Birds peck at each other for various reasons, including dominance, mating season, playing, and exploring the world. An occasional peck here and there isn’t a cause for concern. This behavior only becomes problematic if it’s intense and ongoing.
What You'll Learn
- 1 How Dominance and Territory Affect Pecking Behavior
- 2 How Time and Age Affect Pecking Behavior
- 3 When Does Pecking and Biting Become a Problem?
- 4 How to Tell if Birds are Between Fighting or Playing
- 5 What to Do When Pecking and Biting Become a Problem
Watching birds bite and peck each other can be alarming for a caring bird owner. What if they get hurt? How do you get them to stop? Before we can delve into those questions, we need to look at the underlying causes of pecking behaviors.
How Dominance and Territory Affect Pecking Behavior
Many bird species are territorial, and one reason birds peck at each other is to claim territory or assert dominance.
When you first introduce two adult birds, it’s not uncommon that they’ll bite and squabble while they establish the pecking order. Once they establish a hierarchy, the pecking should die down.
While they might peck each other occasionally to reinforce or challenge dominance, your birds should peck each other less.
Similarly, birds may bite each other to claim something as theirs. If one bird decides that a specific toy or perch is theirs, they’ll peck to keep the other bird away.
To mitigate squabbles over territory, ensure your birds have enough food, water, toys, and space. Make sure their cage is big enough for two birds of their species, and double-check that they’re receiving enough nutrition.
How Time and Age Affect Pecking Behavior
Time of year and your birds’ ages may be another reason they’re pecking at each other. During mating season, male birds will often peck each other to compete for females’ attention.
Males and females may also peck each other in mating and courtship rituals. Because of this, you may notice birds pecking each other more during the spring (or whenever their species typically mates).
If your birds are still juveniles, you may not notice their biting increasing during mating season. That being said, young birds will often bite other birds and objects to explore the world around them. Much like how human babies, kittens, or puppies will bite to investigate, birds will peck to learn about the world around them.
As the birds grow into adulthood, they should grow out of this behavior. Just be sure not to encourage this behavior with treats.
When Does Pecking and Biting Become a Problem?
As you can see, birds will bite and peck for various reasons, and it’s rarely a problem. Just like you might occasionally bicker with friends and family, sometimes birds peck simply because they’re annoyed with each other. A small bite here and there won’t bother your birds, but when does pecking and biting become a problem?
How to Tell if Birds are Between Fighting or Playing
First, it’s important to understand the difference between playing and fighting in birds. The exact body language a bird uses will depend on its species, but there are a few general tips that indicate a bird means business.
Raising their wings and hissing are both examples of bird fighting words. Along with biting another bird’s feet, these actions are never friendly.
If your birds demonstrate these behaviors, they’re telling each other that they’re ready to fight. Often, one bird will back off before a fight breaks out, but it can also escalate into a full-blown fight.
You should also pay attention to how a bird reacts when another bird pecks at its feathers or head. If the recipient seems relaxed and comfortable, it’s just grooming and no cause for alarm. If the action seems more harsh, then they’re fighting.
Birds are also noisier when fighting. During a real fight, birds will squawk and screech. Play-fights are quiet with little to no squawking.
Another major indicator of a fight is chasing. If one bird is chasing the other around and not letting up, you are likely witnessing a fight. You’ll also see one bird guarding a resource if the fight is over territory. This could involve keeping their opponent off a perch or keeping them away from a toy. This is especially problematic if they’re guarding food or water.
When Birds Pecking and Biting Is One-Sided
As mentioned previously, pecking and biting may signify one bird asserting dominance over the other, or a sign of mutual grooming. Another way to tell the difference is if it’s one-sided. If one bird is constantly pecking the other, there’s nothing mutual about it.
If this “bullying” behavior continues after dominance is established, there’s likely an underlying problem concerning these fights.
It’s possible one bird simply doesn’t like the other, but it’s far more likely that the dominant bird is resource-guarding.
When One Bird Prevents the Other From Getting Food or Water
As territorial animals, you may find one bird food or water guarding to the point where the other bird can’t get sustenance. This can quickly become a problem. You don’t want one bird going hungry or getting dehydrated.
When the Birds Injure Each Other
Normal playing won’t lead to serious injury. If your birds draw blood, things have already reached the point of being problematic.
When Birds Fight Frequently
Even if your birds aren’t drawing blood or keeping each other from food, frequent squabbles can still be an issue. If your birds are bickering daily or several times a day, there’s likely some underlying stressor causing the fights to break out.
What to Do When Pecking and Biting Become a Problem
If the pecking and biting have become a cause for concern, then it’s time to take action. Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate the problem.
Separate the Birds
If your birds are injuring each other, the first thing you should do is separate them. You don’t want them to continue hurting each other while you work on fixing the problem. Though many bird species don’t like isolation, it’s better than getting seriously injured.
Move the instigating bird into their own cage in a different room for a week. Consult your veterinarian about how to reintroduce the birds.
Make Sure the Birds Have Enough Resources to Go Around
Birds are naturally territorial, but a lack of food, water, space, perches, or toys can make that worse. To minimize the amount of territorial behavior, make sure your birds have enough to go around. You may need to increase the size of their cage, feed them more often, or get a bigger water container.
Your attention is another important resource. Birds can get jealous, so you should give them equal time and attention.
Birds peck at each other for many reasons, and it’s usually not a cause for alarm. But when things escalate to an unsafe level, it’s important to take the necessary steps to ensure their safety.
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.