How Height Plays a Role in Avian Aggression

A Parrot That is Perched Above You is in a Dominant Position

Photo: Double Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot
Photo: Double Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot | Source

Height and Aggressive Tendencies in the Companion Parrot

Height is a key element in a parrot's environment--one that can contribute to aggressive tendencies in the companion parrot.

Many parrots spend much of their time viewing the world around them from a dominant position. This can lead to aggressive behavior, such as lunging and/or biting.

The height at which a parrot interacts with those around it will influence how the bird responds to adults, children and other pets in the household.

Parrots seek to establish pecking order, even when part of their human "flock" and height plays a key role in how they will interact with those they come into contact with.

At times, owners unwittingly contribute to avian aggression by constructing stands or tree perches with perching spots high up. While it is ideal to give a parrot lots of room and multiple branches to climb on, care should be taken so that any stand or perch does not allow the bird to be in a position that is higher than its humans.

Cage Height and Avian Aggression

If the parrot is large it may be housed in an equally large and roomy cage that, by its very design, may contribute to avian aggression. The perches inside the cage may be placed at the mid-to-upper level or the cage may include an external perch on its very top.

Unfortunately, from these high positions, the bird may reinforce its perceived dominance over lower "creatures" in its environment, biting at those who come up to the cage or who walk by it. The parrot may reach down and bite at an outstretched hand from someone in a subordinate position.

Fortunately, most modern larger parrot cages are designed so that they can be shortened. This can be facilitated by lowering the legs or actually removing them.

Homemade cages also present problems because most owners try to make these as large as possible. While it is important to give a parrot plenty of room, careful consideration should be given to the actual height of the perches placed inside the cage.

In sum: provide a roomy environment but one that fosters peaceful coexistence.

Perches Positioned High Up Are a No-No if You Want a Well-Behaved Parrot

Photo: Macaw in Large Cage
Photo: Macaw in Large Cage | Source

Walter's Story

Walter was a beautiful large macaw who had been with his owner for 25 years. The owner lovingly built Walter a huge outdoor cage. When Walter became increasingly aggressive, I was called in to do a consult to see if we could pinpoint the trouble.

I recommended to the owner that he lower the perches inside the cage so that Walter would no longer be positioned above his owner's head, rather, that the perches be placed so that Walter had to look up at him.

The owner did not listen and Walter became so aggressive that the owner eventually gave Walter away. This could have been avoided had the owner had been willing to make adjustments.

My Parrot, Muggles, Eagerly Steps up onto a Hand

Photo: Parrot Steps Up. Human is above parrot, so that bird is in a lower position.
Photo: Parrot Steps Up. Human is above parrot, so that bird is in a lower position. | Source

Step-Ups and Parrot Height

Height factors are also relevant in relation to step-ups.

Bites can be avoided by paying attention to body position before requesting that a parrot steps onto a hand.

  • Owners should ensure that they are in a higher position before telling the parrot to step up. Never reach up from below a psitticine and direct it to step up. If you have to, stand up first before instructing it to step onto your hand.
  • This same methodology should be implemented when passing a parrot to another family member.

Displaced Aggression

I knew a fellow who owned a big macaw. He allowed the bird to sit on his shoulder, without incident ... until, one day, someone approached him--and his parrot reached over and bit off a chunk of the owner's ear!

As he was telling me about this, and saying he couldn't understand why his bird had done this to him, the first thing I asked was, "Did someone approach or come up close to you, while the bird was still perched on your shoulder?" He looked surprised and said, "Yes, as a matter of fact."

Shoulder Time and Overt or Displaced Aggression

Most parrots will try to creep up an arm and gain a spot on a shoulder or even on top of a head--but again, this is a dominant position.

Many owners know this but "cheat" a little. This is easy to do because of the bonds that are forged between human and bird.

A larger hook-bill should never be allowed shoulder time, a position where significant injury could be inflicted to a human or to someone who approaches. As the bird reaches maturity, the potential for shoulder aggression escalates.

  • Overt aggression may be directed to anyone who approaches
  • Displaced aggression may directed toward the shoulder human

Pecking Order

A parrot will try to establish its place in the pecking order in relation to its human flock. The onus is on the owner to foster peaceful coexistence with a companion parrot by understanding the significance of height factors and how these play a role in development of avian aggression.

Each year, many parrots are given away or turned into shelters because owners, while meaning well, do not invest the time to learn how to combat avian aggression. With proper care and handling, a parrot can become a delightful member of the family for many years.

Aggression in Companion Parrots

Certainly, aggression in a companion parrot may have more than one cause and height may only be one of many factors that are contributing to undesirable behaviors. Peaceful coexistence is possible with a companion parrot when causes of aggression are addressed and dealt with.

* Author's note: Avian behaviorism is a relatively newer and evolving field and as such, theories change as to what constitutes the "why" behind certain types of avian behavior. In recent years, there have been conflicting theories about height and whether it is a factor in avian aggression. Having worked with different species of parrots, and noticing a remarkable difference in their aggression levels, depending on where we both were positioned, I stand by my recommendations about height and how it can be a factor in aggression in psitticines.


  • Blanchard, Sally, The Beak Book: Understanding, Preventing, and Solving Aggression and Biting Behaviors in Companion Parrots, Companion Parrot Behavioral Solution Series: Volume I, PBIC Inc, 2002
  • Athan, Mattie Sue, Guide to a Well Behaved Parrot, Barron's Educational Series Inc. 1993

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© 2013 Athlyn Green

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Comments 3 comments

Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 2 years ago from West Kootenays Author

I see from your profile that you look after dogs. What are your credentials, as it relates to avian behavior? I have owned four parrots and rehabilitated two who had come from abusive backgrounds and had aggression problems. I've contributed articles to avian publications and have served in the capacity of an avian behavioral consultant.

Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 2 years ago from West Kootenays Author

Hi DrMark, I find it interesting that you misread what I had written. Where do you feel that I advocated putting a parrot so low that it would become "aggressive and neurotic"? The point I was making, and that I'm sure most would have understood from this article, was to lower a parrot from a dominant position, which can help to reduce aggression and is a protection to owners.

Huh! All of the avian behavioral consultants and specialists must be wrong about height and aggression, if your comments are to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

This is certainly an interesting theory. One statement you made was "The height at which a parrot interacts with those around it will influence how the bird responds to adults, children and other pets in the household."

Yes, that is true. The way to make a parrot aggressive and neurotic is to lower his cage so that he no longer is high enough to feel secure.

Good thing all of those hundreds of parrots that visit me every week have not been able to read this article.

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    Athlyn Green profile image

    Athlyn Green885 Followers
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    Athlyn has shared her life with four parrots, written articles for avian publications, and has helped others with parrot behavioral issues.

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