The Anatomy of the Parrot Bite

Alright.  Been having some really crazy dreams lately and this one last night just ended up pissing me off.  No, really, I woke up annoyed for no reason other than a freakin’ dream!

I was debating writing this post last night but put it off and then had the dream.  Guess I have to actually post the damn thing now, don’t I?

The Anatomy of the Parrot Bite


Anyone who’s worked with or lived with parrots has a side-hobby they only make public to other “parrot people”; battle scar showings.  We all have scars, bite marks, oddly shaped fingernails or some other side effect of working with these birds, after a certain point, it’s a guarantee!

So let me delve into, not the “why’s” but the “how’s” of parrot bites.

The “Little Guys”

People are terrified of Macaw and Cockatoo beaks, but they often underestimate the puncture strength a smaller beak can also have.  The equation of pressure is P = F/A (Pressure = Force/Area)  With these smaller guys, it all comes down to the A.  They might not have that great of a force, but the needle-point beak can create a nice little puncture!

The wounds usually aren’t much to talk about for anyone who’s been bitten by some of the larger counterparts, but if they get you in just the right spot (which the smaller ones seem to have a knack for finding) they can hurt like absolute hell!

They’re quick, sharp, in-and-out types of bites.  There’s usually not much more involved than just biting down as hard as they can and then baking off and letting go.

Some (but not nearly all) of the biggest offenders of these types of bites are:

  • Conures
  • Senegals
  • Quakers
  • Ringnecks

The Caique

Yep, this guys is one of those that gets his own special category in this list.  There’s nothing quite like a Caique bite to really compare it to.  The drama of having the little spazoid latched on tight to your body is almost as horrifying as the blood-gushing wound created when they let go.

Some of the worst scarring I’ve seen that just leaves a brutal “Oh my God, what the hell happened to you?!” reaction has come from Caique bites.

As I said though, the prolonged drama involved during the bite is almost as bad as the bite itself.  These guys can go from being nice and cuddly one minute to gnawing on your thumb bone the next with only as much as a 3 second window to evacuate any superfluous body parts within beak-distance!  Then you have to deal with the bird hanging off of you with their body weight, grinding their beak through your skin…

The Twist

Amazons are really talented at this one!  A lot of medieval and 18th century weaponry was designed to leave wounds that opened up wide and didn’t heal properly.  I’m convinced the brain-child behind this tactic lived with an Amazon!

Not only are Amazons a step up in beak size from the smaller guys, but they know how to inflict maximum damage with minimal effort!

The Amazon bite has a two-step motion.  Step 1 – Find soft tissue and bite down.  Step 2 – Twist beak and head as sharply and quickly as possible.

In my own experience, Amazon bites are the type of injury you’re actually in denial of just afterwards.  Yes, you see them bite you.  Yes , you feel the pain.  But it all happens with such speed and grace, your brain doesn’t have time to really process what just really happened.

I mean, I’ve literally had Red (our Red-Headed Amazon) bite and let go of me in under a second, feeling just a slight pinch, only to look down and see a small bloody hole left in my hand!

Mostly healed, but scab still remains.

Mostly healed, but scab still remains.


Corn on the Cob

To this day, the most memorable, painful bite I’ve experienced has been from an African Grey.

The important thing to remember about some bird bites, especially Greys, is what we call the “pressure bites”.  They bite down and chew…. HARD!  They don’t twist, pierce or go for any super-accurate locations like the smaller ones.  These guys just use brute force to bite and chew.

The chewing is the worst part of the bite.  Although faded, I have a scar that circles my arm like a bracelet; every half-inch you could make out distinct beak marks.  Silly me thought “I can deal with a pressure bite as long as he lets go…” problem came when he never let go.  The Grey simply chewed a ring around my arm, never letting enough pressure off to remove him!


Yes, another bird with their own special category of bite.  Although they range in size, most Cockatoo bites happen the same way for the same reason regardless of the species – the bird gets pissed.

The only way I can really describe a Cockatoo bite is as an “angry bite”.  There’s a certain ferocity behind the bite that scars more than just your flesh.  An angry Cockatoo latching on to your arm isn’t a mental image you easily let go of .  These are mean bites that reflect exactly how angry the bird is at the moment they bit you!

