Pushing Limits, Testing Boundaries: Really?

As an adoption coordinator for Phoenix Landing, I help people navigate the challenges of living with parrots. I’ve learned a lot from families and birds over the years, and I’m still learning from the many people and parrots that I meet.

One of my goals is to give folks the tools to reduce the number of parrot bites.

People often make statements about their birds that, I must admit, baffle me.

“He’s just pushing the limits to see how much he can get away with.”
“She’s just testing boundaries, but she’ll soon learn who the boss is.”

To this I say, “Huh?”

The statements above are common ones when describing issues in child rearing. It’s natural for us to think of our birds as our children and to use our understanding of how to raise kids when we interact with parrots.

But birds aren’t children.

Birds are prey animals and we are predators.

Can you imagine a chicken testing boundaries with a fox, or a seal pushing the limits with a polar bear? How about seeing how far you can get with a mountain lion?

When a bird reacts by lunging, biting, or exhibiting body language that otherwise expresses discomfort, she is saying one thing, and one thing only: I am uncomfortable with this situation.

Please respect her clear communication, don’t force her to “toe the line,” and make trust building your top priority.

6 thoughts on “Pushing Limits, Testing Boundaries: Really?

  1. Great piece! I just loved the image of a chicken testing the limits with a fox…. although I do know a rooster who might just try that! Great information in a very tidy piece of writing… Well said Jenny.


  2. “She’s just testing boundaries, but she’ll soon learn who the boss is.”

    Oh, my. A human attempt to be boss? A human DARE to challenge his or her avian overlord? No, no, no. It’s all wrong. 😉

    Seriously, though, good piece.


  3. Exactly right, Jenny. We push their boundaries, which results in bites or other unwanted behavior. Anyone in PL who has lived with a mature male M2 knows they don’t test us. But with time they learn to trust us. It’s a fine line sometimes, but learning body language is the key.


  4. Good point! For the vast majority of birds, especially new pets or foster parrots, this is definitely the case. I do think, however, that once a bird accepts you into their flock there are times that they definitely push their boundaries. Our adopted bird will go after things he knows he shouldn’t be pursuing. And when we try to step him up away from it, he can get testy and give us little nips here and there. Definitely nothing like the bites bird owners talk about, however. He has bitten us full on when he was spooked in the past. Easy to tell the difference!


  5. Hi P.M, I respectfully disagree. Birds do not push boundaries. If a bird nips, the bird is uncomfortable with the situation (in this case, the step up, which is probably hurried as you want to move him away from the object. ) Nips can escalate quickly. If your bird is going after an object that is off limits, try offering a favorite treat or toy as a motivator for your parrot to step up — one that’s of more value to the bird than whatever object he shouldn’t get to. (That’s why I always have some cashew pieces in my pocket.) You can also do a little damage control prior to allowing the bird access to the area: Restrict the bird’s access to the object you don’t want him to mess with — for example, do not allow him on to counter/table top/where ever in the first place. If the bird is flighted and flies to get to an object, put the object away before the bird is allowed in the room.


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