Watching your pet parrot aggressively jump at you and take a bite can be a nightmarish experience. But why do some pet parrots lunge at their owners? Let’s find out.
Wild birds often like to lunge or chase predators away. This is especially true if the predator is smaller and they think it can “handle” the situation.
There are many online videos where even tiny birds are seen chasing away large ones, like hawks, from their nests by lunging and repeatedly attacking them.
This lunging behavior has manifested itself in some birds, even in captivity, and there are several reasons why it happens.
Apart from territorial behavior and fear, some birds also see it as a game to be played with their human friends.
In this article, I will explore all the reasons that your parrot might be lunging at you and what you should do about it.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes your bird will lunge at you while you are going about doing other things like filling up their bowls?
I have put this one up first because often, we start looking for negative reasons behind habits like lunging and biting when the reason may not have to be so cynical.
If your bird is not hormonal right now and hasn’t shown aggressive tendencies ever in the past, perhaps it is time to consider how much affection and time you are giving it.
Birds are creatures of love, and when you don’t give them the time and devotion that they need, they can turn somewhat hostile, trying to remind you about their needs.
After all, they can’t put it in words.
Cockatoos are particularly notorious for this behavior. If you are not playing with them enough, they will bide their time and wait for you to come close to them.
When you do that, they lean forward and grab you.
Sometimes, if they are flighted and let outside their cage, they will lunge off their perch and try to fly around after you.
To them, it is like a game, and it involves you spending time with them.
As an aside – sometimes I find my five-year-old doing exactly the same thing when I am working.
If she is not getting enough attention from me, she will come up from behind and hit me with a soft toy or pillow – just to make me chase after her and have a bit of fun with her.
Sometimes I think that our pets are very much like our children – their behaviors are almost similar.
What to do?
Well, it is fairly simple – a cry for attention can only be satiated by paying attention! Spend more time with your bird, let it out of the cage more, and give it more of its favorite treats and food.
Now I understand this is not always possible in our daily schedule, and I don’t want to sermonize about the responsibilities of being a bird owner.
What I would suggest is to make a fixed schedule of playtime with your bird. That way, there is no anxiety.
Your pet knows exactly when you are going to come around and how long you will play with them.
While the individual activities can change each time, you can create a going in and coming out schedule.
For example, you can have a little session when you speak softly and pet your bird every time before you put it back in its cage.
By doing this, the bird knows when the session is coming to an end.
Pet birds can sometimes get jealous; it is not unheard of. There are many reasons for it – but most specifically, if it is because you have introduced a new bird in the cage or environment.
In such cases, the parrot’s only recourse is to attack you (assuming you keep the new bird in a separate cage).
And lunging is a way of getting back at you, telling you that they miss your attention, and warning you that it’s not ok – all rolled into one.
What to do about jealousy?
The first thing to do is to reassure the pet that you are still very much its friend. Shower your earlier pet with love and attention. Lots of scritches and petting should be a good place to start.
The other important thing is to show the jealous pet the advantages of having another bird.
Slowly introduce and let them play with each other, all the while keeping a close eye for aggressive behavior.
If the jealousy is related to a person, not another bird, then you should try and get the other person to also spend some time with your bird.
Ideally, let them shower treats, talk to your pet and do some activities together (it doesn’t have to be play, they could watch TV or listen to music together).
In any case, jealousy is not something that birds give up easily, so you need to be patient about it.
Getting Into Their Space
Birds have a sense of personal space, much like humans. They don’t like certain kinds of touches, for example, and they certainly don’t like it when you look at them from above.
It is partly a case of historical evolution – someone looking at them from above can be a threat or a predator, but someone in their line of sight is not that big of a problem.
If you go too near your bird, pet it on its head without first letting it become comfortable with you, or try to grab or towel it, the bird will respond the way it does in nature.
What should you do?
Try to figure out which behaviors are triggering the lunging response.
Are you approaching the bird from a position where you are not in its line of sight? Perhaps move the cage to a higher table or a place from where they can see you coming.
