In “Defuse the Bite” (BIRD TALK magazine August 2008) you learned how parrots communicate with their beaks and how to encourage positive beak behaviors. Here are two “beaking games’ that the author, Sally Blanchard, a well-known avian behavior consultant, has observed some parrots initiate.
Beaking Game 1 – “Thunking”
I bird-sit an umbrella cockatoo named Ginger. Her exuberance is contagious, and she loves to play. She uses her beak in play, and one of her favorite games is to “thunk” her beak repetitively on my hand or arm. She also likes to tug on my clothes as part of her play with me. At first I was uncertain as to whether this beak “thunking” game was aggressive but, after spending a lot of time with her, I know it is an affectionate game with her.
Sometimes I gently tap her on her shoulder with the same frequency, and she likes that. This behavior doesn’t seem to bring out a sexual response in Ginger, but it might in some umbrella cockatoos; especially if it is accompanied by other sexual behaviors, such as panting and posturing on the parrot’s part. Ginger can go into overload and become very excited if we play for too long, but all I have to do is lower my energy, and she calms down.
Beaking Game 2 – Hit & Run
Many playful parrots play a game that I call “Hit & Run.” The classic game involves a parrot running across the couch, floor or bed and hitting a person with its beak and then running away. This is a favorite game for cockatoos, macaws and conures, but other parrots play it too. The bird might also pinch or grab at the person.
The first time I identified this as an invitation to play was when I was visiting clients, and their severe macaw climbed down off of his cage and started running across the couch. If I looked at him, he would stop and look away. Eventually he made it all the way across the couch and hit my arm with his beak. Then he ran back to his cage. He did this a few times before I realized he was playing with me. The next time he got to me, I put a throw pillow in his way and gently “chased” him away. This just encouraged him to continue the game, and we had fun playing tag until I had to leave.
For more information on beaking and how to avoid aggressive biting, check out “Defuse the Bite” in the August 2008 issue of BIRD TALK magazine.