The One Person Bird

It apparent to me that one of the biggest problems in bird ownership is with the bird who is only bonded to a single individual in the house. I hear about it almost daily. Interestingly enough, many people don’t even see it as a problem, or as the origins of the problem they are currently describing. In many. many cases, issues of screaming and biting are rooted in the bird’s unwillingness to interact with all family members.

Birds are highly social creatures. It is the strength of the social structure that keeps a wild flock alive and healthy, and they associate with each individual in the flock. They will have their mates, and other preferred relationships, but they are at least tolerant of all members. Although, around breeding season, a bird can become very defensive with another in the flock who too closely approaches his or her mate, lunging, threatening, sometimes attacking.

These flock dynamics also exist with captive-bred birds. The difference, of course, being that their flock is comprised mainly of humans. Within its flock, a captive bird, like a wild one, will select its favorite. That may be you, and it is bound to make you feel pretty special. The bird only wants to ride on your shoulder, only wants to nuzzle and cuddle with you, and would prefer that the rest of the flock be elsewhere.

If you allow this attachment to continue, your bird will begin to look at you as more than just a friend and will begin to act defensively when the other “flock members” try to interact with it, or worse, make the mistake of approaching you. You now have a big problem on your hands, or shoulder. Your bird screams for your constant attention because no other member of the flock is satisfactory. It bites to ward off any potential suitors.

I really do understand how wonderful it is to feel that your bird has selected you – that is finds you to be the most trustworthy and desirable of all of the possible candidates in the house. Naturally, you will want to nurture this special bond and be all that your bird wants and needs. But you must understand that in doing so, it is a terrible disservice to your bird and that you are compromising its future.

If you allow your bird to be a one person bird, to the point where it will not tolerate anyone else, you will guarantee that it will be disliked by the rest of the household. The screaming for your attention and unpredictable behavior will make it unpleasant to have around, and perhaps even dangerous.

In your absence, your bird will have no one. And in the event of your death, the bird will land in the hands of the nearest rescue or the first person who is willing to take him, where the problems will continue. The relationship may conclude with an ultimatum by your real mate that either they or the bird must go.

It is imperative that you be certain that your bird is, at least in some way, bonded to the entire family.That must begin from the first day you bring him home. Every member of the family must handle the bird, share in its upkeep, and spend meaningful time with it during playtime or in training.

If you are currently experiencing this problem, you must step back from the bird and allow the others in the house to step forward to participate in the bird’s care and handling. You must allow them to build a relationship from square one, while you wait in the background. There will be lots of screaming and carrying on as your bird makes this important adjustment. Be patient with it and ask the family to do the same. Whenever you step in to quiet the screaming, it will cause a set back in the process.  Remember that you are doing this for the long-term good of your bird.

Once your family has earned the bird’s trust, and try to be as certain of this as possible, you can resume physical interaction with it.  If it shows signs of trying to renew that singular bond with you, hand it off to the nearest family member unless it is showing aggression. In this event, return it to its cage and let someone else retrieve it after a short while.

Your bird will still be likely to have a preferred person, perhaps you, but it will enjoy a more fulfilling life with a multitude of playmates and will no longer spend its entire day pining for the attentions of a single person.

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

42 comments

sue n jeff

Hello I bring a green wing home from a bad place we are doing good but he will only come to me on my shoulder n will bite my husbon if he get any place by him how can I fix him from run up on my shoulder n like as both please help us thank you sue n Jeff can u wright to us by email jhtater1396@gmail please are PC not working

sue n jeff
siggi

we have a harlaquin macaw…i work 5 days and 5 days at home….wich in the beginning of course was a task….but now…the brid has bitten me to blood like 8 times…..shows me shes angry if i aproach …but just loves my boyfriend….and tries to puke almost every time he has her…..he really does love her…but its becoming annoying……and now im afraid of the bird wich is not helping either…..this article is a must READ though!

siggi
bill taylor

Lydia: try to arrange a way for your husband to interact with your B&G in another room from his cage (out of sight of it) and with you nowhere near, either in sight or in hearing. (I’m not saying this is easy!) Aggression isn’t always anger or dislike but can be cage or pair protectiveness. If there is a difference in the bird’s perception of your husband then, slow building of trust away from the cage or ‘mate’ the bird wants to protect may change behavior over time. Reducing restimulation of the defensiveness around cage or you to the smallest level possible helps a new relationship develop.

