Subject: Quaker parrot advice
I’m probably going to type a lot, but I figure the more details the better when asking for advice.
I hope you don’t mind!
I have a Quaker parrot.
He is 13 years old and DNA proven male.
I got him when he was a baby, and I was a teenager.
I didn’t do any research first.
All I did was clean my room to convince my parents to let me get a pet, then I went to the pet store and picked out the cute little ball of feathers that tried to chew the zipper off my jacket.
For the first two years, he and I were amazing friends.
He had a play gym near everywhere that I went (one in the computer room, one in the living room, one in my bedroom) and would fly over my shoulder when I switched rooms.
He’d play on his play gym chewing rope, destroying toys, tearing apart q-tips, preening, taking baths, etc.
While I did my own thing.
Sometimes he’d fly over to me for head rubs, then he’d fly back to the closest play gym when he’d had enough.
Sometimes he’d bite me – and sometimes very hard, taking chunks out of my skin – but I always understood the reason why.
I hit a sensitive pin feather, someone came in the room and startled him, his eyes pinned and he got over-stimulated, I gave him too much attention, I didn’t give him enough attention, etc.
I knew the warning signs before a bite or, if there were none, I understood the reasons after the bite.
Bites weren’t frequent, either.
I was in for quite a surprise when he reached around the 2 years old point.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much trouble Quakers get to be around that age… but being I’d done no research, I had no clue.
That time coincided with my parents not allowing him out in the lower floor of the house anymore.
He was banished to my upstairs bedroom, where I didn’t spend much time.
I let him out of the cage when I was up there but, that play area was comparable smaller than what he’d had downstairs.
He’d end up biting me from what seemed like him being bored.
He’d had so much to do when he had free roam downstairs, my bedroom really limited him.
And he seemed mad that he went from seeing me every spare second, to only an hour or two each day.
When I let him out it was like he’d charge right at me with a bite.
I don’t know how much of it was the change in schedule/scenery/interaction with me, and how much of it was him reaching puberty.
I guess it was a combination of both.
But I found that I no longer understood most of his bites.
I don’t remember how I knew this but, I did know not to pet him below his neck so I wouldn’t make him think I was his mate.
But yeah, I’d be happily head scritching and then bam, he’d turn and quaker-war-cry scream and clamp onto my skin and flap and screech.
It was an angry, vicious, continuous bite and he wouldn’t stop.
There was no warning sign.
There was no trigger that I could see.
Just completely changing from peaceful happy bird, to vicious kill bird, like the flip of a switch.
This made me terrified of him, and I stopped taking him out.
Fast forward 10 years (and lots of research) later.
I moved out into a place of my own.
Finally out of my parents’ house with their “no bird outside your room” rule, I put his cage in the living room right by the TV and computers.
When I’d take him out he’d barrel out and fluff up for cute head rubs, then bam crazy biting.
So again I stopped taking him out, I was scared of him and decided I’d figure it out later.
Now is “later.”
My husband and I got him a new cage (32″ wide by, something, I forget the dimensions).
He doesn’t sleep unless he has darkness so, we used his old cage as his sleep cage and put it in another room.
So we take him out in the morning, bring him to his main cage, then take him out in the evening to bring him to his sleep cage.
He usually flies a few laps around the room both in the morning and at night, and gets some head rubs before he goes in.
But we have to cover our hands with a towel, because of his unpredictable random biting.
And now he’s started a new thing, where he’ll fly while screaming his war cry, and aim right at our faces.
It’s random and unpredictable as to when he’ll launch, and we have to duck or else he’ll get our faces.
I know that by ducking we reinforce the behavior, but I don’t know what else to do.
We do our best not to yell or make any other noise.
We want him to come out and play, like he used to when I was a teen.
But he flies at us for attention instead.
He’s like… velcro attached to us, desperate for attention.
And while we want to give him that attention, we don’t want to get covered in blood and bruises, either.
Over the years he became less and less interested in toys.
He likes fraying rope, so I try to make lots of rope toys for him… but I wish he’d get into something besides fraying, you know?
Rope, shoelaces (undyed/no chemicals from a bird toy parts store), and q-tips are the only toys he even sometimes touches.
How am I supposed to keep him entertained, or teach him how to play, when he likes so little?
I tried balsa wood, he was terrified of it for weeks.
(For reference, a green-colored perch that I put in his cage 7 months ago, he still doesn’t walk on – he goes the long way to get around it.
He’s scared of a lot of things.)
He’d hiss and swipe at the balsa if he got near it. He used to like shredding paper and styrofoam blocks, but he doesn’t touch those anymore.
I just… I don’t know what to keep him entertained with. I can’t help but think that if he used that lil birdy brain of his more, he’d be much less… well, angry.
