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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,
I'm a new cockatiel owner (as of 2 months ago). We (me and my bf) got our baby from a hobby breeder who hand fed him. He is 4 months old as of Feb. Our bird, Galileo, is very tame, stepping up for us from day 1. He lets us give him scritches, play with him, and begs to be taken out (actually does a bit of screaming for it, something we try to ignore to teach him that that's not the way to get attention). However, there are a couple of behaviors that we think are wrong, and would like to find out why he does them and teach him not to. When giving him head scritches, and he is clearly enjoying it and begging for more, sometimes he will randomly bite the person's fingers. Usually these "bites" are just harmless nibbles, but once in a while he will actually bite very hard. I don't understand why he would bite the fingers giving him scritches that he was just enjoying so much a second before? How can this behavior be eliminated?
Also, we have started training him, and pretty successfully. He's already learned to pick up a small ball and drop it into a shot glass, for a treat of millet. But when he gets millet during training he becomes super excited and sort of agitated. When we reward him for something (any positive behavior), as soon as the hand giving him the millet moves away, he becomes frustrated, and once in a while will also bite the hand that was feeding him, if it's still nearby. This seems kind of similar to the first biting behavior I described, because he bites the hand that was actually doing something nice for him. Is this type of frustration a baby behavior and will go away on its own? Has any one else had experience with very young birds, and seen this type of behavior? Any suggestions or comments on having the same experience are welcome.
Thanks
 

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My Sunny who is 15 will also "bite" while getting scritches. Not hard- nibbles. I've wondered why too and will be curious to hear what others say. Sometimes I think he does it because he wants the scritches to stop so he can preen for a few minutes and then he asks for scritches again. But other times I'm really not sure why he does it.

Also, it sounds like you're doing great with your tiel. I'm impressed that he knows tricks!
 

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He could also be starting a molt and pin feathers are very sore, so if you're hitting one while scratching him he's will most likely bite you to make you stop. Biting is their only way to say "no" when they don't like something because they can't talk.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
He did have pin feathers on his head when we just got him, but those have fully grown out a while ago, and there aren't any left that could be bothering him. When he did have pin feathers, he liked being scratched around them, and if one of us accidentally moved one the wrong way he would just give a little scream and pull away to show that he didn't like it. I think he is starting to molt (although 4 months is a bit early?) since we noticed him losing a lot more feathers now, but no pin feathers have showed up yet. So I really doubt that the biting has to do with that. Especially because we're not actually touching him when giving him millet and he bites the hand as soon as the millet is taken away.
 

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Tiels can molt as early as three months old, so molting is a possibility. If that's the case, and he really is a boy, he could be starting what we call the teenage boy stage where they get aggressive and nippy. They act like a moody teenager. They are very moody during this time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I guess that would make sense. Have you ever seen the behavior I'm describing in your teils? I just thought they start to mature at 6 months to a year (every source I've looked at says aprox. that). If he is getting in the "teenager" phase, hope it passes soon. Thanks for the suggestions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I know about tiels using their beak for balance, an I can tell when he's doing this, but the behavior I'm describing, especially when he bites when the millet is taken away, is usually real biting, since once in a while it will actually be a pretty hard bite. He will also actually lunge to bite when a hand is nearby and the millet is taken away, as if he believes that it's the hand's fault. This doesn't happen all the time, but often enough that it can make training frustrating.
 

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It sounds like he's mad that you're taking the millet away from him, its his way of telling you to leave it, he'll finish it lol. He's not doing it to be mean, he just has no other way of saying "I want that." And of course you take it away with your hand so the hand is the bad guy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I thought the same, that he's angry at the hand and frustrated because the millet is being taken away. For training purposes though I can't just give him the whole piece of millet spray, that's just too much. I was hoping there's a good way to teach him not to do it, that it's okay if the millet is gone for a bit.
 

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Birds bite for a reason but we don't always know what the reason is. If you stop and think about what was happening when he does a "random" bite, you may be able to identify the cause.

When he lunges at the hand when you take the millet away, he might not be trying to hurt you - he might be trying to grab your hand to make it stop moving. If you're using millet as a training reward, you can avoid this problem by not offering him the whole spray - break off a small bit and give that to him.
 

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yes, break off a small piece and feed it to him. My Danny boy would do the same kind of thing , but if I use smaller pieces and let him finish until no seeds are left, he is fine.
 

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I know exactly what your talking about but unfortunately don't have any answers. Mine does sort of the same thing. I've just come to think that he must see hands as only for stepping up and other than that he hates them, he will make a screamy "don't touch my stufffffffff" noise at my hands when I give him food and pretty much just have to give it to him quick smart or he'll bite and get aggressive. Same with kisses, hand scritchies were cool when he was a baby, but then when we started actually giving him eskimo kisses with our noses and real kisses he decided no more hands and just those ones please.

