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Amazon Aggression

Expert Question

hi my name is melanie and i live in the algarve in portugal i have rehomed an amazon who is about 30yrs old he lives in the avairy with my macaw and my newly rehomed cockatoo. the avairy is a steel framed structure built around a tree and the flight is about 9 metres long so they have a lot of space the amazon has been treated bad in the past and hates humans when i walk into the avairy he flies and attacks me i have overcome this by training him to fly into a cage when i enter it has been a great result. the birds love to be in the sunshine play and swing on the ropes and have great fun together. this morning the amazon attacked the cockatoo because he couldn't attack me it was bad i had to separate them my cockatoo is the sweetest bird and sometimes seems vunerable i have another avairy which is 12ft long and i can put the amazon in there but i am worried he will be alone and miss out on the fun i want to do what s best for them all do you have any advice for me thank you mel

Expert Answer

Hello Melanie!  My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc.  I recently received your question about your new Amazon and his interaction with your other birds, and I'd be happy to offer my advice.

First off, I'd like to thank you for seeking advice on the care of your companion parrots.  It sounds like you have several large and enriching enclosures for your birds, and the fact that you are looking to do what’s best for all your parrots in regards to the aggression that you've seen shows that you are a caring and responsible companion parrot owner.

The kind of aggression that you've described from your Amazon is what is known as "redirected aggression."  An animal cannot take out its aggression on the target of its frustration (you), and therefore redirects it to another object in its environment (your cockatoo).  I'm happy to hear that you separated the birds, as we've found that a bird that practices aggression only gets better at it, and it's possible that the aggression between the Amazon and the cockatoo may have just gotten worse and worse.

As for what is best for all of your birds, you need to take into consideration both their health and their safety.  From a safety standpoint, I think it is probably best to keep your Amazon separated from the other birds at this point.  Even though they are in a very large aviary, if the Amazon decides to pursue aggressive behaviors towards your other birds, they only have so much room until they cannot avoid it any longer.  This may in turn lead to defensive aggression on the part of your other birds, and you may soon find yourself with three aggressive birds instead of one!

As for the mental wellbeing of your birds, I think all three would be just fine with the Amazon separated from the other two.  At 12 feet in length, this second aviary that you have is far larger than the enclosures that most companion parrot owners are able to provide for their birds, and if it is filled with toys, perches, and other enrichment items, then your Amazon's new environment should provide a fun and stimulating environment.  Many people think that companion parrots have to be housed in pairs or groups for them to be happy, but some parrots prefer to have an environment that is all their own over which they have control and free reign.  Keeping your Amazon in this new, enriching environment also has the added benefit of keeping your cockatoo and macaw in a separate environment where they feel safe, happy, and secure, which I know is of equal concern to you as well.  This may be more comfortable for the two of them as parrots generally pair off when in groups, thus creating a situation where your Amazon might be the "odd man out."

The biggest thing that I think will ultimately end up benefiting all the parrots you own is to try to build a more positive relationship between yourself and your Amazon parrot.  No matter how aversive the bird's relationship with humans has been in the past, each and every day is a chance for him to start over, because animals live in the here and now.  If you have taught your Amazon to fly into a separate cage so that you can enter his enclosure, then you've already proven that you are a skillful trainer, and I would utilize this skill to try to build up your history of positive interactions with your Amazon outside of his cage.  By offering him treats and attention from outside of his cage when he is playing, sitting calmly, or displaying other desirable behaviors, you strengthen the positive bond between the bird and yourself.  A good way to go about this is to take whatever your Amazon's favorite treat is (maybe a particular seed, nut, or type of fruit) and save it so that he only gets it from you, given by hand either to him or into a bowl in his cage, when you want to reinforce him for performing behaviors that you like -- making sure this treat is something he doesn't get everyday along with the rest of his diet gives that treat special value, and will help your bird to more quickly the distinguish the behaviors that you like from anything else he might be doing.  When he realizes what it is that he has to do to get this favored item, chances are you'll start seeing these desirable behaviors a lot more frequently!

Another great way to strengthen this bond is to teach your bird other behaviors from outside of his cage.  Training behaviors from outside the cage (or, in this case, from outside the aviary) is one of the best ways that you can both mentally stimulate and increase your positive history with your bird, and what you can train him is only limited by the bird's physical capabilities and your own imagination.  You might want to consider training him behaviors that will help you to be able to work with and manage your birds' care in the future, such as being able to call him to different perches around the aviary or to "station" (what we call it when we teach an animal to sit/hold still in a particular place and stay there) on a particular perch where you'd like him to be.  The possibilities really are limitless!

At the same time that you are working to reinforce behaviors from your Amazon that you like, you should try to take yourself out of his environment if he is exhibiting undesirable behaviors such as screaming, biting, or lunging at the cage walls, or if he is displaying body language that suggests that he is uncomfortable with your presence.  Some signs of an uncomfortable Amazon that we've seen in the past include slicked down body feathers, alarm calling, pupils that are rapidly expanding and contracting, and tail feathers that are spread out in the shape of a fan.  If your bird begins to display these behaviors when you approach his aviary, he is uncomfortable with having you approach him at that time, and you should simply walk away and try again later.

Over time, your positive interactions with your bird may lead to a relationship that might allow you to go into the Amazon's aviary without having to have him fly into a separate cage first.  Given time, you may even be able to try to reintroduce your Amazon to the larger aviary, perhaps by first letting him spend time (maybe in a smaller cage, if you have one) just outside the large aviary to see how the birds all react to each other.  At the same time that you are working on teaching your Amazon new behaviors in his enclosure, it may also be beneficial for you to work on training your cockatoo and macaw to "station" on different perches in their aviary as well.  Giving them a job to do will give them something to focus on other than the Amazon, and you might even consider training the two of them to fly into different cages within their enclosure so that you can bring your Amazon into the larger aviary alone and train him to station on his own perch as well.  Strong stationing behaviors are important for the management of animals in groups, and can help you to calm things down if you see aggression flare up amongst them in the future.  Note that it is important during this process to notice and be ready to avoid any patterns that you see amongst your birds that might potentially lead to aggressive behavior, and to try to notice whether that aggression is something that only occurs when you are around the birds.  If the cause of the aggression between your birds was the relationship you have with your Amazon, then first building a strong, positive relationship with that bird will be a huge first step towards your three birds having strong, positive, and rewarding bonds between the three of them.

We hope that your relationship with your birds continues to grow, and that the advice we've provided helps to build your levels of skill, sensitivity, and enjoyment of your birds for many years to come.  If you are interested in learning more about the care and behavior of companion parrots, please check out our website at, which features a variety of papers and articles on the training, enrichment, and behavior of companion parrots.  If you are interested in a more hands-on approach to learning about the care, training, and enrichment of your parrots, you may also want to consider attending one of our Companion Parrot Owner Workshops.  Held at the Natural Encounters Training Facility in Winter Haven, FL, this 6-day lecture and hands-on training workshop teaches the principals and applications of the art and science of using positive reinforcement techniques in working with companion parrots.  Our president, Steve Martin, teaches the lecture portion of the workshop himself, while outside the classroom participants work with our Senior Trainers and other parrot owners to apply the information covered to a wide variety of parrot species.  Space in these workshops is limited and they usually fill to capacity quite quickly.  More information can be found on our website,, or by calling 407-938-0847.

Best of luck, and we look forward to hearing about your future successes!


Chris Jenkins
Natural Encounters, Inc

Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., ( a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization.