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Dr. Pat
Dr. Pat, Avian Veterinarian
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 4244
Experience:  25 years as avian-only veterinarian
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I have a military macaw (male). He has been with me about 10

Customer Question

Hi, I have a military macaw (male). He has been with me about 10 years and he is about 12 years old. From time to time he bites unexpectedly and draws blood... more like attacks in 2 places (on my body) each time. I have become scared of him and handle him less which I know is not helping his mood. My question is: once a macaw does this, even with training is there always the possibility he will do it again? And also, would a macaw be happier with a person he is attached to (but won't handle him) or with other macaws? I truly want to do right by him. I will keep him if that is the right thing, or I will put him with other macaws if that would make him a happier bird. He does seem lonely... always cuddling with a towel on the ground of his aviary... thank you so much for your reply.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 1 year ago.

​Greetings, I am Dr. Pat. I have worked with birds exclusively for many years.​

I think that you have plenty to work with here, Jake is certainly not a lost cause.

First, you will have to find out what in your behavior upsets him so. In his mind he is 100% justified in punishing you. They are complicated beings and have had 65 million years to evolve very complex and beyond-human-like psychology and emotional development. It is not easy and not fun (and maybe not so fun learning about yourself--I speak from experience) but is ultimately rewarding is a deeply meaningful way. And at worst, like some human relationships, at some point you may have to part ways. BUT don't give up yet. This is not a one-question internet fix--so be prepared.

I highly recommend a behavior counselor. It really works and can work very fast in most cases. seek behavioral counseling IN PERSON, family members and bird. There are some very serious issues developing here, and your or the family reactions are inappropriate. This is not an easy set of problems to correct, and the humans are mainly at fault and therefore the ones most in need of behavior modification. I always have the entire family plus bird come in for at least an hour-long consult; it is much easier to do in person and evaluate everyone's non-verbal relationships. So online I can only give general suggestions and urge that you seek proper consult at home. There are a number of people who do this, but you may have to call around and check with a number of avian-experienced vets to find a reputable behavior person.

​great resource link, with a LOT of behavior information:​

an excellent source:

Online you can check to see if this is available; it has some practical solutions to common behavioral problems. There are a number of "Idiots Guide to..." books and the parrot or cockatiels do have some good insights.

There have been a lot of positive reports about target training, and it is easy and fun to teach your macaw the basics. It helps give your bird some purpose in life and redirects the high-octane energy and demands.I urge again that you have hands-on teaching sessions, anything on behavior over the internet is not going to be as successful. Most avian vets have references for your local area.

He is in the height of puberty/hormonal activity, similar to a human of equal age. So this makes him moody and confused and angry and frustrated. Of course this gains bad attention, so the cycle worsens. Like humans, they can get through this stage of life IF the bad behaviors are not exacerbated or misunderstood. And the appropriate responses are given. He doesn't know whether he is offspring, mate, or rival. Parrots are flock animals and are NEVER alone in the wild, and their friends, siblings, parents and other adults do not tolerate bad behavior. In a loving human family, he does not have that variety of input. He no longer trusts his people and is acting out. He is partly a bratty teenager and partly lovesick. And you are not acting like a normal macaw.

He needs to learn to entertain himself and to have more self-esteem. That means you are going to have to give him even more attention, but in a different way than in the past.

First the bird needs to have a complete check up and health screen. There may actually be a real physical reason for biting.

Then strict 12-14 hours DARK QUIET UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP AT NIGHT. Sleep deprivation leads to bad behavior, anxiety and physical problems.

The bird needs proper diet. See below for guidelines. Junk food can contribute to hormonal flux and depression and aggression.

