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#257476 - 12/11/14 06:50 PM A Friendly Mauling  
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Specialist Elbru Offline
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The zoo/sanctuary that I visit has some exotic mammals and birds that were originally pets that people were no longer capable of caring for. At this sanctuary, there is a blue and gold macaw called Harley who stays in a flight cage with his mate Cindy. I call Harley a "friendly biter", because he shows no signs of aggression, he just tries to bite me. It appears that biting is like a sport or game for him. He even tried the trick (unsuccessfully) to grab my finger with his foot and hold it until he can get ahold of it with his beak.

I only interact with Harley through the bars of his cage. I use the cage as a form of "protect contact". Judging by his actions, if I were to give him unrestricted access to my fingers, he might bite me sever enough to require stitches.

I have been working on our relationship by giving him him popsicle sticks to chew up and if he drops things (such as his favorite food) outside the cage, I return them to him. I have found that when I keep his beak busy by chewing on a stick, I can sometimes give him a pet on his head. However he still plays his biting game. I am only sometimes successful in petting him on the head, even when he is chewing a stick. When offering Harley a stick, he will sometimes lunge at my hand. I must give him my complete undivided attention when offering him a stick if I am to avoid a bite.

When he attempts to bite, my reaction is to move my fingers back from the cage so that they are no longer within his reach. I try not to jerk my whole arm back, because I know that a reaction can be a reward for the bird. I sometimes do a large motion to avoid a bite, particularly if my intense attention starts to wain.

Has anyone here worked with this type of behavior? Have you found a good way to curtail the biting behavior?

PS. It's odd, at one time, I visited a different place that also had a had blue and gold macaw and that bird was also a "friendly biter".

#257483 - 12/12/14 01:29 PM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: Specialist Elbru]  
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Macaws are notorious for mock bites. I think many of them do it to see the reaction and judge the persons ability. Only one that I have known would I allow to take my hand. The others I just didn't trust even though owners told me that they wouldn't hurt me. I can't even tell you why I trusted this old fellow. I believe it's in the eyes. This trusted guy didn't eye pin when he lunged at my hand. The lunge also was calmer and slower than some of the others. Macaws make me nervous with that crushing beak. I've seen the damage they can inflict which makes me a little more hesitant. The birds are able to pick up on your confidence level and I do believe enjoy it when they intimidate.


Nancy & Cassie BE2
#257485 - 12/12/14 08:52 PM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: BE2Cassie]  
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Originally Posted By: BE2Cassie
Macaws are notorious for mock bites. I think many of them do it to see the reaction and judge the persons ability.


I'm not really sure how "mock" it is. Harley has drawn blood a few times from me. Usually he gets me when the tip of my finger is at the edge of his reach. A few hours after posting that message, Harley was chewing a stick that I was giving him with my right hand, then I tried to pet him with my left index finger, then he got me. I was watching him closely when I was about an inch from touching his head when he went for my finger. As soon as I saw him turn I pulled my finger back. I don't have high-speed footage of what happened, but in my best estimate this is what happened. I started pulling back just after he started moving his head. He lunged catching my index finger on the edge of the finger. I believe he cough the thumb-side of my finger with the right-side of his beak. Because I had already moving and he only had the edge, I was able the pull out of the bite on an instant (I don't recommend pulling out of a bite, I was not thinking, I was just reacting to his head movement). I looked at my finger, it was sore, but I did not see any bruising or bleeding. Harley was unfazed and he took the stick when I offered it to him a minute later.

Originally Posted By: BE2Cassie
I've seen the damage they can inflict which makes me a little more hesitant.


Thinking back on the incident, I worry that it if had happened just a bit different, he could have been injured when I pulled out of the cage, or my finger may have been seriously injured. I have sense decided not to try and pet him when offering him a stick.

#257491 - 12/13/14 08:50 PM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: Specialist Elbru]  
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I really suggest you just stop this "biting game" with the macaw. The harder you make it for him to bite you, the trickier he will get at biting. You cannot control all the other interactions he has with people either, and they are reinforcing things you can't even imagine.

