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Understanding Bird Behavior and “Misbehavior”: the Question of Punishment

We cannot hope to understand and appropriately moderate our pet birds’ behaviors if we have not studied their natural histories.  All captive behavior stems from a species’ natural behavior…viewing the topic in that light is the only sensible way to go about achieving harmony with our pets.

Natural Behaviors

Even after decades of working with parrots, I’m still sometimes surprised at the racket they make in their natural habitats.  Free-living parrots are always vocalizing…on the wing, while feeding and in their roosting sites.  Doves begin calling before first light, male canaries sing incessantly in the breeding season,  male peafowl scream… and so on.  To expect otherwise of them in captivity is unreasonable.

Why Punishment is Ineffective

That being said, there are a number of captive behaviors that can and should be addressed.  But birds do not recognize punishment…it’s simply not within their abilities, and never will be.  Many mammals restrain and punish their young…dogs, for example, will respond to punishment, although it is certainly not the best way to train them.  Birds, however, respond to punishment as a threat, or an attack, and will react accordingly.

Yelling at a screaming parrot will usually ensure a vocal free-for-all, with the bird trying its level best to top you!  Squirting water, sometimes recommended in books, is useless…at most it will temporarily frighten a bird, and in the long run will do more harm than good.  Hopefully it goes without saying that one should never strike a bird (well, I pushed a male ostrich once, but he was about to do much worse to me!).

Parrots can often be distracted or their behavior re-directed, but again such are only temporary solutions.  It is important to get to the root of the problem…in many cases, knowing the bird’s history is vital in understanding its reactions and behaviors.

For information on specific behavioral problems, please see my articles Parrot Bonding as a Behavioral Problem  and Help! My Parrot Won’t Stop Screaming



  1. avatar

    Useful info, nice blog, thanks.

  2. avatar

    Hello Chris, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and for taking the time to forward your kind comment.

    I look forward to your hearing from you again.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    I cannot believe this will work!

  4. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Unfortunately, I’m not able to determine what particular point you are questioning. When time permits, please write in again with a bit more specificity, and I’ll be happy to address your question. Sorry I could not be of further assistance.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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