This is an extremely complex, multifaceted term in behavioral science. Lay vocabulary generally uses it to identify an animal in a community that exerts a controlling influence on its environment and the animals around it, thereby commanding a pre-eminent place or position in a group. This term is frequently misused and utilized to explain a variety of behaviors in which the human assumes a parrot is trying to “dominate” or control the humans in its flock when in reality the bird’s motivation is more likely territorial or fear-based. This is not to say that dominant behavior does not exist in the world of parrots, as multiple parrot-to-parrot interactions indicate otherwise. However, care should be taken when applying this label. The negative connotations attached to the label tend to increase the level of aggression in the human’s response. It would be best if this term was no longer used in relation to parrots and parrot behavior … or any other animal, for that matter.
Carefully investigate the situation to get a judgment as to whether a behavior is actually “dominant” or not. By analyzing what comes immediately before and immediately after a particular behavior, owners can get a better idea as to a parrot’s motivation. For instance, the owner offers the hand for a Step Up so he/she can play with the bird, and the bird refuses. The human might decide the bird is trying to “dominate” him/her by refusing to step up. The bird might be resisting because it is afraid of the human. Parrots can be quite territorial about their cages and/or play areas, which is often incorrectly labeled as a “dominance” behavior when it is a form of resource guarding.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Behavior Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.