Amazon parrots are birds that bring a unique set of challenges as pets. Some of those challenges can be down to genuine, if usually hormonal, aggression. Other challenges are the result of habits and instincts inculcated either by the wild or by the instincts that would help them survive in the wild.
It is important to understand which is which, and to develop ways to understand, counter, dissuade, and deal with each of their challenging behaviors, whether they’re based in aggression or not.
Let’s take a look at some of the most challenging behaviors owners of Amazon parrots usually report.
All parrots will chew. In the wild, parrots “customize” their favorite tree by chewing on it with their beak. It’s not just a territorial act; in the wild, parrots use this technique to grow the size of their nesting space in a tree hollow – so it has several key significances to the bird.
In a petting environment, the dislocation from both freedom and a choice of trees will most likely make it even more important to the pet bird to establish its “place,” its territory within the space.
Chewing on trees also has a physical benefit of the parrot, in that it keeps its beak in peak condition.
This is all fine, except that within a petting situation, the chewing of the Amazon parrot can rapidly become both excessive (by our human definition), and undesirable.
Without significant direction towards safe chewing materials and away from unsafe ones, you could easily find yourself with a house full of smouldering fires, the result of chewed power lines or other wiring.
It’s important to note that this is not an aggressive behavior in the bird, because without a broad understanding of what the bird does and why it does it, repeated dangerous chewing can easily look like the actions of an obstreperous toddler, determined to push and push at the boundaries of a parent’s patience until they snap.
That is absolutely not what the bird is doing. It is merely doing the things it would do in the wild, but translating them to a captive environment.
Of course, that may be of very little consolation if you return from work to find your house is a burned-out shell.
Since the behavior is natural to the bird, it is incumbent on us Amazon owners to head off the problematic elements of the behavior as soon, and as thoroughly, as we can.
That approach requires two elements. Firstly, the supply of as many safe chewing materials as possible – from toys to entertainments, to natural wood branches and the like. These may well encourage the chewing to be channeled in safe directions.
Secondly though, there is also likely to be some training necessary, so that in addition to the safe branches, the pet parrot doesn’t decide a little electrical wiring gives them a rewarding buzz.
So while chewing is not in and of itself an aggressive behavior in Amazon parrots, it is one that can have severely negative consequences, and one that needs to be headed off at an early stage with investments of both time and money.
The degree to which displays of dominance amount to aggression is debatable. Certainly though, once they’re out of their “baby” stage, Amazon parrots, in common with most other breeds of parrot, will use their beaks to train or discipline others in their environments – which is to say, in this scenario, human beings, for overstepping the boundaries which they will otherwise set for themselves.
It’s important to understand this from a non-human perspective. Animals will have territories in the wild, they will have what for the want of a less anthropomorphic phrase, we can think of as “personal space.”
And they will, unless the other creatures in their environment give them a reason to understand otherwise, regard the full extent of their living space as that domain.
So, other creatures in their space need to abide by their rules, and often the only way they find to reinforce this message – especially with creatures who do not understand their vocalizations or cues – is by physical discipline through the beak.
Again, the degree to which this is aggressive seems to depend on how human-centric a view we take. After all, the “cure” for this behavior is to train the parrot not to indulge in it before they establish the sense that it is the right way to behave.
It is highly arguable that this means we train the parrot to accept our dominance in the environment (though significantly less painful means than are open to them). But the principle is the same from species to species.
The parrot aims to assert its dominance by pecking or nipping at anyone or anything that comes too close. We aim to establish our dominance by training it not to do that. Neither is really a sign of aggressive intent – merely the necessary drawing of lines over what goes on within a shared environment.
Ahhh, the teenage years.
We’re not even going to attempt to sugar-coat this period for you. At some point between the age of 5-12 years, Amazon parrots are flooded with hormones as they mature.
It really is akin to a teenage phase, because apart from anything else, the hormonally aggressive stage lasts for up to two solid years. And yes, during those two years, they’re hell to live with, their aggression potentially being continual and vicious.
This is probably where the majority of the Amazon parrot’s reputation for being an aggressive breed comes from – the potential two years of hormone-drenched flights of seeming fury.
Fortunately, once the storm is over, they tend to settle back down into a much calmer state for the rest of their lives, except during the breeding season.
Again, during that period, and again triggered by hormones and the mindless instinct to breed, Amazon parrots can be significantly aggressive. In particular, the male birds can attack humans, and won’t limit themselves to one bite.
Think Hitchcock, but with better plumage.
Many Amazon owners find themselves confused that their birds – previously so seemingly cuddly – go “red in beak and claw” when mating season is upon them. With the best will in the world, this confusion speaks to a deep lack of understanding of nature.
Mating season is the Big Event in most animals’ lives. It is chemically programmed by evolution as a season in which to pass on genetic material to a next generation, and the way that it is chemically programmed is by hormones which, in the wild, demand at least competitive and usually aggressive displays on behalf of males to secure mating rights with females.
The fact that this can translate into severe aggression in male birds in a comparatively captive environment should come as no surprise.
It is, however, practically murder to live with.
To deal with this phase in your Amazon parrot’s life, try to understand that first and foremost, this is a natural parrot behavior. The comparison with the teenage years may seem flippant, but it’s relatively accurate. Just imagine if your teenager had talons and a sharp beak.
Limit the exposure of any family member who’s been most especially bitten to the parrot – for the good of all concerned. Provide treats and activities during this phase.
This might seem extreme, but change the lighting if you can. The fewer daylight hours the parrot sees, the less aggressive it is likely to be. Mimic a winter sun by keeping the light as low as you can bear.
And in especially extreme cases, your vet can even prescribe a kind of hormone-balancing medication to regulate the ‘moods’ and aggression of the bird.
Ultimately, the Amazon parrot is, for most of its life, less aggressive than assertive. But yes, during its maturation phase, and during the hell that is mating season, Amazon parrots can be especially, even prodigiously aggressive.
It’s worth remembering though that both of these phases of peak aggression are triggered by hormonal changes and primal drives, rather than by anything especially native to the breed during its normal life.