bill taylor
LYDIA SPARKS

I HAVE A BLUE AND GOLD MACAW WHO USE TO LET MY HUSBAND HOLD HIM AND PLAY WITH HIM UNTIL I WAS CONFINED TO A RECLINER FOR 4 MONTHS (HIP KEPT DISLOCATING) WHICH WAS BY HIS CAGE … AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS OF BEING BY HIS SIDE…HE NOW SCREAMS WHEN I LEAVE THE ROOM AND IF HE SEES MY HUSBAND IN THE SAME ROOM OR IF WE ARE TOGETHER AND HE CANNOT SEE ME….I HAVE TRIED IGNORING HIS SCREAMING AND IT STILL CONTINUES…MY HUSBAND APPROACHES HIS CAGE AND HE LUNGES AT HIM TRYING TO BITE HIM….I AM THE ONLY ONE HE ALLOWS TO TOUCH HIM …ANY SUGGESTIONS? HUSBAND HAS TRIED TO FEED HIM AND TALK TO HIM BUT HE HASN’T CHANGED HIS ATTITUDE.

LYDIA SPARKS
Debi

What about those people who live alone, don’t have others living in the house? How do you avoid the ‘one person bird’ then?

Debi
Debbie Foote

My Sun Conure (Pookie) is 3 y.o. He loved my husband when we first got him; he took to him right away. My husband stop interacting with him, so Pookie has nothing to do with him either, but to bite him every chance he gets if I am home. When my husband comes near the cage he violentlly tries to attack him. I cannot let him out of the cage if my husband is home because Pookie will fly directly on his shoulder and bite him on the lips and hangs on. He always make my husband bleed, so I keep him in the cage when my husband is home. The only time Pookie bonds with my husband is if I am not at home. I don’t think its healthy for the bird to bond to one individual because if something happens to that individual; the bird might grieve its self to death, get depressed, won’t eat, or drink water. Pookie thinks I am its mate. He don’t like mirrors or the other parakeets. I do not run to his cage when he squawks. I have learned to tune him out. I know I have spoiled him with cuddling. I am also aware that he is lonely even if he has plenty of toys. Pookie likes females most of all. We have out time together each morning playing “peek-a-boo” and ‘ruff-housing’. He loves it and never gets tired playing. A Sun Conure is like a child…..needs a lot of attention.

Debbie Foote
Liz

Great article if you are the object of the bird’s affection and it’s still young. I inherited a hand-raised parrotlet from my mom, who lives with us now but is so ill and frail that she no longer interacts with the bird. Mom lived alone for 3 years with Kermit, and Kermit bonded solidly with Mom. Kermit is afraid of hands, always has been, so trying to coax her out of the cage is proving impossible. She won’t come out on her own, and the only time I’m able to have any physical interaction with her is if I towel her and take her out, which is stressful on us both. She freaked out when I tried offering her a perch to step up on, can’t be coaxed with a favourite food, and just appears panicked when I try to do anything more than talk to her through the cage bars. The odd time I do towel her to trim her wings, I put her on my shoulder and we have a pretty good visit, and it’s even tricky to get her back in to her cage, but because of her terror of hands, I can’t seem to work with her – laddering and such. I’d sure welcome any helpful suggestions! I’ve been trying to befriend Kermit for 5 years!

