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.

44 comments

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
Alicia

My African Congolese Pierre is very attached to me and although I have, on occasions left him with neighbors when I travel he tries to bite anyone who dares try to change the water. or feed and clean the cage. He must be fooled by making him check one side of the cage when you quickly handle the feeding on the other. He is very territorial. Have not been able to fix that. With regards to other animals, when I go to my sister’s for a week or so, he simply loves torturing her huge 76 pound dog. He calls him and whistles to get the attention and goes after him when he gets close to the cage, imitating his growling. The poor dog runs from him and goes up and down stairs like a banshee while my bird laughs his head off. An otherwise sweet bird with me, he turns into a miserable grouch with certain people and animals. Can that be corrected? He is 25 years old but this behavior is recent.

Alicia
hava feidada

My African grey is about 10 months old, he is attached to me. I am going to travel for one month, and am not sure what to do, i didnt want for him to be alone at home and someone come twice a week to feed him, or it is better to take him to somebody so he wont be alone? Anybody went through this?

hava feidada
alexa lachlan

anyone got any experience of the Aviator Harness, is it easy to fit and does it work – any comments will be apprecfiated, i have go a blue fronted amazon.

alexa lachlan
Wendy Middleton

I live alone with my Quaker, Mickey, so I am his favourite person. I take him with me often when I travel, and I try to introduce him to friends and family. Because we see my sister most often, he is quite relaxed around her although she is hesitant in her interactions with him because he has bitten her a few times, but never badly. I just wondered what else I can do since he is going to be with me most of the time and there is no one else for him to bond to at home.

Wendy Middleton
Elle

Oh, and anyone and everyone who comes to the house has always got a greeting from her and Zen will usually want to sit on each visitor.

Elle
Elle

Hi, I am not Zennith’s owner, I do live in the same house as her and my daughter Michelle. When Michelle first bought Zen home, I could not handle her or go anywhere near her cage. It took a lot of effort but after 14 months I could get Zen off her cage, walk around with her,shower with her, feed her, clean her cage with her on it. Zen still never stuggles with me, but I do get kisses from her, & I have taught her to talk and whistle while Michelle is at work. Zen does do a fair bit of screaming, first thing in the morning for Michelle and if she knows Michelle is at home through the day but Michelle is out of her sight she will also scream for her. At these times we do not reply or go near her until she calls out Hello then we will go get her from her cage. Very interesting article, thanks heaps. Elle

Elle
Lou

I have a sun conure, and he used to love being held by anyone when we first got him.. i am his preferred human, and he will always cuddle etc with me… he is 4 years old now and for the past year or so he will attack anyone besides me and my husband. whenever people come to his room, he will viciously attack the cage. We would love for him to be friendly to everyone, and we are afraid that one day when we do have children, he is just going to attack them.. Is there a way of changing their behavior now that he is 4 years old??

Lou
Rumaana

I needed that! My congo african grey doesn’t scream, he just bites, when he’s in the mood he allows someone to pet him but if he changes his mind, he bites really hard. This behaviour could have something to do with my relatives, they not the nicest of people with animals. Or atleast mine, now whenever they come over I’m always in sight and watch them like a hawk! But I think it will get better now with my friendly relatives.

Rumaana
Ayelet

My Grey (1 year old) Seems to like almost all young man (usually friends of my daughters). at First she did not let my Daughters get close to her. but my 15 y. old Daughter made an effort – and one day when i was away they really got close. now they are Best friends and it makes it so much easier for me when i am away for long days. My Bird also accepts other Family members now , but my Daughter became her favorite :) . it shows that things can be changed.

Ayelet
Kurt

Jeana & Rhiannan – We have the same problem with our Amazon Piper. I can handle him in any way however he will attack my wife. My wife is very afraid. Piper also has separation anxiety disorder when I leave home . He will drive every one nuts with his calling/screaming until I get home.

Kurt
Carol

My vet had me go through a birdie divorce, lasting many months. I know I was as heart broken as the bird was; but it improved our behaviors.

Carol
Josh

How can you rebuild a bond that was lost? I had a strong bond with my Senegal, until one day trying to get her back in her cage, she refused and had a horrible time getting her in the cage. Since then she will rarely have anything to do with me, but now lets others in the house that deal with her, that she never did in the past. What can I do to fix it. Thanks

Josh
pamela reidy

for the first year or so, my Jenday, Zooey, loved ANYONE!! she is now about 3 years old and in the past year or so bites anyone other than my husband or me (and hard – and she goes for the head or neck; she has done some damage to a few relatives). would you guess it is just her age; more cautious than when she was a baby? or would you think it’s just that she spends all of her time with the two of us and doesn’t see anyone else often enough? i haven’t had this problem in the past with my birds …. everyone would love to pet her, get a kiss from her, etc. – but i don’t trust her!!!! any thoughts???

pamela reidy
docbee

My little bird is all of the above, but that’s because I am the only one that hand fed him f (3) months old to weaning, now he is (9) years old, and is happy, healthy and will do just about anything he pleases, like raising the hooks up on his cage to go and play in the toilet, when I am not watching him, to telling you when you sneeze (Bless You), and telling the mail (lady) watch out’ so many more little things that he does and on spaghetti day, he gets so happy, he doesn’t get full until all of the spaghetti is gone. He gives my husband a real hard time he flexes his wing like he’s showing my husband his muscles and will attack him if he gets to close to me. I love my little choo choo for he is the top of the line bird from Omars., when they were in Laverne Ca.

docbee
David Knowles

My situation is much like Karen Grotts’s. My wife and I hand raised our lesser umbrella cockatoo who is 9 years old. Until about a year ago I was her/his favorite. My wife lost interest in the bird due to all the screaming so it was odd when the bird switched it’s affections toward her. It has bitten through my fingernail twice now and likes to mess with (test) me often. Like not getting off my hand when transferring it from cage to cage. This was the whole reason I purchased the second set of “tapes” from BirdTricks.com. With the first tape I was easily able to teach my bird to wave and shake. Unfortunately with this set the biting and stick training cure didn’t really apply. I have slowly regained some of the trust back with the bird but I will never take my eye of it if my hand is anwhere near .

David Knowles
James

Right on. Ruby plays us. If you’re the first that day, she will ignore the other, or if pissed with one of us, she will play favourites, and will not jump shoulders.

James
Sue

I have a male Blue-headed Pionus, almost 3 yrs old, got him from a pet store about 9 months ago. We live alone, and I have therefore been training him alone. He loves me and interacts with me very well, is gentle and fun loving. But whenever I visit family (with him along), or when family comes over, he is very aggressive towards them, running at them (even from in his cage), shreaking at them, trying to bite at them or scare them away from his cage. I want him to be more socialized, but he is just not around other people enough, and is aggressive enough when he is, that it doesn’t seem safe to let others handle him. Suggestions?

Sue

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