My seven month old Timneh grey hen has a new favorite passtime: biting the bars of her cage to make a monotonous “clink” noise that entertains her for hours. Literally.
Why do birds bite or chew their cage bars?
Often, bar chewing or biting is the result of boredom. It’s a way for them to entertain themselves in an unstimulating environment, or to cope with the stresses of a too-small cage. Sometimes, birds develop neurotic behavior, and they repeat the same functionless behaviors over and over again. Sometimes it’s just to get attention, or it may be a game.
We may never be able to get inside their heads and find out the exact cause, but we can examine their environment – their cage, cage placement, and toys – and taking a look at things like nutrition, enrichment, and training to figure out what may help them stop biting those bars.
Goose: A Case Study
My Timneh Goose has only been home for a few weeks and is in quarantine, so her cage is not as large as I would like, but it is sufficient for now. It’s stocked with a variety of toys – including wood, shreddable, leather, and foraging toys – and at least one of those toys is rotated out for a new one every day. She has no problem entertaining herself.
She has hiding spots, several different perches, and opportunities to retreat from the hustle and bustle of my busy home when needed. She eats a variety of different fresh and cooked foods, organic soy-free pellets, sprouts, and nuts, and is still offered one hand-fed meal each day. She goes in the shower with me at least every other day, and gets at least two hours out of her cage. She spends out of cage time either playing independently on one of two play stands, sitting on a shower perch stuck to a window in the kitchen, actively training with me, or just hanging out while I read (or, in this case, write.) She is also flighted and fairly well trained to fly to and from play stands, her cage, and me, on cue, so she gets a decent amount of physical exercise each day as well.
She has also been to the vet and has a clean bill of health.
So why is she chewing on the bars of her cage?
Since I’ve ruled out health issues, an inability to play independently, boredom, and stress, it leaves me with one option: when she bites or chews her cage bars, she gets attention (eventually) in the form of someone asking her to stop. Someone in the house will, after several minutes of hearing the irritating “clink..clink..clink” of her biting the cage bars, say her name, make eye contact, or otherwise call something to her from another room. And guess what? Whenever that happens, she stops immediately.
For Goose, contact with anyone in the house – especially me – is extremely rewarding, and we have inadvertantly rewarded her (a lot!) for chewing on the bars of her cage, and now we have to work towards un-training that behavior. S0 now, bar chewing behavior means that any human present in the room immediately leaves her line of sight, and remains out of sight and as silent as is possible until her bar chewing stops. When she is busy chewing on her toys and entertaining herself appropriately, she may get a “good girl, Goose!”, a special food treat, or a short visit for a scritch on the head.
So to recap…
- She chews her cage bars to get our attention.
- When we hear that tell-tale “clink”, we leave the room, stay out of her line of sight, stay as silent as possible, and stay that way until the “clink” stops. On our way out, we make a point not to say anything to her, and not to make eye contact.
- When the “clink” is absent for at least three seconds, we return to the room.
- If, when we return or while we are in the room, she is entertaining herself appropriately with a toy, she gets a “good girl!”, a food treat, or a scritch.
I suspect that we will see a significant decrease in bar-chewing behavior over the coming week!