Q: My wife and I have a eight month old baby and a 7 year old african grey. My grey clearly dislikes the baby and acts aggressively when they are in the same room together. Why?
-Ben G., Santa Ana, CA
A: Every bird will certainly notice the squirmy new baby you have brought home, but their reaction to them will vary from bird to bird. There are a few different ways of looking at it from a bird’s perspective:
The INTERESTED bird:
A new baby brings a lot of new sights, sounds and smells. Many birds will welcome the changes and enjoy the opportunity to experience these new things right alongside the family. If things were getting dull for the bird, the days sure aren’t boring now. Your bird is wonderfully inquisitive and secure. He is happy to go with the flow.
The DISGUSTED bird:
The very same things that the interested bird loves, the disgusted bird will find fault with. He may be the bird that liked things just fine as they were, and is a bit intolerant of change. He may continually voice his opinions about his dislike of the new situation and may grow to be unable to accept the changes or the child.
The JEALOUS bird:
Just about any bird has the potential to become jealous, and African greys can be a bit more sensitive than some other species of parrot. Is your bird’s jealousy justifiable? Has he been put on the back burner to watch the new baby get all the attention? If this is the case, then it is understandable that he is angry. He might turn his back to you, scream, bite or just simply not wish to be your friend anymore. All the while, he is growing more and more resentful of the new baby because none of these feelings existed before it arrived, so surely it is the baby’s fault.
I don’t think anyone bringing home their first baby is really fully aware of the huge and awesome responsibility they have taken on. I know I was clueless. A new baby can take up every spare second and ounce of energy you have, leaving little for the parrot who was once the center attention. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad. It’s just a fact of life. Things are never the same once the baby comes, but it can be particularly hard on a bird that is used to being the baby, or is insecure or unadaptable to begin with.
Here are some tips on how to make the arrival of a new baby an easier experience for your bird:
- When you are about five months pregnant, start talking to your bird about the changes that are coming. He won’t have any idea what you are saying, but will know that you are trying to communicate something to him and his attention will be piqued.
- Buy a stuffed animal that will represent the baby for a time. Let him watch you put together the crib and place the stuffed animal in it. Carry the stuffed animal around with you like you would a baby. Put it in the baby swing in the living room. Pretend to burp it etc., all in view of the parrot. Watch his reactions to the stuffed animal. It is during this time that he will learn that sharing you does not have to be a negative thing, as long as you continue to make him feel like he is important. He will make the connection when the real baby moves in.
- After you bring the baby home, try not to let him get lost in all the excitement. Make it a point to deliver a favorite snack to him with enthusiasm while he is in the cage. And when the baby goes down for a nap or the night, try to make this a special bonding time for you and your parrot. Small efforts in this area will go a long way. Short times out of the cage may be enough at the beginning, while everyone is making the adjustment. Perhaps 5 or 10 minutes out of cage, several times a day, will keep him feeling like he’s still a part of the family for the time being.
- I don’t recommend that you send the parrot away for boarding just before you bring the new baby home. Imagine how awful it would feel to be sent away only to return to find your home is forever changed. In the future, you may find that boarding your bird is problematic as he may believe that something unwanted awaits him when he is to arrive back home. Give him the opportunity to handle this experience gracefully. If he he does well, boarding can be a consideration for future babies.
- DO NOT try to introduce your parrot to the new baby. Your parrot can seriously injure an infant before you can react to stop it. Even a small child can receive a terrible bite just for the crime of being a child. It is NOT worth the risk.
Be watchful of your bird’s feelings and reactions and make the necessary adjustments to your schedule to fit him in. If you don’t handle this with finesse, it could result in having to make the decision to re-home him when he is unable to cope with the changes and becomes difficult to live with.
I think it’s safe to say that a single bird suffers the most. Birds that have established companionship with other birds has them to fall back on. This doesn’t mean your relationship with the bird won’t suffer if he feels you have done him wrong. Your bird, who has been your faithful friend, deserves your best. Always.
Birds and babies can live happily ever after.
Children who grow up with animals and birds have a deeper understand and love for nature. It’s a wonderful experience to dearly love something that is completely different than yourself. There are stories out there about parrots saving the lives of toddlers in trouble in very creative ways. Children and parrots do not have to be like oil and water, and as long as the conscientious owner puts forth the effort and sends the right messages they can have a beautiful, profound relationship.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.