Umbrella Too bite

There’s not really and specific technique behind the bites, just solid force.  Fortunately they will let go most of the times and you can escape any real damage, but it all depends on where the bite occurred.  And although it may sound odd and will still hurt like hell, a Cockatoo bite around a finger still isn’t as bad as a good, solid bite from one of the smaller guys on that same space.  Fortunately the size of their beak usually means it will wrap around smaller parts of your body so most of the bite happens inside the edges of the beak, not at the point.

The Monster-Beak

I should really just say Macaws, but some Cockatoos also fit this.  I’ve had macaws bite me on the arm, then I lose feeling in my finger tips!

Despite the size and pressure of their beaks, Macaw bites aren’t as bad as some of the others.  Most of that is due to their motives/reasons for biting you in the first place.  It’s usually a fearful bite that only happens for a split second when they’re under stress.  You can often see it coming from a mile away so avoiding the bite isn’t as challenging as, say, a Caique.

Still, the shear size of their beak makes it easy for them to do massive damage that requires multiple stitches!  Even if it only lasts for a couple of seconds, having a Macaw tear through your lip is one of those stories you can tell for years afterwards!

The good news?

Despite the damage a parrot bite can do, the best news out of all of this is the lack of any serious, long-term disease.  Their mouths aren’t filled with toxic bacteria and they don’t have saliva dripping from their beaks, so the most you have to sorry about after the initial damage, regardless of how severe the bite is, would be an infection like you would get in any other cut.


I am an animal advocate. I not only love, but respect animals... all animals. I have spent several years of my life dedicated to working in animal rescue and now have very little left to lose in expressing my true thoughts and ideals on the subject.

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Posted in Animals, Parrots
24 comments on “The Anatomy of the Parrot Bite
  1. avianstudent says:

    Baha, brilliant, and true. I’d rather take a bite from a ‘too than most small birds. My worst bites have come from our Sennie. He does the bite and grind, awful. Bobo the U2 prefers that approach, too. He took a chunk out of my knee that looks pretty impressive…! I was kind of in shock for that, though. Can’t say the same for when Mavi was dangling off my knuckle by his beak. I had no feeling in that finger for weeks. Fortunately, the birds’ good moments outweigh the battle wounds! 😉 Gotta say, I love my canary, though.


  2. Really makes me want to have a parrot, African Grey, Caique etc. NOT! I suppose this is the point of your blog.


  3. Ann T says:

    Love this! You are so right about caiques…..except mine twists his beak and gets another chunk out if he can…he will also stalk you and charge if he feels you look at him wrong
    or didn’t let him do whatever he wanted at that moment. He is also the silliest, most playful little T-Rex that I have ever had the honor to adore!!


    • tongueinbeak says:

      I was watching a movie one night and let our Caique sit on my had. I looked half way through the movie and saw blood dripping off my fingers. The little f***er chewed about 50% of the callouses on my knuckles off and I never felt a thing!


  4. Kim says:

    Pionus bites are bad! They latch on & won’t let go, no matter what you do, until they are damn ready to. African Greys are really good at luring you in for a bite, looking so cute & cuddly & then BAMM, they pierce your flesh with their sharply pointed beak!


  5. Shons says:

    You forgot to mention budgies…One of my little guys knows exactly where to get me to inflict maximum pain….nearly always the nostril…He can be so sweet one minute and the next minute he’s hanging from my earlobe…that hurts like heck too…and I still have a little scar on my finger from a friend’s hen budgie after she landed on the floor and I put my hand down to help her up…that was really sore…lol..


  6. Sandi fisher says:

    My NAPE can remove scopes of flesh with his lower mandible but it usually is something I did wrong. They want no fast moves, a low soft voice and very possessive of their territory and things….normally I can look back and see it was something I did wrong. Always give a bird time to think and not startle him…..biting is their reaction. I’ve had my parrot for the greatest. 45 years of my life….we are bonded and he wants no other person in our house,car, or golf cart…’s all his (ours). They do not share their nest in the wild…nor in their captive life. Having a pet bird requires you to think at all times. They can be great pets but always BEWARE….buy a BUNNIE IF YOU DONT WANT INJURY.


