Q: I was forced to board my parrot at the vet for two weeks when I had to fly out of town because my mother become ill. Now my bird wants nothing to do with me, and has actually bitten me twice, which is not like her at all. What can I do to fix our relationship?
A: One of the first things I teach my birds is an understanding of the words “I’m sorry”. Accidents happen, toes get closed in cage doors, beaks get bonked with elbows. When I issue a heartfelt apology, all is forgiven. Sometimes, though, we commit such a sin in the eyes of our parrots that all the “I’m sorry”s, special treats and extra scritches in the world won’t make a difference. Usually, these things are done inadvertently by us, or out of necessity, as in your case. Sometimes we have no clue that we did anything wrong at all.
Try to understand that you are you bird’s best friend, in some cases, only friend. They look to you for their daily care and companionship. Imagine what it must seem like to your bird to be suddenly dumped in a strange place. Looking at this from a bird’s perspective, it’s a little unreasonable for us to expect that all of them will just accept what must seem like abuse.
Different birds handle their anger in different ways. Some will turn their backs on you, which is a bird’s way of refusing to acknowledge your presence, some will take favor in a different person, some will bite.
If you had found out that your best friend had stolen money from you, you’d feel angry and betrayed, right? Isn’t your hurt magnified by the fact that this was your best friend whom you trusted implicitly? If we lived in a society that accepted biting as reasonable retaliation in these circumstances, as birds do, wouldn’t you take a chunk out of your friend’s arm? I would.
Since we can’t explain our misdeeds to a parrot, there is one way, and one way only, to fix this problem: by earning back the trust of your parrot through your actions. It’s not as hard as it might sound. You have already done this once when you first brought her home.
Take your relationship with your bird to the beginning, right back to the very first day you brought her home, and start over. When you’re done reading this post, write an outline of your first day with your bird way back when. Begin with a paragraph about how you felt. Were you excited? What were your hopes for this new relationship? Were you looking for a constant companion for you or existing bird? What were your expectations? Did you hope she would talk, learn tricks, accompany you on outings?
Write another paragraph about how the bird reacted to coming to your home? Was she frightened? Standoff-ish? Was she a little slow to accept new things?
Finally make a list of all the special considerations you made to ensure her comfort. Did you speak more softly? Keep the household calm and quiet at first? Move more slowly around her to keep from frightening her? Make sure she got lots of sleep?
Since you had created a great relationship with your bird, you have to assume you did things to her liking the first time around. Do it again.
It’s pretty simple isn’t it? This time you even have the advantage of not being a total stranger. Usually the bird will come around pretty quickly, if you put in the effort. As things become familiar and comfortable again, she will begin the let go of her grudges.
I will say, though, that the more clever birds know when you are “sucking up” and will use it to their advantage. This is one area of a bird’s intelligence that we continually under-estimate. You will want to recognize signs of this and know where to draw the line. You are not trying to buy her love by spoiling her. You are simply re-establishing what you once had. There’s a big difference.
Take a look at the paragraph you wrote about your expectations with this bird. Did you accomplish them? If not, this is a second chance to change any bad habits or start training the new behaviors and tricks you had once imagined.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.