I've a theory that all this hating hands business started because one of my family members isn't full confident with him and would flinch sometimes asking him to step up, and I think this really frustrated him and built some distrust around handa which is a shame.

Let us know if you have luck with giving smaller pieces, I didn't my tiel would still bark at me for holding treats. I think they are just too smart sometimes and know what your doing and impatient. But yeah I'd really like to be able to hand feed mine too for training stuff.

Oh and also something else I heard that semi explained it when I looked into it last time was that bird personalities in the wild allow them to one minute be scared and threatened, and the next all smoochy and loving because it's just how they are wired for stress, so that a stressor can come along, freak them out and then 2 seconds later it's over and they don't keep stressing and back to their business. Mine seems like that and go jekyl and hyde easily but then I hear of so many other sweet little tiels and have wondered how they fit into that model if it's true.....
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Chirpington,
I completely agree with you on the "Jekyll and Hyde" comparison. Our bird seems one second all sweet and cuddly and the next he's biting you, and for no reason as far as we can tell (and we know when the biting is for things like touching a pin feather the wrong way, or because we've done something to scare him, etc.). The behavior isn't a big deal since the bites are usually not so bad, more like nibbles with the occasional hard pinch.

I haven't tried training with smaller pieces of millet yet, because it means that I have to spend some extra time before the training to break apart the millet into individual seeds into a cup. But from just giving him millet for good behavior (not screaming, etc.), pinching off small pieces or a few seeds seems to work a bit better than when we used whole pieces (the individual round pieces that you can break off from the whole stalk, which is what we used to give him), because you're not forced to take away a big piece from him, and I guess he feels you're not doing any wrong to him if he finishes eating what he sees.

With giving him scritches, there is a way I do it that he will accept and love 90% of the time. When he sits on my chest and I start petting his head, he just loves it and lets me do it almost anytime, I even cover him gently with my other hand and he likes the warmth. When I do it that way, he will still suddenly start to nibble every 30 sec. or so, then stop just as suddenly and wait for more scritches. I've read somewhere that the finger nibbling is actually a way some cockatiels ask to get scritches, and it's usually pretty gentle, which is what I think our bird is doing. Sometimes he gets into biting in which case it's obvious that he's had enough. But when we try to give him scritches while he's sitting on a finger/hand/shoulder, he's much less receptive and often just doesn't let us, biting and lunging at the hand, but at the same time he will still let me hold him on my chest and pet him like that. He rarely lets us give him scritches while he's sitting on the hand/shoulder, and we try to read his body language to see when he'll like it or not.

Another interesting/strange behavior I've noticed is him becoming territorial while sitting on mine or my bf's shoulder. Before he used be very comfortable sitting on a shoulder and letting us give him scritches like that. Now when he gets on your shoulder (and he often jumps or climbs onto it even when you don't want him to) he tends to move to closer behind the neck, and look very alert, and when we try to get him down he will lunge and bite. One time he actually did the "bat thing" were he hangs head down and flaps his wings, right on my shoulder. And he got all aggressive when I tried to take him down. He loves being on a shoulder, but I feel like he thinks of it as his territory and tries to dominate over us from there. When he doesn't behave well sitting on my shoulder I take him off and don't let him back (even though he really tries to get up there) until he calms down.
 

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I wonder if this behaviour is worse sometimes when it is an only bird. I've referred to my birdy and my bird brother at times because weirdly it feels like he is a sibling when he does that sort of stuff (except kissing him of course lol) but like the bossy don't touch my stuff and the determination to get what he wanted be it a shoulder or whatever and sort of boss you back if you try to tell him what to do.

In all fairness I reckon my lil guy accepts me being the boss about 80% of the time and the other 20% he'll throw a tantrum and really let it be known that he has wings and can fly and doesn't *have* to do what he's told/asked. That sass is part of what I love about him though.

Make sure you don't fall into the habit of anticipating him biting too coz he might pick up on that suspense or very subtle body language if you sort of brace yourself for a bite and then actually bite you because of it.
 

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Birds use their beaks for everything and it's hard to train birds not to bite when they've been programmed for years to do it. But from my experience, once they "know" how to bite, it's best to prevent the situation, as I don't think it's possible to train it out of them.

If you have more than one, then you'd notice they even give each other a little bite here and there when they argue or want each other to move out of the way etc. It's their way of expressing their emotions. Colbie will go to bite Nibbler when he crowds her and is stepping on her tail.

Nibbler is named because he is a notorious biter. Depending on his mood, he can either give a little gentle nibble, draw blood, or anything in between. It's his way of letting me know he wants to be left alone, doesn't want to be picked up etc.

As for the nibbles after headscratches, my three birds all do it and my parents' birds do it also. I believe it's them "returning the favour". Paired birds will often take turns scratching each others heads. Ever had a bird land on your head and preen your hair? Same sort of deal.
 
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