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.
I fell apart over Bandit’s farewell video. As a couple I have never seen such a bond! So jealous. My Blue and Gold is 39 years old. 3 years ago he had a prolapsed (cloaca) is that the right word? He has prolapsed again. $3,000.00 in testing and still no answers for why. The next test they want to do will cost $750.00. It is an injection of dye. When you add the exam, $65.00 and you know they will want to do blood work it come up to over $1,100.00. I do not have a credit card so they insist I pay for everything upfront. On top of that they said I cannot bring him back without putting him in a carrier. They said even if it is a dog crate. Another $100.00. He is so long. How can he fit in a crate? I think I might be able to build one out if cardboard and paper mache. Anyway, do you have any experience with prolapses? He is getting very uncooperative with letting me clean his tail off. The poop drips down his tail and dries like cement. The Vet. Said to put a hemorrhoid medicine on his bottom. It has a pain medicine in it Sundance has said, Nope, no more. Bless his heart. He has been sick for about 4 months. We had to go through a couple of Vets. The unqualified ones asked us to go to another clinic. Wish they would have refunded the money. Sundance has been prescribed meds. They stopped the vomiting, but nothing else. I told the Veterinarian that his present cage has rust on it. Could they please test for metals. They did. Nothing showed up in the test. Do you have anything to suggest? I have put him in a tub so I could scrap the poop from his tail. He is not a fan. I never knew anything about birds becoming hormonal before I saw your video, recently. I stopped petting him on his body and under his wings. He kept trying to “mount” my foot. I have completely stopped that. I stopped letting him regurgitate on my hand. He was shredding paper a lot and now it is less. As you can see you have been a wonderful source of knowledge. P.S. I typed all of this on a phone, so please excuse the format. Thank you for your valuble time. Lisa and Sundance
This is a great article that I appreciate, as I am in the process of bonding with three Congo African Grey. Thank You for the useful information.
When my macaw gets upset she bites herself is there a way to curve that ?? Sometimes she notes herself really hard
Hey guys. Just wanted to say hi. You guys are amazing. I have an African grey and just recently rescued a harlequin macaw.
Hello! About a month ago I rescued 3 conures, 2 sun conures and a black hooded conure. They came to me all housed together. And they all get along fine. I have worked in a pet store for 10 years, known as the bird lady. I taught them all to love, trust, talk. Bonded with one African gray. My concern is how do I bond with these 3. One of them I know came from a pet store, constantly pulls out his /her feathers. The other sun conure comes to me sometimes. And the black hooded nanday doesn’t like to be noticed at all. I do notice it will meow when the house is quiet. The two sun conures will usually step up on my finger and let me carry them to their ply stand in the window, my black hooded will fly. Avoids me completely. My half feathered sun conure is very skeptical (I call him/ her little feather) sometimes allows kisses, will sit and perch on finger. And sits on shoulder. As will my fully feathered sun. Loves kisses, has started letting me kiss it’s belly. But my concern is, if any one of them is deprecated From the flock, they all scream and act distressed. So how do I go about building a bond with three feather my family members who are already extremely bonded to one another. I’ve never owned any birds except my keets. All advice is welcome! Thank you
I took on a White Cap Pionus that had been rehomed 6 time’s . I worked through the bites and learned his body language to break through to him I would never hurt him and that he could trust me I have had him 2 years now and he love’s comming out to go on the perch tree in the window just started to perch on my shoulder a few months ago . I will never give up on this guy because to many people have given up on him . My word of advice never ever give up read your bird well respect your bird and you will reap the rewards.
So my partner was trying to bond with this lorikeet, right? And I swear the bird was deranged, like we’ve had grumpy birds before, but this one was horrible, needless to say, the bonding was not going well. I’m at the piano one day, belting out some power ballad, I forget which one, and the bird keeps shrieking louder and louder, so I’m screaming louder and louder, then we’re both just screeching at each other… The next time the cage was opened the bird came to me, now it hardly leaves my shoulder. It was an instant bond, from something as simple as music. These creatures are incredible, and the way they bond, when it happens to you, it’ll change your entire outlook on life.