Liz
Debbie

I have a Macaw and two sun conures (Sammy & Sunny), when we got Sunny we were told he was two, an amateur breeder bought him/her and never found a mate; I figure he was ignored a lot. We have had him about 7 years so the best we can figure he is now around 10. He has always been mean and bit when he wasn’t in the mood (and he normally isn’t). I have always had to let him come out the top of the cage he is so territorial. I some what forced him to interact, and his behavior did improve. Then we got Sammy, who was 5 and is now probably about 13. None of them have been sexed (though my husband perceives them all as male except Lucy the Macaw). We placed the conures cages together for a couple weeks, closer and closer; finally we got the birds to accept each other. Sunny always had to come out of the top of the cage; I could not reach in and have him step up because he would attack me (anyone). Sammy, will step up from the perch, but make sure Sunny is out first or you will get bitten. They had both bonded only with me (and each other). Sunny, will step up to my husband from me, but will not stay with him; he will fly to me or his cage within minuets. He can not pet his head or touch him in any way with out attack (though the will give him kisses). Sammy was a mans bird but bonded only with me (we even used to kiss and put on make up together in the am as he snuggles against my ear hiding under my hair before the move), but has and still will not have anything nice to do with my husband. He would even trick him by offering kisses so he can bite him. We moved into a new house, their “space” was so different… from darker surrounds to a bright room with a sky light, you would think they would like that… not so much. It took months for them to adjust. It has been two years and the conures are still not comfortable. When I get them out, (if they will come out of the cage) they are skiddish and startled easily flying off into windows or perching up so high no one can get them. This has lead me to leave them in more often which I know is probably the worst thing I can do… But I get tired of worrying or chasing them around the house… (Yes I know I should get them clipped) but just getting them out has become such an ordeal I would have to pay someone to come to my house and do it. And believe it or not, it hurts a lot more when they bite me than when the Macaw does. I guess she doesn’t really want to hurt me. They scream a lot, for food because they enjoy throwing it all over the floor and cage instead of eating it as soon as they get a bowl. Lucy the Macaw is also my bird (yes it is flattering), she will let my husband hold her, sit on his shoulder and give him kisses but he is not allowed to pet or touch her. She will lash out at him sometimes if I am close to them. When she does this I intentionally ignore her, refusing to come get her. I don’t let her on my shoulder and never have kisses since she bit my lip. Which I’m sure is my fault since I can’t help but to flinch in remembrance of one of her over zealous “kisses”. When she is “bad” nippy or snotty as anyone who has a big bird can relate to, I put her down, but if she bites me hard, I refuse and make her interact for a minuet so she doesn’t get the habit of biting to be put down or returned to her cage. I think a lot of our problem is my husband will try to force affection on them and I read the signs and leave them be when they aren’t in the mood. We have had her since she was just 10 weeks old and she is now 5 years old. She is not cuddly to my regret, but she does jack on my fingers (thank goodness she isn’t throwing up for me yet). She won’t let either of us preen her feathers. Just wanted to share, comments appreciated.

Debbie
Ivy Altieri

I seem to have the opposite problem. 20 yrs ago a hybred B/G macaw was left on my doorstep, ( I am called the bird lady here) I knew nothing about him except his name and that he was sick.. He was unhealthy and with diet he recovered well and was never claimed. I can handle him any way I wish but when anyone else visits I become the last person he wants. He becomes extremely aggressive if I come near him, totally protecting his new friend This is painful for me mentally ( I have never been badly bitten), but as soon as guests leave he wants to play with me again. Most guests are afraid of him when they see him trying to attack me, but I explain and soon he is on them…cuddling and sweet. He does this more with males and will only play with one male guest at a time. I am lost as to what to do.

Ivy Altieri
Vavoom

I have a Sun Conure, Pippin (age 4) and a Blue Crown Conure, Gizmo (age 2). I adore them both and they love me too. Unfortunately, nobody else can safely come close to me when the birds are around. Not even my 2 children, or the cats, dog, visitors, etc. They are both very protective of me – even when they’re not ON me at the time – if they’re loose they will fly over to ‘protect me’ from others who come too close to me. I give them all kinds of lovin, I clean up after them & feed them. They are my babies, but I’d like for the kids and visitors to be able to interact with them too. My kids know not to get too close to me when the ‘boys’ are out of their cages. I certainly dont want any serious injuries to the kids or the birds! Its so strange because my birds went thru a stage about a year ago when they liked both the kids, and would step-up and interact with them, even if I was right there. Pippin actually adored my son for awhile, and he loved to be on him alot too, but that ended and they went back to being ALL about me… I want to respect their natural instincts as much as possible since they ARE animals that we forced into our homes as pets, but I also want to do what is best for everyone involved – including socializing them and making it safe for all to interect… It’s just not easy!

Vavoom
Bill Taylor

To Karen, Pamela and others with birds who have made inexplicable changes in behavior and of allegiance and affection within the home: your birds have grown up. Or finally have the opportunity to follow their early imprinting. The pet industry sells loving (desperately needy), cute, baby parrots who are sexually and socially imprinted on humans, who are delightful during their dependent years as babies and adolescents. There is careful avoidance of describing to customers who a mature parrot is, and how they expresses their strongest drive, to reproduce by mating, nesting and raising their babies. Essentally wild animals, at best a couple of generations removed from forest and sky, they don’t change their motivations or genetically programmed ways of acting, just the individuals they now are forced to live with. Biting others is often protecting the mate or the pair space. Biting the owner is often anger and protest against the mate/owner Failing to protect the pair space by letting outsiders close. I’m convinced my most bonded M2 has pervasive anger at me for my constant departures and generally terrible significant other behavior. He is normally looking for (And constantly needs) bonding mutual preening but will attempt a bite if excited by any number of events.Any time I permit a beak to close over a finger sideways, I’m going to bleed, even during mutual preening. Often putting him back in the cage is enough for a bite attempt. He knows a separation is pending. He usually calms if I cluck an invitation to preen and take his offered head to scratch. Thankfully that works! I got nothing yet for the Amazon but Nutriberries! And those are rationed for formal training reinforcement. My theory on why Greys and some others so often chase and bite the 4 legged pets is that they are like abused kids, once in another dynamic, they mirror the way they were treated. Pay attention to how coercive most baby parrot/human interactions really are. We simply don’t accept anything but compliance with our will. “Bullies” is how we’d describe anyone ‘training’ or handling us similarly. Mother parrots are rather different, mostly amazingly gentle, even teaching ‘no biting’ by at most just holding the baby by the beak till it stops attempting forbidden use of their beak.