I know the whole “play with a toy in front of him to make him want to play with it” thing but, all that does is make him war cry and angry scream at it.
He’s scared of everything, and jealous of anything that gets my attention.
Surprisingly though he likes my husband.
He switches which one of us he’s velcroing to for attention.
One day he’ll flock call to and stare at me, another day he’ll ignore me and flock call and stare at him.
But yeah, if we hug in front of him, or if I try to play with a toy in front of him, he latches onto the front of the cage screaming and flapping angry and/or scared.
I kind of wish I had another bird that he could latch onto.
I have two parakeets, and watching them interact and keep each other entertained has been very cute.
I wish my Quaker had that… instead of endlessly pining for attention from me.
I feel like he deserves better, you know?
But I will never in my life get another quaker – or any bird with a beak larger than a parakeet’s.
So, that’s my story.
What do I do?
How do I teach him to play and un-velcro from me?
How do I solve this mystery of the random, unexplained biting?
How do I discourage the “launch at my face” behavior?
How do I re-gain my trust in him again?
What do I do? I know he will (hopefully!) be with me for another 30 years.
I want him to be happy.
Thank you for reading.
It sounds like you have your hands full Ria.
It’s been my limited personal experience that Quakers can be a bit nippy.
It’s important to remember that all parrots can learn new behavior and skills throughout their life.
That said you might want to start with some simple stick training.
This is where you train your bird step on it up on a stick creating distance between the bird and your flesh.
I’m certain your fear of handling the bird is not helping the situation in the stick training might be a step in the right direction.
Never poke the bird with the stick.
Like anything else let him get used to the stick by making it close when he’s out of the cage.
Seeing it from your bird’s point of view, he was very unhappy all those years he languished in your room alone and it will take time to regain his trust.
You say that he attacks “us” but it’s important to see if the bird is making a distinction and perhaps attacking your husband more than you?
As this would be behavior where he’s protecting you as his chosen mate.
At this point because of the dive-bombing you may want to consider clipping his wings to “reset” his behavior.
I would also advocate 5 minutes of clicker training daily.
Please remember that in the parrots natural state there is a lot of competition for nesting sites.
This makes parrots protective territoriality and he may be protecting his cage and his mate – you.
Most aggression is based on fear.
Parrots are keenly aware of the slightest change or detail the changes in their environment.
If your bird was not well socialized while he was young which we know he was not, because he spent a lot of alone time in your room.
He’s not had the nurturing parrots need from their keepers.
It’s also important to note that biting becomes a pattern of you being afraid of the bird.
He picks up your energy and he will carry that energy towards you which becomes a vicious cycle.
So it’s important that you approach your bird with calm and confidence all the time.
When he’s in the cage, drop (you and hubby) a high value treat in the bird food feeder dish when you pass.
We want to let the bird know know something good will happen every time someone comes near the cage
There’s other issues that you don’t get into in spite of your lengthly problem description. You talk about the one toy/perch that freaks him out of the cage. I would get it toy out of the cage if you want your bird to be comfortable in their cage. Also you want your bird to have lots of toys they feel comfortable comfortable around. The toys not only serve as foraging opportunities but places to hide behind and feel comfortable.
Think about if somebody placed a 6 foot x 2 foot pole middle of your bedroom – the first thing you would do is get rid of it.
At this point I’m going to ask you to commit to 10 minutes per day of one on one training with your Quaker
Please keep us up apprised of your progress
Either your husband had a tremendous time with the bird and lavished on huge amount of attention on him or more likely didn’t pay attention to him at all or very little.
Can I fix it?
I’m assuming the latter.
Your bird is really pissed off and it will just take you some time and patience in order to regain your bird’s confidence.
You’re going to have to spend a lot of time interacting with him providing him with favored treats.
Talk to him sweetly and let him come to you – in the meantime keep him away from your face just to be safe.
Keep small chew sticks and toy parts, etc on hand to stick into your birds beak if it appears that the beak is looking for skin.
If you spent a lot of time with your husband the former, he may have began to bond with your husband so it’s still going to take time for the three of you to share each other’s company.
Hubby says he only spent two or three hours a evening out of his cage usually he is out all day with me. Will he get over the biting?
Hubby just uncovered him and turned the TV on when he went to work.
He’ll get over it once he re-learns how much fun mom time was.
He’s pissed and it will take time but things will go back to normal, especially with so much more “out of the cage time”
Think about – what if your mom went out-of-town & your dad locked you up when you usually were out having fun all day – you’d be pissed but you’d get over it.
That makes sense. Thanks. Love my Feather Baby.
We’re happy for you & your bird – glad we could help
Update…..I have my Feather baby back.
A lot of treats ,scritches and a couple rides around the mobile home park in the car and now Raff is back to being a Momma’s Baby. Thanks for the advice.
Also published on Medium.