Is it because you are petting them in the wrong way? Sometimes, children tend to handle birds carelessly, and the bird will start lunging in response to this action.
In this case, speak to your child about the proper way to handle their pet, and spend some time helping their friendship develop.
Your Parrot is Being Territorial
This is more common with birds that are new to the home, and Amazon parrots are more prone to showing this kind of behavior.
Territoriality cannot be judged on the basis of lunging alone. If the bird is also showing some other signs, such as:
- Puffing themselves up
- Stretching their necks.
- Stretching out their feathers
Then there are signs that your pet is being territorial.
In other words, the bird will try to make itself look bigger and stronger to show you that this is its space and you are not necessarily welcome right now.
Sometimes, birds also try to fool you – they will invite you over with coy behavior and then suddenly lunge at you, somewhat like a jungle predator.
In such cases, lunging is also accompanied by biting.
What should you do about territorial behavior?
Since your bird is being protective of its cage and space, the best thing to do would be to move the cage to a safe area where there is a lesser chance of it becoming worried.
Now, I am not suggesting that you should move the cage to a separate room that no one ever goes to.
Quite the contrary. Parrots are social birds, and for them having some company around is very crucial.
But even in a typical room setup, there are some corners that are less prone to traffic. You need to make sure that the cage is in a place where the pet can watch people come and go.
It should not feel alone and abandoned because that can lead to all sorts of new problems.
Also, make sure that every time you approach the cage, you are in the line of sight of the bird and your hands are open and empty.
Hormonal behavior is a well-accepted and understood phenomenon in pet birds. In the Northern Hemisphere, most parrots have a hormonal period during the spring.
The daylight hours are longer, and birds need to be handled with care during this time.
During this period, your bird might lunge at you “just because” – there would be no apparent cause or reason.
As your bird grows older, it will likely get mellower, and the lunging and biting spree will become less aggressive.
What should you do?
The best thing to do in this situation is to give your bird a bit of peace and quiet.
Try to reduce your interaction levels with your bird and don’t engage with their odd behaviors.
Keep talking to your bird and offering it treats and toys, but ensure that you don’t get them irritated.
Thankfully, the season passes away fairly quickly, so you should see fewer and fewer such incidents in a couple of months.
Pushing Too Hard
This is especially true for younger birds that you are trying to train.
We all want our pets to learn the things we teach quickly, but we need to realize that parrots take time to learn these tricks.
They have a cycle of absorbing, trusting, and then repeating things that follow their own schedule – and when someone tries to push too hard, they fight back.
It’s their way of saying, “Hey, wait, I didn’t say this was ok!”.
Parrots transitioning between houses also suffer from this problem. Lunging is a way of saying; I don’t like the change happening – let me go back to my old ways.
Have patience, and don’t try to push them too hard. The lunging will stop in a few days once the parrot gets used to the new surroundings.
What should you do?
Nothing much except waiting. Your pet will take their own sweet time to process what you are trying to teach or the change in their lives.
If you try to push too hard, they will fight back.
Just keep at it, express your love, and spend time with the bird. Over the course of a few days, weeks, or months, your pet will eventually reciprocate.
It’s a Game
When your bird lunges at you – your first reaction is to get scared and flinch. Maybe you will move away and try to protect yourself. Sometimes you might even jump in surprise.
Think about how funny you would find it if you were to see it in a YouTube video or on the telly.
To the bird, this little bit of “power” over you instantly becomes a game – can it get you to flinch every time?
It might even start to hone the skill – trying to lunge at you from different positions and during different times to see which time it gets the most comical reaction.
In my experience, this kind of game is very common among Macaws.
They love to try the “hit and run” game on you – sneaking up from behind you and getting you to jump in surprise either by biting or by lunging.
There’s another game that is a hot favorite with these birds. They would be sitting in your lap or snuggling up and suddenly would jump out and give a loud shriek, eliciting a surprise from you.
Yeah, Macaw’s can be a lot to handle. I don’t recommend them for beginners.
What I have noticed is that the more surprised or scared you act, the more fun they seem to derive from it.
