bitten several times before it dawned on me what I was doing wrong.) And I strongly suspect the camera would get me bitten as well if I’m not careful.

He’s fine with them if they’re just sitting there, but if I’m holding any of these objects and he’s perched on me, he will clamp down and not let go.

Imma get you, evil camera!

Why does my bird bite when I’m holding my cell phone? I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter why he’s doing it. Parrots are funny creatures. Or rather, parrots are not domesticated animals. Who knows what’s going through their heads, what ingrained instincts they’re acting on. Maybe he’s trying to protect me from things he thinks might hurt me (in the wild, parrots will bite their mates to prompt them to flee from danger), maybe it’s redirected aggression (he wants to kill the Swiffer but can’t, so he takes his anger out on me) – there’s no way to tell. The only thing to do is make sure to be very aware of where he is if these things need to be used.

The point of this long story is actually this: a bird never bites for no reason; there’s always a reason … it’s just that sometimes that reason isn’t clear because it makes no sense to us.

If I didn’t know Stewie and his body language, and when he behaved like this, I almost certainly would have thought he bit me out of the blue and completely unprovoked. Learning how he reacts, and to what, took a while; I certainly didn’t have him figured out in a few days, weeks or even months.

So if you have a seemingly bipolar bird who “goes crazy all of a sudden”, take a close look at what happened right before the bite or what’s going on in the environment. Do these events have anything in common? You might figure out that he’s not so unpredictable after all, and all you have to do is put that evil cell phone away (or whatever) .

(For more information identifying antecedents to biting and how to solve problems with a biting parrot, check out this PDF article by Susan Friedman. Click for the PDF.)

p.s. Mika’s has never bitten me hard, and only twice did she pinch me in a way that it was clear she meant to (and once was when she had only just met me and I asked her to step up, so I suppose she was entitled). But that doesn’t mean that she can’t.

Case in point, DP, who is very leery of the Stu-monster, was bird sitting for the Feathers and told his roommate “Mika is so sweet, she doesn’t bite at all [implied: unlike Stewie]”. Mika, naturally, takes this opportunity to show that yes, in fact, she knows how to draw blood! The roommate, a total animal person and former parrot owner herself and therefore not reckless about approaching animals, was pretty upset. (Sarah, It really wasn’t personal!)

So if someone tells you that their parrot doesn’t bite, take that with a big grain of salt; all that means is that the bird hasn’t ‘t bitten lately, or it hasn’t bitten the owner yet, or generally doesn’t bite if in a familiar environment, or they’re just lying through their teeth because they are trying to sell their bird as quickly as possible.

Thank you Mika for not biting me, even though I totally respect that you could if you wanted to. Scritches!

p.p.s. For more help understanding your parrot’s body language and behavior, I recommend Barbara Heidenreich’s Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots and Biting Matters: Living BiteFree with Your Parrot by Jenny Drummey.