In the world of parrot ownership, we use the word “bonding” a lot. By definition, bonding means to “establish a relationship with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences” but we parrot lovers know that it means much more than that.
The level of bonding we share with our parrots speaks to the amount of trust we have earned. It is the thing that allows our parrots to forgive us for the mistakes we make (as long as they aren’t too frequent or severe). Bonding is evident every time they cuddle up against our bodies and fall fast asleep without reservation. Bonding is the goal we aim for with our parrots.
Many people are reluctant to rehome or rescue a bird because of the presumption that they have lost the window of opportunity for bonding. They feel that either the bird already has been bonded to another person and are incapable of transferring that relationship to them or that they will have been so damaged by the loss of that bond with their original owner that they will forever be regarded as nothing more than a caregiver from the bird’s point of view.
Many people believe that real bonds can only be forged while a bird is young, sometimes very young, which leads many new bird owners to insist on purchasing an un-weaned baby that has not yet “fallen in love” with the human that is hand feeding it. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous breeders who readily agree to hand off a hand feeding bird to an inexperienced person without explaining the dangers.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that neither of these scenarios have any bearing at all on a bird’s willingness to form a lasting bond with you. Bonding has nothing to do with age or imprinting. And many birds have shown the ability to form close relationships with several human during the course of their lives.
In the case of a baby bird, it is actually beneficial to have as many people as possible involved in its rearing. A well socialized bird that trusts humans in general increases the likelihood that bonding with you, and the other members of your household, will happen easily.
With a rescued or rehomed bird that has had bad experiences with humans in the past, as is sometimes the case, you will have to work a little harder and show a bit more patience and understanding in the quest to earn trust. I speak from experience, though, when I say that the hard earned relationship that your efforts will produce with this bird will make the prize so much sweeter. Even the bird with a rocky past can be won over, if YOU are up to the task.
Struggling with bonding
The major defining force in the bonding process is experience. There are two kinds of experience that can impact success in bonding:
- Bad experience with humans: If a bird has had enough negative incidents with people in its past he will understandably be reluctant to trust you. This is sometimes the case with rescued birds. Some rehomed birds who had great relationships with former owners may suffer from feeling of abandonment, which will have to be undone, but birds that have loved humans in the past learn to love again in the future in most cases.
- Lack of positive experience with humans: Some pet store birds arrive in their new homes with this predicament. Many have had almost no handling and, therefore, no real experience with humans from which to make an evaluation. They can be reticent to trust until they have enough positive interactions that say that you can be trusted.
Perhaps the worst experience of all is when established trust is broken. This usually manifests in behavioral problems like screaming or biting – your bird’s way of telling you that things are not as they should be or as they used to be.
This is particularly frustrating to both the parrots and their owners. Emotions run high on both ends with feelings of betrayal. The bird is feeling disrespected by some perceived injustice, and from the owner’s perspective, a bite has left them feeling as if their bird has inexplicably turned on them.
Usually, in the course of the confusion, the source of the problem is overlooked. Owners will do well to try to understand that biting and screaming are not the actions of bad birds who wish to make their owners miserable, but are, in fact, their bird’s only viable form of communication.
Birds communicate mainly through body language – something that humans are not very good at reading. When that fails to make clear that something is not right, what other means does a bird have to drive home a point? Biting or screaming is all they are left with.
When your normally well-behaved bird is acting out in this manner, don’t respond with matched aggression. Instead, look to a solution before it escalates into the deterioration of your relationship.
Click here to see how Dave and Jamie Womach helped 12 clients restore their relationships with their birds.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.