What can you do about such games?
If all this is just a bit of harmless fun, and there is no biting or other harm involved, I would just let things be.
Don’t flinch or get scared. Try to anticipate when the bird is going to lunge, and remain calm and composed.
Over time, your pet will understand that the scare tactics are not working and the game is not fun anymore.
If the scare tactics become harsher and are accompanied by biting and other behaviors, then you can follow some of the recommendations I will share in the next section.
Playing rough is a bad habit among owners. When you play rough, you are encouraging your bird to also learn bad behaviors like lunging.
Moreover, these kinds of behaviors are bad to break because you are creating a fertile ground for the bird to assume that this is acceptable.
This problem is even more acute among adopted parrots.
They might have learned such behaviors at their previous home, and after moving to a new home, they become confused because their companions no longer seem to find it acceptable.
What should you do?
If you come across a bird that has learned these habits from a previous owner, I would suggest you go through some of the advice and links shared in our behavioral problems sections.
This one is particularly true for new birds. When your new pet does not recognize you, it is obvious that the poor bird will think of you as a threat.
After all, a human can be as much as five to six times bigger than a parrot. Moreover, you are keeping the bird in a cage all day.
Lunging is a way of getting back at you and telling you that even though you are bigger, I can still defend myself.
Sadly, it’s not you who would get scared in this situation. The fact of the matter is that it is the bird that is scared out of its wits.
At times, it might just be crying out for help through such irrational behavior (the lunging won’t really get your bird anything).
So what can you do?
Understand that the bird currently views you as a threat, so you need to move extra super slow.
Take your time with everything. For a few days, perhaps just let the bird be accustomed to you being around by sitting next to the cage and talking to it in a soft voice.
If you are planning on starting training, don’t. Until the bird trusts you completely, training it is not going to work.
Just let the bird get used to having you around before you do anything.
Most birds are monogamous for each breeding season, and parrots aren’t different.
They tend to mate with a single one of the opposite sex and then create a nest and look after the eggs together.
Therefore, both males and females among parrots have a sense of family and the protection of their mates.
In the wild, this translates into chasing away predators and keeping a lookout.
When in a human’s home, the cage becomes the nest, and the human becomes the possible predator.
Even if the birds have been with you for a while, once they mate and start to breed, they are a family unit. Their behavior and sense of belonging do change a bit.
As owners, we need to understand this feeling of protectiveness towards their mates and not create reasons for our birds to act out at us through things like lunging.
What can you do?
Keep out of the way, especially if you are planning to breed eggs. If not, it would be best to keep the birds in separate cages and not let the mate protection feeling grow strong.
Birds are locked up in the cage for almost the entire day. Even if you consider the few toys and other baubles we leave around for them, frustration tends to build up.
Now imagine this: you come home after a hard day’s work, and your pet bird is waiting and ready to pounce on you for its playtime.
It’s getting frustrating all through the day, but when you finally reach home, the frustration reaches its crescendo.
What happens if you then decide that you have no time for your pet and go straight to bed? Mayhem ensues.
If you do this for a few days at a stretch, there is no surprise that the bird will take every opportunity to let out its frustration, and what better way than to lunge at you (and maybe take a bite as well?).
What can you do?
Never leave your bird in the cage for more than 8-10 hours a day.
Make sure to always have enough entertainment for them – be it toys or even just leaving the TV on when you go.
When you come home, make it a point to get the bird out of its cage and let it play, even if you are tired.
Stopping The Lunging Behavior: Specific Steps To Take
If you have ever experienced a lunging bird before, you would know that whatever the initial reason, once the lunging starts, the bird continues doing it because it’s “fun.”
Either the bird finds it funny and like a game, or else it loves to find that it is not powerless and can make you feel afraid.
So if you can’t figure out a way to stop the bird from lunging, follow the below steps.
Never Show Aggression
First of all, let’s get this out of the way – aggression is pointless. If you try scaring the bird, it is going to evoke the primal fight or flight response and make your bird scare you even more.
