Does Your Parrot Love You?

Parrots are very self-serving creatures.  Mostly, they are in it for themselves.  We’d like to think they are appreciative for the new toys, the clean cage and the fabulous food, but they aren’t any more than a young child would be.  While they might enjoy and take advantage of all of these creature comforts, the fact is that they don’t really care how these things got there, just that they are there.  It is unrealistic for us to expect them to be grateful for what they’ve got.  However, they will let you know, loudly, if their needs are NOT being met.

Parrots have been known to switch their allegiance from one human to another seamlessly. An example would be of the owner that leaves her parrot with friends while she goes on vacation, only to come back to find the parrot had enjoyed his visit and would like to stay.  He backs this decision with a bite to the surprised woman.  Once home again, the parrot’s loyalties reverted back to his owner, implying that he loves whoever is caring for him at the time.  Bird owners will insist that the reason for this erratic behavior is the parrot’s response to your absence with feelings of betrayal.   You are receiving the cold shoulder.

Science suggests that feelings of  “love” don’t fit in with survival strategies.  In the wild, a parrot selects a mate based on it’s ability to produce healthy offspring, build nests and defend territory.  Many birds mate for life, but when a mate dies, they simply move on to another.  Humans do that too, after a period of mourning (usually).  The idea of a bird feeling grief is an elusive one.  It isn’t possible to scientifically prove that a bird suffers loss the way humans do.  I will say this:  for three weeks, I watched my cockatiels experience weight loss and become less vocal and active following the death of a flockmate.  It is my unconfirmed opinion that they were experiencing grief.

Wikipedia defines love as: “a strong positive emotion of regard and affection”.  Many times my parrots insist on coming out of their cage to be with me when there is no food present and no insistence that I cuddle them or engage in play.  They will sit quietly on my shoulder or on the arm of the chair preening themselves (and me) or chatting about whatever is on their minds.  I have to come to the conclusion that they just enjoy my company.

I try really hard not to place human characteristics on my birds (anthropomorphisizing).  I try very hard to let them be birds and to understand that some of the things they do would be considered naughty or unacceptable in a human, but are natural behaviors for a bird.  I read as much as I can about a bird’s wild nature to try to incorporate it into captive life, and I understand the valuable contribution science makes to this process.  But do our birds love us?  I am of the unscientific opinion that they do.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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