He needs something to do with his mind. You can read children's books to him, point out the pictures, show him garden catalogs, teach him to count, anything to make him educated. He needs to learn to play by himself with the assurance that he has not been left out or left behind.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to train yourself first and see the world through his eyes. Militaries are really good birds, and he can be one again.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Well, I believe this time the attack was because I just got a new puppy. He is jealous. The puppy was not around when it happened however. I appreciate the rescources and I will look into them. I still would love to have your feedback on my questions... 1) Once a bird attacks like that, even if trained, is it a risk he will do it again? (Its really scary and traumatic when it happens and I am afraid that one of these times he could actually disfigure my face) He lulls me in to this relationship time and again just to attack me again. 2) Are macaws ultimately happier with people or other macaws? (I have a nice place for him if the answer is the latter). Please understand I LOVE this guy and just want to do the best thing for him as well as keep myself safe. And would love to talk with you on the phone if it is included in the $36. Thank you so much. Kari
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
My ph.#:(###) ###-####Hawaii time.
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 1 year ago.

Sorry, the phone is not an option for where I am located.

You have to see if from his point of view: no one asked him about a new puppy. I discourage dogs and birds together in a household, there will be tragedy. If you are committed to a dog, then best to find the macaw a new home. I think you have already made that decision. And it will entail guilt on your part that you will have to deal with. If you are frightened of him, then best let him go. BUT he needs to be with an experienced person. He deserves at least a chance in life. If you love him, you will work at this, and not just to someone "who wants a macaw". I get very upset about this, because people unprepared for a lifetime commitment with a demanding bird pass these intelligent souls from home to home--I have seen this so many times--and it is not fair to the bird.

1) Once a bird attacks like that, even if trained, is it a risk he will do it again?

If the same human behavior elicits it, yes. If you train yourself not to elicit it, probably not. No one working with birds will give you a guarantee on this. If he is not near your face, he will not bite your face. And you can change your behavior to alter that possibility.

2) Are macaws ultimately happier with people or other macaws?

They are happiest with who they love. No way to answer this. They are complex beings and do not fit into categories.

There are some great bird vets and parrot rescues in Hawaii. I suggest you speak with several of them before you make your decision. They may be able to objectively assess the situation and also offer viable alternatives.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I understand your anger at people who buy macaws and don't do the research as to what they are getting themselves into.
I don't agree with this "trade" at all. They should all be flying free in nature. Jake flew into my yard 10 years ago, emaciated.
I never wanted a macaw. I put a lost/found ad in the paper that no one responded to. I immediately found him a new home. Two days later he was returned because he was very sick. It took me months and $800 in vet bills to get him back to health. I didn't know if he was coming or going... thus started our relationship/bond. I built him a big aviary and fed him only organic food. I did not know that they don't get along with dogs. My last dog died 7 months ago. She is the one who found Jake in the yard and ran to tell me about it. They were buddies until Jake started getting more jealous/biting. So maybe the dog issue has been the culprit all along. I didn't put it together until now. I will talk to more specialists in my area for sure. Thank you. Kari
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 1 year ago.

That is a very heartwarming story and explains a lot of the situation. I wish I had known that before passing judgement. I apologize.

I see so many very bad situations that I have to assume the worst. My own birds were previous "problem" parrots.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you. I appreciate your reply. I am still very torn. I'm sure I've used up my $36 worth of advise by now, but one last thing if you don't mind?
I have been unable to get his claws clipped because I'm afraid of getting bit putting him in a carrier. So I bought a perch that would help with trimming but I can't put that up either because he would bite me. It feels out of control like I can't take proper care of him. Even when I had no dog for the 7 months. Do the nails have to be clipped? (They are very long). Thanks so much.
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 1 year ago.

Yes they need to be trimmed. The perches do not work anyway.

You might see if

a) there is a mobile vet that can come to you

b) a parrot rescue group that could come help do nail trim and show you how to handle him

c) see if there is someone to coach you in target training, one of the uses is to load them in carriers of their own free will

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you Dr. Pat. I will try these things. Kari
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your help.
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 1 year ago.

Good luck and let me know what happens. Thank you.