Bill Taylor
Sarah Rossouw

I have the same challenges and circumstances with Oscar, my 3-year old African Grey as Pamela Reidy. We have a problem when we leave him with my mother for a few day (she was very involved with him as a baby) – he refuses to eat. When I get back, he literally sits in front of his food for 1/2hr+, catching up with his feeds. Unfortunately I can’t always take him with me – animal restrictions etc.. He shuttle to and from work with me everyday – has been doing that since 6weeks old and has no problem with that – he loves the ride. Will he die of hunger if I were to leave him for 1 to 2 weeks as we go on vacation, or will he feed when really hungry?

Sarah Rossouw
Debbie

My blue and gold Macaw Keisha is a rescue. She will bite everyone. No one can touch her. I have all the training dvd’s and have and still use clicker training. She is very responsive and does what is asked. She speaks extremely well, but will still not let anyone near her. I hate that I cannot handle her. I would love to clip her nails, but mostly, I would like for her to realize that she can trust me. She has been with me for 2 years and still will bite if too close. And using the fist, while not saying anything, has not worked. I did this every day for a year and no change. I wonder if she will ever be able to be handled. It makes for terrifying vet visits.

Debbie
Gibby

I have lived with a hostile Amazon for 25 years. Although I am her prime caretaker, she prefers the company of my son or grandson and bites me every chance she gets. I feed and care for this bird every day and she still doesn’t like me. The boys will pet and play with her occasionally and I’m with her every day and she still prefers them to me.

Gibby
Dale

My Greenwing loves everyone, but clearly favors me. Until he was 6months old, he had free range of the petshop. He will not sleep in his cage because he never really had one before. He sleeps on top of it. My wife and I raised our Amazon from an eye dropper and he loved us both until I took him for his first Vet visit. Now he bites me every chance he gets.

Dale
Donna Hagen

Our B&G Macaw adores my husband, and will bite me as fast as look at me. The funny thing is, if Gary goes on travel, after 3 days, Gryphon becomes my friend. (We joke that Gryphon figures I’ve killed Gary and buried him in the back yard, so if he wants his food, he better be nice to me!) He’ll come out of his cage then, and tell me “Want up!” quite firmly, then sit on my shoulder and give me kisses. . . . But when Gary comes back, within 24 hours, Gryphon is back to her “I’ll rip your face off” routine with me.

Donna Hagen
Robin Kushlan

I have a Congo African Grey names Arie. She is 16 years old. I took her when my father died. She was a one man bird. Both my mother and father raised her from a chick. When she was older, she attached only to my father and would bite my mother horribly, even though my mother hand fed her as a baby. We have had her now for almost 4 years. She attached to my oldest son, who is now moving out on his own. She will let me pet her on her tail once in a awhile, but if I put my hand anywhere near her beak, she will bite me really hard, breaking skin. I even had to get medical attention before because of it. She does not act one bit afraid of me, she even tries to get my attention. I give her almost all her attention. Shes just is so moody. She bites my husband and my younger son. They both will have nothing to do with her now. My husband wants to get rid of her, but lets her stay because she means so much to me. I love her dearly and want so much to have a bonding with her. I figured she just wasn’t socialized well as a young bird. Is is to late to change her behavior? I have tried the click method and just when I though I could try my finger, she bit. I am so afraid of getting a bite now. What can I do to bring out the sweet bird I know is in her?

