In most wild species, birds display dominance within the flock to determine their place or roll within that flock. Males display and vocalize to win their choice of female. The term “pecking order” comes from natural bird behavior. Dominant behavior is natural and expected in the wild. We must be cautious, as humans, not to project our sense of right and wrong onto our feathered companions.
Similar to birds that still live in the wild, your bird may be only a few generations removed from the wild and will display natural behavior tendencies. Understanding these basic characteristics helps you understand how to interact with your bird and creates a happier flock experience for all.
The Lunging or Biting Bird
One must be cautious to label “bad” behavior as dominant behavior. Lunging and biting are most often caused by fear. Changing a bird’s environment too drastically such as cage placement, a new cage, rearranging the furniture in a room or even something as simple as changing the drapery on the window next to their cage can cause even a friendly bird to become seemingly aggressive. It is important to consider environmental changes before labeling your bird’s behavior as dominant. Typical dominant behavior that manifests itself as biting or lunging would be a bird that loves to sit only on your shoulder and bites you when you attempt to remove them. Protecting a favorite person or place in your home by lunging or biting at others who happen to come too close would also be correctly labeled as dominant behavior.
The Bully Bird
You may have a situation where you keep more than one bird in a cage. If you have a flock that works well together you will be able to tell who the dominant male is but it will not adversely affect your flock. If you have a dominant male that is a bully, you may observe him forcing other birds off of their perch or guarding a food dish and not letting anyone else eat from it. In worst-case scenarios, your bully will single out a victim and force that bird to dwell at the bottom of the cage or even injure and possibly kill this weaker bird. If you have a dominant bully, it is best to remove him from the cage and keep him in a cage by himself or with his mate.
The Anti-Social Bird
As much as you try your bird has no interest in becoming your friend. This bird often flutters around its cage to avoid your hand or takes to flight to escape your reach. I find this behavior often typical of a bird with unclipped wings. There are people who keep birds that believe it is cruel to clip a bird’s wings. I will cover this topic in depth at a later time but here will touch on effects not clipping your bird’s wings has on dominance. By the very act of keeping a bird as a pet, you are choosing to take this wonderful winged creature and transform it into your friend or companion. If you take this action, it changes the purpose of the animal. If you allow your bird to retain the ability of flight, you are permitting your bird to escape your reach and do whatever it wants. This may be fine, if you want a wild bird as a pet. However, if you want a friendly bird, you want a bird dependent on you, a bird that does not fly away just because it wants to.
For a well-mannered bird, keep the flock mentality where you are the dominant bird. If you want a bird that respects you, you must maintain dominance. This is not achieved by cruel discipline. Observe your bird and be consistent with your expectations and interaction within your flock. Do not allow unacceptable dominant behavior to take root in your avian friend.