Just as it is our responsibility to feed our birds properly and keep them physically fit and mentally enriched, we must see that our birds are willing to interact with all people in a variety of different circumstances.
There are several good reasons to keep your bird well socialized, here are four:
1) One of the most common complaints people have about their birds, and one that often lands them in a rescue, is that the bird is closely bonded with only one individual in the household.
This bird sometimes regards their preferred person as a mate and will stake its claim by fending off any other family member. This can result in biting, and sometimes a bird will even leave a favorite shoulder to attack someone who draws too near.
The one person bird is unfriendly and sometimes dangerous to have around. As the owner, you must involve all family members in the bird’s care and playtime to see that this type of singular attachment does not happen.
2) There are times when we will find it necessary to board our birds whether it be for business or vacation travel, or an out-of-town family emergency.
Think how uncomfortable this experience could be for a bird that is not comfortable with all humans. When a boarder takes in a bird that threatens to bite out of fear or anger, it is unlikely this bird will see much out of cage time while you are away.
It is unreasonable to expect that the bird and the temporary caregiver will interact in any meaningful way. Take your bird out with you often. Introduce him to many new people, places and events. Reward him for stepping nicely onto a strangers arm.
3) Aside from instances of illness or injury, you should be taking your bird to the vet yearly for a well-bird examination, an avian version of an annual check-up. Most birds are at least somewhat uncomfortable with these visits, with all the poking, prodding and man-handling they are subjected to from their point of view. But they should be trained to tolerate it.
I was sitting in the waiting room at the vet’s office one time when I heard the unbearable sound of a macaw’s screeching in fear and panic. A lady’s poorly socialized blue and gold had reached its threshold of tolerance to the situation and bit her badly on the wrist. The bird had to be restrained for the examination and subsequently needed fluids administered while it recuperated from the ordeal. This made the event even longer and more invasive than it needed to be.
A bird that is comfortable with the touch of humans other than their own family members will find this experience to be a less stressful one. Now, I don’t mean that you should let strangers get reaalllly hands on with your bird. This will make most birds uncomfortable, and perhaps cause them to mistrust a stranger’s intentions in the future (unless you have a cockatoo, who will graciously lift his wings and invite anyone and everyone to experience his fabulousness.) See that your bird allows you to touch it anywhere, and accepts the appropriate touch of strangers.
4) We don’t usually consider the need to keep our birds people friendly in the event of an escape or fly off. But, in actuality, this is a most reassuring time to know your bird is well socialized.
When a bird flies away from it’s home, it tends to ascend into the trees. From this vantage point, nothing is familiar as it does not recognize the top of your house. In fear and confusion, your parrot may fly further away trying to find something that it recognizes, or a place where it feels safe.
One thing that might help with the return of your bird is how comfortable it is in approaching an unknown human. Some well socialized lost birds will make their presence known to a human and allow themselves to be coaxed out of a tree with food. Others will step up willingly. Some land directly onto the shoulders of surprised passersby. It happens all the time.
Please read this article that appeared in a local paper in New York. The socialization skills of this bird’s owners was the key element in getting their much missed amazon back safely.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.