Understand the Triggers
Observe your bird’s behavior every time it lunges at you. Notice what started it. If you can figure out exactly when it happens, you can anticipate when it will happen next.
It helps you to prepare for aggression. You might even hold a pillow in your hand when you anticipate the next move to make the lunge-biting futile.
You can also ring a loud bell and scare your bird. It is guaranteed to stop the bird easily.
Don’t Let the Triggers Happen
Sometimes, there could be triggers that are avoidable.
For example, if your pet cat or dog is getting too close to the bird’s cage, it might perceive a threat and lunge.
In such cases, the task is simple – identify why the cat or dog is walking by, and remove the reason. For example, if it is heading for a toy or its bed, you can move the bed to a different location.
The other alternative is to move the cage out of the way to a more secure place.
Make sure that the place is not isolated – as I said earlier, parrots are social creatures, so cutting them off from everything is not a good idea.
Taking Away Privileges
One of the most potent ways of disciplining your bird is to remove its privileges. Simple things like giving your bird a time-out can bring home the message very quickly and effectively.
A lot of bird owners think of time-outs in the same vein as grounding kids. It’s not. Please don’t send your bird to the cage for the rest of the day.
Instead, give it a five-minute cage time, and then let your bird out and give it a second chance.
Moreover, the punishment and its application have to be very consistent. Your bird needs to be able to clearly establish the relationship between lunging and being sent for a time-out.
Moreover, time out does not mean that the daily training sessions or out-of-cage time are suspended.
Send your bird to the cage immediately after it does the lunging, and then bring it out in a few minutes.
Do not show anger throughout the process – anger and frustration will not help.
As I mentioned earlier, many birds think of lunging and your reaction to it as a game. So the best way to stop the game is to not react.
If possible, do not flinch when the bird is lunging. If it bites, try not to react too much. Put it in the cage for a time-out and take care of your wound.
Do not let your bird have the satisfaction of seeing drama and a show.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my bird suddenly attacking me?
There could be several reasons why your bird is suddenly attacking you.
It could be due to a change in their environment or routine, such as a new cage or new people in the house.
Birds can also become territorial and aggressive during breeding season or when they feel threatened.
It is important to observe your bird’s behavior and body language to determine the cause of its aggression.
Additionally, it is important to handle your bird properly and avoid any actions that may provoke them.
Consulting with a veterinarian or a bird behaviorist may also be helpful in addressing the issue.
Why is my parrot aggressive toward me?
The most common cause would be territorial behavior, but as I pointed out earlier, there are many things that could go wrong.
Protecting their mates and hormonal outbursts are also quite common.
One of the less obvious reasons that I mentioned earlier in respect of lunging is that birds find this amusing, especially when the human shows signs of fear and moves away.
What are the signs of aggression in parrots?
There are many signs – biting, lunging, screaming, fluffing up their feathers, raising their necks, and so on.
To a bird, being aggressive is basically looking bigger because it often encounters predators that are bigger than it.
Pinning their eyes is also something that parrots can do – they constrict their pupils to small dots.
Parrots can show aggression both towards their humans and other birds. They normally do this when they feel threatened or when their territory is invaded.
Learning to understand these behaviors can help you prevent attacks of aggression like lunging and biting.
Why does my bird lunge at my face?
It could be due to fear or aggression, or it could be territorial behavior.
It’s important to understand your bird’s body language and behavior to identify the root cause of the lunging.
If the bird is afraid, it’s important to slowly and patiently build trust through positive reinforcement training.
If the bird is exhibiting territorial aggression, it’s important to establish boundaries and reinforce that lunging behavior is not acceptable.
Seeking the advice of a bird behaviorist or avian veterinarian may also be helpful in addressing this issue.
More often than not, what might start out as a territorial or self-preservation activity ends up becoming a form of entertainment for pet parrots?
The fear and flinching that they see in their humans becomes a sort of game for them, and it is this tendency that you should try to avoid at all costs.
You can use some of the things that I discussed towards the end to try and dissuade your pet from lunging.
Remember, aggression, shouting, and being hostile does not work.
Thank you for reading!