The tip of the week is normally a post only for our Facebook page, but someone suggested I also post this one here for reference purposes….
Behavior Tip of the Week
Without a doubt, this is the most common question we get here: “my bird loves me, hates everyone else” or “my bird loves everyone but me” or “I used to be the favorite, now my bird likes someone else better”.
If you have not yet figured this out, brace yourself, this is going to sting: your bird is self-serving. He thinks HE is the most important cog in the wheel and will do whatever is necessary to promote what is in HIS best interest. He will favor whoever proves to be the most beneficial to him.
From our point of view, it appears that the affection we get from our bird is love or a show of gratitude for the great toys and yummy snacks. However, the reality is that their relationship with us is all about their survival and safety. It always comes back to their needs and we either fit into their plan or we don’t.
Before you go running for the tissues with hurt feelings, consider this: you are just as self-serving. Your bird is in your house today because it was in some way beneficial to you. Either you wanted a bird because you thought it would be a fun addition to the family, or were looking for something to nurture and love, or caring for needy birds fills your cup.
Whatever. In there somewhere is a benefit to you.
Magically, somewhere in the midst of all this selfishness, humans and birds build bonds with the strength of super glue. Just never forget we all have our bottom line – this will help you understand your bird’s behavior.
In almost all cases, a bird will have a favorite person and there is nothing wrong with that. It is NOT acceptable, though, when your bird rejects, or worse, attacks everyone else. Birds select long term mates in the wild and we have seen footage of small birds attacking a predatory bird in defense of its mate or nest. This instinct is what causes our birds to sometimes “defend their territory” when someone comes too close their chosen person, especially during breeding season.
Yet birds are also social flock animals. A flock has an unwritten agreement to protect each other. They often all play a role in teaching the young members about foraging and safety matters. Everything about a flock speaks to a bird’s feelings of safety and security.
This problem isn’t just about our feelings of rejection when we are denied a relationship by a bird. Without a flock a bird feels vulnerable. Having a bird that will not tolerate the entire family, or will not be handled by everyone, affects the emotional well-being of the bird.
Part of our job as a bird owner is to make sure that our birds have a permanent home with us and to prepare them for any unthinkable future events. What will happen to your bird if you die and your bird hates everyone else in the house? How long will you be able to keep your bird if it repeatedly attacks family members?
How to solve the problem
Remember your bird’s bottom line, that self-serving nature. If you want to earn a place in your bird’s world, you have to show him that you, too, have value from his point of view – not just the chosen person. Training is the fastest and most effective way to demonstrate what you can bring to the table.
While you are establishing your worth, ask yourself why your bird has chosen another person? What do they have or do that you don’t? Was there an event which caused the bird to back away? What is the favorite person doing right that you can utilize? And, this a hard one, is the favorite person working against you without realizing it? Sometimes the chosen person doesn’t want to risk their status as favorite and will find reasons to keep things as they are. Almost always the person doesn’t realize they are doing this.
If you are the favorite, try to back off a bit to allow a new relationship to blossom with another family member (it’s probably best if that happens one person at a time). Sometimes your presence will hold the bird back rather than make him feel more at ease.
If your bird has switched their allegiance away from you to another person, there is a reason for it and you will have to respect this decision. This happens a lot with people who travel often or are away from home for long stretches. Try to understand and sympathize with your bird’s reasons for moving on to someone who feels more reliable. The bird’s well-being has to be the main consideration and you will be doing your bird a huge service by being magnanimous in this matter.
As always, proceed slowly and let a new relationship grow naturally and comfortably – especially since you are trying to show your bird that you have value and can be trusted as a companion.
You may never be the favorite person, but your bird should respect you enough to interact politely with you at all times.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.