Q: My bird and I get along great, but he doesn’t like it when I touch him. What am I doing wrong?
Eli F., Wilmington City, DE
A: All of us have gotten our parrots with the hope that they be cuddly and physically affectionate. Heaven knows that is the huge attraction with some of the cockatoo species. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
When you think about it, it’s hard to believe that a bird, a small prey animal, could ever be trusting enough that it would invite a large predator to envelop it in their arms. In the wild, that is ALWAYS a bad thing. It shows a HUGE amount of confidence and trust that most birds allow it.
Sometimes, however, we come across a species or an individual parrot that wishes to have limited physical interaction with its owner. Some with parrots in the psittacula family (Indian and African ringnecks, the alexandrine, moustache parakeet, to name a few) might find this to be the case.
Sometimes rescues birds develop objections to physical contact because of past experience, and many birds that wind up in sanctuaries are there because they are unsuitable for adoption into most homes. They are allowed to live out their lives with a flock of their own species with the limited human contact they prefer.
Whatever reason a bird may have have that it doesn’t like to be touched by its owner, it must be respected. There are plenty of human beings walking around who would prefer that people not enter their personal space, let alone actually touch them – strangers or otherwise. This is usually indicated through body language – perhaps they step back when we get too close. We abide by their wishes and accept that this is their way. It should be no different with a bird.
Many hands-off birds are quite willing to step onto the hand of the trusted owner and be transported once shown respectfulness with hands. Many will perch on the shoulder or allow their owner to preen their head. But anything more and they disappear.
There are many ways to interact with a parrot who does not care to be handled. Most thrive with training. It is the perfect way to have a one on one experience that doesn’t involve touch. A game of catch or dancing together to a favorite song are ways to keep your and your independent bird bonded.
Don’t feel bad that you have one of these birds. It is not in any way a reflection on the relationship you share. He might simply feel more confident without the restriction of human hands and you must be respectful of that and never force the issue. Otherwise, a resisitance to handling can turn into a fear of hands and put your relationship on shaky ground.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.