  7. isibella says:

    I once asked the most famous Avian Vet in the UK (The retired Alan Jones) what the WORST bite he had ever had was. I was expecting him to say Hyacinth Macaw or Moluccan Cockatoo, instead he looked at me and said “Budgies, those bitches get right under your finger nail with their tiny beaks, is excruciatingly painful.” It made me laugh, but I did consider how true it was!


  8. Bobbi says:

    This is a great article that should be sub titled The Facts of Life of Bird Ownership. The author is stating the facts. He is not telling people which birds not to own! If you have a bird, you will get bit! Have a good supply of anti scarring cream and start applying immediately after you clean up your bite. These creams really do help!


  9. Missy Soppick says:

    Ahhh, the dreaded conure bites! Facial piercings! Ahhh, the dreaded cockatoo bites! A hole in my toenail! Ahhh, the African Grey bite! Fingertips knawed to the bone!


  10. Karin says:

    Eclectus bites are a force to be reckoned with too. Had a hormonal female who steadily increased pressure and wouldn’t let go. Not sure why the bite didn’t pierce right through the skin on the top of my hand, but it drained all the color from my face and shook me up for hours afterward, lol! My male ‘only’ latched onto my husband’s ear during a territorial moment while cleaning the cage. The female once charged me and got my achilles heel.


  11. This was great! I really hate when you hear the question! What kind of bird should I get? I don’t want it to bite and I want it to talk. Obviously these people have not done any sort of research what so ever. Every parrot bites but not every bird talks.


  12. I have secret piercings through my thumb pads, the fat part of my hand, my cheek, and once a lip. It is my Conure and she is just trying to get me to mind when I cannot read her mind.Growll.


    • tongueinbeak says:

      If you’ve ever seen The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, I have an autographed scar from Mingus, the Cherry-Headed Conure, where he pierced the back of my thumb. Yes, I know there’s no flesh on the back of a thumb, but he managed to find what he could and make a hole all the way through!


  13. Bobby Dean says:

    i made the mistake of picking up a corded phone and putting it to my right ear while my Amazon was on my left shoulder. she bit down AND held on as i reached for her and she fell off my shoulder. her lower beak went clear through the inside cartilage of my ear. blood pooled up and dripped out of it. only time she ever bit me in over 7 years.


  14. Susan says:

    I’ve been the recipient of the “bite and chew” technique from our TAG on my wrist and on my ear. Definately terribly painful. We never allow him on our shoulders anymore (both of us were bit then) and in the case of my wrist.. I was trying to bring him back to his play cage and he simply didn’t want to go. So I am a better observer now. And he REALLY didn’t want to go… which is why he finally communicated his disagreement with a savage “bite and chew”. He simply wouldn’t stop. It shocked me but I was able to not react badly and just dropped
    Myself to the carpet. That shocked him too; he let go, said “Congo wanna go back now” (his usual comment when he is ready) and I rose, took him to his cage where upon he climbed up like a gentleman. All forgiven.


  15. Connie says:

    Body language, body language, body language…most bites can be avoided if you read their body language. Body language is the first clue that they don’t like what you’re doing, the bite is the second clue. The body language I’m speaking of is: they turn their back to you; lunge; feathers up on the name of their neck (back of neck, at the base); head down and forward; eye pinning (can be found if they’re excited or if they don’t like what you’re doing) so check other body language along with eye pinning (pupils expand and contract); eye shape (round is good, not round is not good). You cannot make a bird do what you want them to do; they are not dogs.
    Approach should be slow; ask permission to get close to their cage (it’s their territory). Once close to the cage, hold eye contact until they look away (especially a female Eclectus, they’re bossy). Once you’re holding them, do not lose focus. Only pay attention to the bird on your hand, nothing else. Do not ever put the bird on your shoulder, ever! You can’t see their body language if they’re on your shoulder, hello!? Gently hold onto one foot with your thumb. If the bird flies, they could hurt themselves (even if the flight feathers are clipped) so this will keep them from flying. Turn off ceiling fans! If the head is down and forward; and their holding the wings out a little with an up and down motion of the shoulders, they want to fly.
    If the bird doesn’t want to come out of the cage (territorial), use a perch or soft ring for getting them out. Once out, it will be much easier to get them to step-up on your hand. They’re less confident away from their cage so they feel safer if you’re holding them. They want to step up on your hand. Birds may beak your hand to make sure it’s a solid “perch” but it’s not a bite. You won’t see lunging or neck feathers up.
    Feathers are a huge indication of how the bird feels. Bird stretched tall, feathers slick to the body means the bird will fly to escape the threat or bite you so you’ll let go. Get the bird to a safe place immediately or you will be bitten! If the bird is comfortable, the feathers will be loose on the body and they will sit low (can’t see very much of the ankle).
    I’ve learned from experience, don’t try to touch your bird while in the cage unless you’re trying to get them out. Don’t touch their feet, head or anything else. That’s their space. How would you like it if someone was poking their finger at you. They will trust you if you’re not trying to grab at them. This does NOT hold true for Cockatoos! They are special. Ours reaches out to grab us when we’re near the cage. He puts his foot out as far as it will go to hold hands, LOL! So I guess the message there is; if they’re wanting to interact, then it’s okay.
    In the wild, birds call to the “flock” to make sure everyone’s okay. If the bird can’t see you, they call to you. Answer back so they know you’re okay.
    Final thought. We purchased a Cockatoo from a man who gave us some very good advice. Never push yourself on a bird, they hold grudges. They may never trust you again.