Robin Kushlan
michael and cookie

I look at it this way, who cares. Why do we want others to handle our Parrots? Why because they want to? Get your own Parrot. When people ask me, does she bite? YES and hard. Cookie loves my wife and puts her beak through the bars of her cage for some love. And thats as far as it goes. Cookie doesn’t undertand what a bite is, bite to us, to her shes playing. Doesn’t hurt her. Animals don’t understand why there is pain or how it happens. Its not easy to tell the diffrance between a play bite and a mean bite. Dogs most of the time give a warring, they run up barking which pleases the owner, atta boy, keeping gaurd. Get that damn thing away from me before I kick it. Parrots give no warning and strick like an ol rattle snake that lost its rattler. Want to play around and somebody gets bit by your Parrot? Not a good idea. Bit and then laughed at, thats what Cookie does, bites me and then laughs about it. Talk about insult to injury. Keep your Parrot away from people. People don’t get to play with your Parrot, they’ll still live happy lives. Cookie just nailed me the other day, right on the knucle of me right pinky. A good amount of blood from me. Nice clean cut. She lost her blance and fell off my hand and to hang on latched on to my pinky. Its ok, happens. But what if It wasn’t me and instead it was somebody who just wanted hold her? Not a good day for the victom. It tooks days to bend my finger again.

michael and cookie
Donna Jessup

I have two African grays. A male and a female. The female is nine years old and while she is very close to me, when a man comes around she loses her marbles. She immediately wants to go to him and I have a hard time getting her back. It is too funny. She generally does not like females, and fluffs up when my daughter or grandaughter comes over. My male is three years old and is still a Velcro-baby. He does like my daughter, however, and tries to get near my grandaughter, but she does not like birds (???), so she always brushes him away. My daughter babysits when i go away. My female AG has no issues with her when I am gone, so I know it is me, and she feels powerful when I am around. My female AG is a real pistol with a lot of personality and my male AG is really laid-back who never growls at anything. I have tried to get them to bond to each other so there will be fewer “one person bird” issues. Also I think every animal should have another of their own species to interact with.

Donna Jessup
Karen Grotts

I"ve had my blue & gold macaw Oscar for going on 19 years. I hand raised him and we were being bonded. We played together, shared food, took showers together, rode around in the car with me. He was my best friend. in 2007 I married Bill…Oscar instantly feel in love with Bill. Bill really didn’t like Oscar all that much, but Oscar just adores him.. Bill can hold him pet him feed him without worry of getting bit. I can’t do anything with Oscar if Bill is around or I’ll get bit. I stilll clean his cage, feed him which Billl & I take turns. I can only handle Oscar if I know Billl won’t be around. If I have Oscar and he hears Billl, Oscar gets agressive with me and tries to bit. I miss the closeness Oscar and I used to share, I have cried many time because my feelings get hurt. I’ve learned to not interact with Oscar if Billl is around. How sad for me… I really miss my dear birds companionship.

Karen Grotts
Deborah Braswell

Come on guys, we are dealing with parrots. They allow you to share THEIR space. Yes they can be domisticated but they still have a wild side. Parrots are WORK. Work to understand and work to live with. I have seven, all different species. They have learned to get along, ( at times) hahaha. They love being in the same room but there are differences in their breeds. Read up on your parrot breed. See what he is prone to doing. Parrots desperatly need you to understand them and not just have them on a perch or cage to look at. They NEED to interact but that can’t be done if you do not read up on them.

Deborah Braswell
Connie Teegarden

Casket was a ladies bird, now he loves my husband, and lets him hold him .

Connie Teegarden
lola carlson

my grey loves to go for a ride in my truck. He has his own seat. But when I take him to my truck I have to put him in his carrier to get him to the truck. I would like to put a harness on him but he will not let me. I have the harness sitting on his perch and he will pick at it. but will not let me get near him with it to put it on. any help with this.

lola carlson
Jani

My rescued quaker.. attacks EVERYONE who is not me. Not casually either.. but actually going to them (fully flighted) with the only purpose to attack them. I have worked over the past few years and he doesn’t bite hard now..but its frightening to have a “guard bird” when say the fedex guy comes etc etc and he scares me that he will hurt someone or at least scare them into a heart attack. In particular..he could get very hurt and worse if my cat ever looses her extremely good nature and rightly just can’t ignore him any more. I keep them separated now of course but I feel like I am running a zoo by having to isolate this bird which seems to just frustrate him more and I know it makes things worse. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO! The other 3 birds and him seem to be able to work it out with a pecking order. but he is now going after the cat, the dog and my 5 year old daughter. I am reading everything I can about this.. but when the other person in the house is a (rightly) terrified child who I do not want to even put in the remote path of harm… what do I do?

Jani
Mary

I have a male and female eclectus. Larry boy and Rosie Larry will go to anyone and Rosie did at first. My brother-in-law scared her and it took 3 mths for her to trust me and no one else would even try. I now can do anything with her. My husband finally tried and she will let him feed her but when he thought all was good she bit him very hard. How do we get her to trust others she’s as sweet as can be

Mary

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