Great article! Birds are very sensitive and complicated beings and need allot of love and patience from us humans!
I adopted my Goffin’s Cockatoo when I was 17 and he was in his late 20’s. Now I’m 25. He was wild caught originally, had some tough times at one point and wasn’t handled a lot for the few years before he was given up. He was very shy in the beginning with me and wouldn’t say a word (even though he could talk). Now, the term “bonding” is an understatement for our relationship. He’s a great friend and would be grafted to my cheek if he could. I work at home and he cuddles with me for hours every day. We’re also great at reading each other and know what the other is going to do before they do it. For that reason, we’re also great at playing together. We’re even good at telling each other what we want (with words). So, a very strong bond can occur even with a much older, not-hand-fed-at-all bird!
I have an African grey and we used to be so close, until my mom came to live with us for awhile. Can you please tell me how to re-establish the bond we once had…
HI My boyfriend & I have an umbrella cockatoonamed Beazley. We got from someone who was unable to care for him. Beazley took to us pretty fast and we introduced him to a world he never kew. He traveled in a 5th wheel, went on bike rides, met new people and other birds andcats. Beazley has created such a bond with my boyfriend and I know that because when my boyfriend is in bed and I open Beazley’s cage he comes out and CLIMBS up the steps and up onto the bed and gets under the covers all by himself. Thats love! :)
There is no better feeling than gaining the trust and love of your parrot. I live with my daughter, and am very lucky to have a White Fronted Amazon, that trusts us both, and shares her time with us both. She has the freedom of the house, only going in her cage at night for bed. She spends most of the day with me, then in the evenings she spents time with my daughter whilst I am upstairs on my computer, then when I come down she greets me with Hello my baby, flys to me gives me a kiss on the lips as a welcome, then goes back to my daughter.lol
Hi, I have a re-homed quaker that was withdrawn and prone to biting. One night a couple of months after getting him there was a mild earthquake. The quaker fell off his perch to the floor and was quite frightened. I held him close to me for about 15 minutes to settle him down and from that time on he has been extremely bonded to me and totally trusting, (but not to anyone else). He still lunges at others to bite them. An amazing experience.
Good socialization is not the same as the imprinting. Early socialization is neccessary, but only after min. 2 months spent with the parents. Socialization is learned behavior. Parrots can learn in the past, and forget too. Imprinting is not a learned behavior. Trust is based on “predictable, reliable” behavior. Hand feeding is easy, but not ethical way. Many behavior problems started from handfeeding.
Enjoyed reading this post and the comments. I live with a cherry head conure, adopted her about 10 years ago when she was perhaps 5. She had started out in a good home I think, in any case, she could say “allo Coco” and knew how to step up, and I taught her to poo on cue quite quickly, but after that first “flock” she had been with at least three other people, the last of whom kept her in a dark closet for almost a year. When I first got her she was almost completely plucked and would throw herself wildly around the cage whenever I came near. It took a lot of time for her to trust me, and there are still sometimes a few control issues (on her part!), but she is well socialized, loves other people, although she spends most of her time with me (I work at home). A very affectionate, curious, outgoing bird all in all, so yes, I think you are right on, it takes patience and trust building, but even an adult bird that has been traumatized can bond!
I love when people ask me about parrot bonding, so I can dispel the myths that seem so prevalent. I use my birds as an example, so really its just an excuse to talk about my birds :)
Hi, Patty: I tamed a rehomed Amazon as per the Taming, Training and Tricks video. He does some basic tricks also. He will let others do trick-training with him, and accept food gently from people’s hands. Otherwise, he is a one-man bird. No one else in the house has had an interest in socializing him. Now, we have a new housemate who is willing to help socialize him, but I want to know whether whether new people should use the “perching” method or the "power pause? Thoughts? Thanks. Kirk
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