Dealing With Fear Based Aggression: The What, The Why, The How

Dealing With Fear Based Aggression: The What, The Why, The How

What Is Fear Based Aggression?

Fear based aggression is a behaviour displayed by parrots when they experience something that makes them afraid, triggering their fight or flight response. This could be something trivial to us such as a new toy, bright colours or asking them to interact with you (Simi). It’s important we’re able to recognise the behaviour and identify its cause in order to address the behaviour. Common causes of fear based aggression include but are not limited to a change in environment, meeting new people, loud noises, presence of potential predators, feeling trapped/cornered, being handled, new toys, bright colours, flashing lights, new flock members etc. In short this can be anything that pushes them out of their comfort zone. 

It’s natural to then ask why do parrots display fear based aggression, in short they’re prey animals and aren’t fully domesticated. Parrots are naturally fearful and suspicious of new things and people in the same way a new pet rabbit would be. It takes time for them to build trust as that’s how they survive in the wild. This natural trait is sadly one of the main reasons so many parrots are re-homed as many of us aren’t equipped to deal with the fear based aggression that can come with their natural instinct to survive. 

How To Recognise Fear Based Aggression

Signs of aggression can vary slightly between species (some may raise their feathers while others flatten their feathers) and between individual parrots but some general indicators include:

  • Appearing generally uncomfortable or alert. 
  • Moving away from new/triggering things (people or objects)
  • Lunging (Stephens)
  • Biting
  • Fluffing the feathers up or flattening the feathers and standing tall in an attempt to look larger (Schwarz)
  • Eye pinning
  • Screaming (Henley)

It’s important to remember these indicators in context, for example some parrots will eye pin out of excitement but this is usually accompanied by dancing or vocalising. The main causes of aggression in parrots are fear or hormones/nesting. To tell the two apart, look for signs of nesting, consider the age of your parrot and time of year, most species experience hormones  around their equivalents of the “teenage years”. In smaller species this is usually around 2-5 years old and larger species tend to experience hormones around 4-8 years old. 

How To Overcome Fear Based Aggression

The easiest but arguably least helpful way to deal with fear based aggression is to remove whatever is causing fear, whether it be a new toy or you asking them to step up. This will immediately remove the trigger and the fear with it, but can be the least helpful for your parrot as it means they won’t overcome the fear. If your parrot is always afraid of new toys how can we enrich their life? Or if they’re always afraid of you, how can you interact or even feed them and clean their environment? Also the more your parrot is exposed to small stressful events the better equipped they will be to deal with larger stressful situations, such as moving house, flock additions etc. Instead we would recommend you desensitise your parrot to the trigger to reduce their stress response (fear) to the trigger. This can be done in a few ways and can be dependent on whether the trigger is a person or an object and how intense the fear is.

You can slowly desensitise them to an object, it may begin with only 10 seconds exposed to the object before it’s removed. You can slowly build it up until they’re comfortable in the presence of the object for extended periods of time. If your parrot is afraid of you the first method will not work as they need to be exposed to for longer periods of time for basic caregiving reasons. In this instance it’s important to respect their boundaries, and find when their fear begins. Are they only afraid when you try to interact or do they show signs of discomfort as soon as they see you? 

If they’re only afraid of you when you try to interact, be sure to interact in very small douses and build up that interaction over time. This may be just handing them a snack, asking them to do a trick for a snack or asking them to step up onto a perch for a snack. It’s all about building trust and not pushing their boundaries too much at once unnecessarily. Although if your parrot is fearful as soon as they see you and you’re their main caregiver you cannot slowly desensitise them to you as you need to be in their space to care for them. In this instance we would recommend you always reward them when you’re in their space, even if you leave a snack in a bowl and move away. This way you can slowly decrease the distance you need to be away for them to be comfortable and then begin to interact slowly. 

To summarise, when dealing with fear based aggression repetition and taking it at your parrot’s pace is key to building trust. You’ll learn where their boundaries are and how to gently push them. Be prepared for your setbacks and having to take a step back, it will happen but you can work through it, for the sake of your parrots wellbeing and your own. 

Works Cited

Henley, Elaine. “Managing Fear in Parrots.” Northern Parrots, 1 October 2021, Accessed 4 August 2022.

Schwarz, Dorothy. “Understanding your parrots body language – ExoticDirect.” Exotic Direct, 19 January 2018, Accessed 4 August 2022.

Simi, . “10 Potential Reasons Why Your Parrot Is So Scared – Beak Craze.” Beak Craze, 10 August 2019, Accessed 29 July 2022.

Stephens, Carrie. “Why Is My Parrot Getting So Aggressive? (Lunging, Biting + Attacking).” All About Parrots, 2022, Accessed 4 August 2022.

Written by Hannah Green