    • tongueinbeak says:

      Thanks for sharing Connie! I’ve seen a lot of these bites happen after so-called “professionals” have told people how to handle their birds. 90% of the time there’s no problem with the advice they give. Then there’s that 10%….

      The problems I’ve seen people face have come in the from of rescues; birds that are either in a rescue, or recently come from a rescue. It has nothing to do with the birds being “damaged” though, per-se. May of the professional behaviorists out there just fail to put their methods to practice on birds who have had histories… histories of abuse, neglect, and God-only knows what.

      I damn near had a finger gnawed off when I was socializing a sweet Amazon that loved me, because a woman walked down the same path we just turned down. He apparently had a really bad history with women and, instead of shying away and giving a warning, just clamped down tight around my thumb. A few seconds later, he acted like nothing happened and was back to his sweet usual self.

      Situations like those are the ones a lot of the professional behaviorists don’t seem equipped to handle and I’m convinced, there’s just no way to tell until it happens. Even those of us in the rescue business for years have experienced our share of that. That lip puncture, for instance, is Marc Johnson of Foster Parrots. He has more experience doing this than most of us, but still had to endure the occasional bite due to the nature of birds he handled.

      Some birds have been though enough hell on Earth, that they learn to forgo the usual communication and go directly for the bite. Others, you just know are going to bite because of that, but you need to take that chance with them or they’ll never leave a cage and realize there’s a world out there for them to experience. I’ll take the bite if I know their reward is going to be worth the pain and realize that bite’s only going to happen because of the habit formed with their past history, not because they actually want to do it.

      You are right though; if you learn to communicate with them, you can prevent just about every single bite!


  16. 1706to1790 says:

    Weirdest coincidence just now, I clicked on the link to this article (passed on by a Parrot Station member) – and was playing a video clip of my budgie I’ve had 10weeks+2days.

    She got excited to see the video I was playing because it was a video of her. (she thinks all videos of her and any budgie are all other birds she wants to be with). She got frantic and came down from her perch to ‘get inside’ the computer monitor. Turned around and started tearing at the keys on the keyboard and picking up a USB cable connected to a nearby port. The short video stopped. When I started typing: she came right at my fingers and gave me the hardest bite she’s ever given by far!

    There is no doubt she knows the connection between my hands and the computer and the TV remote too. When I try to be nice and play birds on YouTube (TV or on the computer) she always starts trying to get me to “help her” get to the other birds. She pulls the hairs on my hands and arms to get me to move her closer and now, for the first time, bites to get me to “get the bird to come back.”

    No harm done. Once she sees I’m not going to help her anymore, she goes back to her perch and calms right down. I just know now not to get her frustrated- which is what I was doing unintentionally. It was just weird to start reading this article about parrots biting and get bitten before I could finish reading it!


  17. Very interesting I love to read all the comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. C. Rocha says:

    My U2 likes to get in a double chew bite when ever he can. And I get that point of the top, as well as those 2 points on the bottom that you forgot to mention. I have had so many from him I stoped counting at 30. He is so lucky I’m head over heals and stupid to boot. But I’m learning his body language and trying to get as fast as he is to avoid his beak when it’s not giving out kisses. LOL


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