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August Abbott, CAS
August Abbott, CAS, Certified Avian Specialist
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 7532
Experience:  Cert. Avian Specialist; Int. Assoc.Animal Behavior Consult; Pet Ind. Joint Advisory Council; author
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I just got a 13yr old umbrella cockatoo 4 days ago, previous

Customer Question

i just got a 13yr old umbrella cockatoo 4 days ago, previous owner said the bird loves everybody. the bird loves to cuddle and sit on mine and my 10 year olds lap but has suddenly started attacking my husband, she sees him approach,jumps off my lap, or couch and goes after him. How can i stop this behavior
JA: I'm sorry to hear that. What is the bird's name?
Customer: Shelbie
JA: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about Shelbie?
Customer: Shelbie doesn't go after the dog or cats, she liked my husband Sunday when we got her and it has progressed to this, my husband thinks she has claimed me as hers and i'snt allowing him near me. We were told bird is female but not sure
Submitted: 2 months ago.
Category: Bird
Expert:  August Abbott, CAS replied 2 months ago.

What's happening isn't at all unusual and this is called, believe it or not, "the honeymoon period". Shelbie is not only testing the boundaries in her new home, but she's establishing her position in it. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that tomorrow or next week or next month - it's quite possible that you become 'the enemy' and hubby is her best friend.

In any event, the fact that you're asking about this shows me that you know how important this initial period is so let's work together on making Shelbie's transition into her new home more in your control and nice and smooth

Tell me what sort of routine you've begun with her. Walk me through a typical day. Does she have a separate sleep cage? Is she covered? What are her daytime hours/nighttime hours?

How about out of cage time?

Anything else you can think of

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
Her cage is in a seperate room and she gets covered and put to bed about 9-9:30pm, shelbie gets uncovered fresh food and water about 8-8:30 am, my daughter sings to her when she puts her to bed. Her out time is being held, she's afraid of the perch in the living room so I'm guessing she's never had one. She prefers to sit on laps or cuddle under your chin to actually being held, when we can make sure she's completely supervised we try to take her out often, she will walk across the couch from me to my daughter but will jump off my lap and chase and attack my husband whom she liked the first day we got her. If she's in her cage when we are up or not home we keep the radio on for her with soft music, my husband doesn't mind if she doesn't like him but we can't have a bird that literally chases him to attack him, since my daughters seen this now she's afraid of shelbie, although Shellie seems to like her, I thought maybe if my husband were the one to uncover her and feed her in the am maybe she will start liking him again, but as of now he doesn't have the time before work, I want to stop this behavior as soon as possible, we haven't even had her a week yet so I think it can be done I just want to make sure I take the right approach. I've fallen in love with her already, and I've never seen a big bird that's good with children before, I also don't know for sure if she's male or female, the person we got her from rescued her 4 years ago and was told she was 9 and female
Expert:  August Abbott, CAS replied 2 months ago.

Thanks for that add'l info, now bear with me, this is going to be a fully involved answer (better too much info than too little right?)

And I know you'll already know a lot of this so pick and choose the info/options as you wish


What seems like sudden acts of aggression by many birds isn’t necessarily unusual and you can probably change it. No matter what started it, your bird is enjoying a sense of power and control at this point. They have discovered that these actions are getting a response. Parrots are remarkably smart and learn quickly despite how we might perceive it. Your bird is seeing how far they can go. The trouble with this is that many birds end up cage bound as a result of owners becoming afraid of them and that encourages even more behavioral problems.

When the bird lunges or bites from their cage, issue a “don’t bite” order in a firm, but not raised voice and then turn your back. Give silence a minute and then turn and with a firm voice and no-nonsense face, take the bird out of their cage.

When she lunges at hubby while out of cage, issue the same order then silently pick her up, quickly move her to her cage and then everyone ignore her.

I have a 'time out' room - actually a bathtub in a bathroom where they can't climb out via a shower curtain. It's a safe place (always, always close the toilet lid!!) yet unusual enough to make them wary and the alone'ness is uncomfortable for them. Set a timer, don't trust your memory, to get them out in 5 minutes. Ideally, hubby should be the one to retrieve her. Never the one to put her in there. If you stick to putting her back in her cage, he should be the one to remove her when the same 5 mins is up.


Keep reminding yourself that once the bird is up on your or his arm, if they bite, you can provide an ‘earthquake’, a sudden vibration of your arm enough to distract them from the bite, but never enough to throw them off balance. Remember, scaring them isn’t a good thing. They are not likely to go back to biting your arm and you can probably carry them around for some time like this.

We also don’t discourage the use of padding. Just not the use of gloves. Gloves don’t encourage the respect of human hands and this is one of the things you’re aiming for.

However, cutting the toe end out of a clean pair of old, thick socks and sliding them up on your forearm or under shirt sleeves can certainly take the sting out of a bite by a larger bird and give you more confidence. When you stop reacting to the biting, the bird is more likely to stop using it as a control method.

For husband: Carry your bird around to different rooms, which gives you even more control because they’re not used to the surroundings and become dependent on you to take care of them.

Always hold your bird below your own eye level. A bird at your eye level is a bird who thinks they can gain the upper hand (or upper perch).

Your daughter has incredible instincts! I’d approach our new additions (usually abused birds entering rescue/rehab) an hour or so after tucking them in for nighttime. Their cages are covered on all sides, leaving just ½ of the front uncovered so they can see out and feel secure. It also insures decent air circulation. The room light would be very dim, but not totally dark. Most birds have poor night vision, unless they’re nocturnal birds like owls and approaching them in total darkness is frightening to them.

At this time, whispering, putting a hand up against the cage and just holding it there is a start. Remember, keep it non-threatening and below their eye level.
When you notice them calmly stretching a wing and leg slowly out to the side and back, mimic the action with your own arm slowly stretching out to the side and softly stay engaged vocally (“what a good bird you are”, “that’s a pretty bird”, etc).
After just a few minutes of nice interaction, leave them be for their night and the next day use the same tone of voice and slow, calm movements around them.


Your next step, once you see that your companion is calm and accepting of your presence, would be to have physical interaction.

Open the cage door (as long as your bird is not panicking and will be safe if they escape, unable to get to places you cannot recover them from) and offer your finger/hand.
Once on your arm, start the whispering again. Have a conversation with the bird, tell them what you hope for and how he/she came to be the way they are. You would be amazed at how much these birds understand. It’s not so much the words as the tone and the fact that you’re taking the time to have this interaction.

If you cannot get your bird to cooperate right away with hands, remember, you’ve got years ahead of you – it’s worth it to do this right. Try just placing your hand in the cage for a minute and letting them get used to it being there. Having a treat in hand will help make your fingers a positive thing.

As she changes her mind about who is her hero at any given time, these options work for everyone as needed.