Yes. Macaws are notorious "mock" biters. I would even say Blue and Golds get the biggest kick out of this behavior. But you must remember that every bird is an individual. I would say that these big guys are even more prone to "distinct personalities" than most birds. I had a Blue and Gold that loved the typical "mock" charge. He would run at you with his beak open and laugh when you didn't react. "Ha ha ha!" You could almost see him smile. I had another B&G that never did anything like that. I have also seen charging birds that really meant it. Not worth the risk of having "skin in the game."

I have a Scarlet that pinches my hand lightly and twists gently when I change his water bowl. I usually just nudge his beak away with the same hand (i.e.: push into the bite instead of pulling away). I can't recommend that with what is essentially an unknown bird. It might work once from shock. It might just make him fighting mad.

A friend of mine has a Scarlet that has the same behavior, except he maintains eye contact and says "Ow?" while he is doing it. Funny stuff, but laughing is rewarding the bite. A stern look and "No ow" keeps the game in check.

My go-to response for biting is to try to displace it with a different behavior. I touch the beak "top" where they can't bite me and make a kissing sound. I have Amazons that will charge me and "kiss" instead of bite. It is that ingrained.

Right now I think your Harley has biting pretty well ingrained and the best thing you can do is avoid provoking that biting response. Saying "Be nice!" or "No bite!" (in a low voice) with a stern look and withdrawing attention for a brief moment might help. Then resume the thing they were enjoying when they stop biting. I am only giving information I have from experience.

P.S. I think if I was chewing on a nice stick and somebody kept trying to pet me, I just might bite also. I might even develop the thought, "Who is this clown and why are they trying to trick me?" If you feel a need to pet him, I suggest you ASK him nicely, "Wanna scratch?" and then wiggle your finger like you were going to tickle his head. I'll bet if he wants a scratch he will lower his head and put it near the cage bars. This bird lives with another bird and does not need to get his scratch fix from humans.

I think we really have to RESPECT these individuals. I am always saying "Please" and "Thank you" to my birdies and trying to understand what they want. But you know all of that! grin . I think you could even be flattered that you have offered him something he values more than being scratched (the stick).

Last edited by Birdfriend; 12/13/14 09:50 PM.

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#257507 - 12/16/14 08:12 PM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: Specialist Elbru]  
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Thanks, Birdfriend, looking over this thread and your response has caused me to rethink, what is going on from Harley's point of view. Cindy and Harley groom each other, so I don't think Harley wants head scratches from me. I think the only thing he ever got from me trying to give him scratches, was that he got to play the biting game. Before I started using the stick, I would put my fingers near the cage, he must have considered that to be an invitation to play the biting game, where I was "playing chicken" with my fingers.

If I wish to touch a bird, it is best that I touch Mango because we have come to an agreement, I give her ambient attention and she lets be give her head scratches.

I have decided not to attempt to touch Harley. So now, I just need to decide what to do if he lunges at my fingers when I offer him a stick. Do you think the best course of action is to, withdraw the stick if he lunges at my hand? Should I say "be nice", then wait for him to calm-down before offering him the stick again?

#257588 - 12/24/14 04:05 AM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: Specialist Elbru]  
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I'm not ignoring you, I just can't think of a good answer... grin


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#258348 - 04/30/15 07:54 AM Re: A Friendly Mauling [Re: Specialist Elbru]  
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Try just watching the birds interact with each other. I could sit and watch the macaws at the local zoo for hours; there are 6 of them, including one pair, and 3 of their offspring, according to one of the keepers. The mated pair (who are in their 40s) will do "sneak mock-attacks" on each others' toes, while sitting next to each other, pretending (or maybe trying) to nap. They sit there, leaning against each other, eyes shut or nearly shut, and one head will drift slowly, slowly, down, and the beak opens very slowly, and a toe is beaked carefully, almost in slow-motion, and the other head comes down and pushes the "biter" away. . .then the roles switch. With those two, it seems to be an affection display. Try sitting around and just watching your two, to see if they interact that way.
It's hilarious!


Jody

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