The first few weeks with a new bird can be a rollercoaster of frustration and hope. As intelligent, sentient creatures, parrots take time to adjust and form new bonds.
An adult bird will come with baggage—preset fears and expectations. She will likely miss her former home and be reluctant to trust you. Young birds may adjust more quickly, but also need time to establish new bonds.
Wherever you are in the development of your relationship with your bird, you can experience more hope than frustration by watching for these seven signs that he is bonded to you.
7 ways to tell if your bird likes and trusts You
When a bird is happy, it can display many misleading signs such as flapping its wings or wagging its tail. However, simply being happy does not necessarily mean that your bird is bonded to you or trusts you.
The simplest way to tell if your bird is bonded to you is to see whether the bird interacts with you and involves you in its activities, and this can be observed through the following 7 signs:
- Your bird wants to be near you.
- Your bird copies you.
- Your bird is excited to see you.
- Your bird talks/sings to you.
- Your bird asks to be petted.
- Your bird tries to preen you.
- Your bird wants to snuggle.
Read on to find out more about each of these signs so that you are prepared and know how to respond!
Sign #1 Your bird wants to be near you
This sign is one of the first to show up, but you may not notice if you’re not looking for it.
A frightened or untrusting bird will flee when you approach her perch. A bird that is still making up his mind may simply sit still and watch you. A bird that is bonded to you will want to be close to you.
Watch for the moment a more timid bird no longer moves away when you come to sit by her cage. Eventually, she’ll begin to move toward you, choosing to sit as close as she can.
A tamer, more confident bird will be more obvious in her approach. She may climb or hang from the bars, begging to be let out so she can perch on your hand or shoulder. She may ask to come to you by bobbing her head, straining toward you, or offering to step up.
A flighted bird may fly to land on you, while an unflighted bird with access to the floor may get up the courage to walk to you.
Sign #2 Your bird copies you
You may have noticed that birds closely bonded to one another sometimes mirror each other’s actions. When one is napping, the other may start to feel sleepy. When one is preening, his companion may notice her own feathers need attention. When one is eating, the other may decide to have a snack.
If your bird tends to reflect your actions or feelings, it can be a sign that he is bonded to you.
A bonded bird may snooze on your shoulder when you are relaxed. He may head to his food dish when he sees you eating, or he may dance and sing along with you while you are enjoying your favorite song. Some birds even preen their own feathers as their human companion gets ready in the morning.
Sign #3 Your bird is excited to see you
Note your bird’s reaction when you enter a room or return home after being away. A bonded bird will be excited to see you. She may bob her head, entice you to notice her by jingling toys, call to you, or offer to come to you.
More subtle excitement is evidenced by a little feather shake and increased alertness and interest. Some birds may also scold you for leaving by yelling or banging toys. Whether it is quiet or demonstrative, your bird’s excitement can make it plain that she misses you when you are gone.
Sign #4 Your bird talks/sings to you
Some birds are natural show-offs and will readily perform tricks or vocalize in the presence of strangers. Others will only start talking when they are comfortable with someone they like and trust.
If your bird is the shy type, you may be able to tell he is bonding with you by the fact that he talks, whistles, or in some way vocalizes to you.
Talented mimics may even start repeating your affectionate words to them, telling you they love you or calling you by the pet names you would usually call them. These birds often know exactly what they’re doing, and you can take the expressions as a sure sign that they are bonded to you.
Sign #5 Your bird asks to be petted
Some birds may never come to the point where they wish to be petted. Some species just don’t enjoy it, especially among non-psittacines. Personality also comes into play.
An older parrot who was not handled much as a young bird may never feel comfortable allowing you to stroke her feathers. With many parrots, however, this is a natural step in the bonding process.
In a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, your bird may fluff her feathers and lower her head slightly toward you, indicating she would like a rub. A nervous bird may change her mind again the first few times you reach for her, but eventually, she will let you gently ruffle her feathers.
Sign #6 Your bird tries to preen you
Even before your bird allows you to pet her, she may try to gently groom your hair or eyelashes with her beak. This is called allopreening and is something you will generally see only between birds (or a bird and a human) who are closely bonded.
You should take your bird’s attempt to preen you as a compliment, but beware; it can tickle!
Sign #7 Your bird wants to snuggle
How cuddly a bird is depends on species as well as individual personalities. Cockatoos, cockatiels, conures, and some macaw breeds often love to cuddle.
If your bird snuggles up against your neck or tries to tuck itself into your hair and clothing, it’s safe to assume he is completely bonded to you.
While there’s nothing quite as sweet as a bird hug, it’s important to be aware that cuddling can become a problem if it sexually stimulates your bird. Signs that your bird is viewing you more as a possible mate than a friend can be
- Trying to regurgitate food for you or press his rear end against your hand or shoulder.
- Acting aggressively toward other people, especially those you are affectionate with, such as a partner or significant other.
Avoid stroking your bird’s back or sides, and if he begins to do any of the things above, create some distance by returning him to his perch or distracting him with training or games.
Can a bird be TOO bonded to you?
If your bird is aggressive toward everyone but you, screams incessantly when you are away, or acts sexually stimulated by you, chances are she is too bonded to you and sees you as a mate rather than a friend.
This is not healthy for your bird and can lead to persistent or worsening behavior problems.
It’s important to socialize your bird as much as possible from the very beginning of your relationship. Although most birds naturally become especially bonded to one person, they should be comfortable interacting with multiple people.
It is best if everyone who will be handling or caring for the bird at some point establishes and continues to nourish a friendly relationship with her. If your bird starts trying to bite or attack anyone who comes near you, this becomes even more important.
Don’t put anyone in danger of being injured, but it might be a good idea for a family member to become the bird’s primary caregiver for a while to help your bird understand that you are not the only member of her flock.
Make sure you are not accidentally stimulating your bird’s hormones or rewarding possessive behavior.
Stroking her back or sides, allowing her to play in dark corners or boxes, or even too much cuddling can cause your bird to be sexually stimulated. Laughing or responding dramatically when she tries to attack someone can be seen as a reward.
It’s best to quietly but firmly tell her no and return her to a perch or cage for a few minutes.
Can a bonded bird ever become bonded to someone else?
Yes. Parrots are difficult pets, and the likelihood that one will be rehomed during his life is high. This is not ideal, but birds can adjust to new homes and establish new bonds with new people.
Some birds, such as African greys, may even switch bonds within the home once they reach maturity.
Bonding with a rehomed bird
If you have brought home an adult bird who was closely bonded to his former owner, be patient. The bird will need time to adjust and stop missing his old home, friends, and routines. Spend time with him and establish positive interactions, but don’t push him.
The foundation of a strong bond with your bird is trust. Eventually, you will start to see the signs discussed above and be assured that your bird is developing a bond with you.
Maintaining your bond with a maturing bird
What about a bird that seems to be suddenly preferring a family member he was not originally bonded with? This happens and is difficult to control. Try not to have your feelings hurt and continue to have regular, positive interactions with the bird.
Sometimes, your bird may be irritated, upset with you, or simply not in the mood to hang out. This doesn’t mean your bird’s bond with you has changed. Just give him the space he asks for and try again later.