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Sandra August 22, 2021

How To Bond With Your Bird

Taking time to bond with your bird is essential to building a long-lasting and happy relationship with your feathered friend. The relationship you build with your bird will influence the quality of your bird’s life. Birds are full of personality and offer loyal friendship if raised and cared for properly. Some birds are easy to connect with right away but others may take some time to get comfortable with you. Let’s look at some ways you can bond with your bird.

Why Do Birds Bond With Us?

Naturally, your bird would want to bond with members of its same species, but in their absence, your bird will bond with and those that live with you including pets (see also; LAMBO:P). Your bird's mental health depends on having healthy bonds for a sense of safety and companionship. Your bird thinks of you and your family members as its flock. Flock mates will do many daily activities together including, talking to each other, playing, foraging together, bathing, and eating together. Your bird will naturally want to engage in these kinds of activities with the person who is most attentive to them in the household. This is the person that grooms the bird, feeds it, and spends the most time with them. The bird will want to know where their person is at all times and it might call out when that person's whereabouts are unknown. Having a bond with your bird is great but we also want to be careful of OVER-BONDING!

What is Over-Bonding?

The goal is to create a healthy and balanced bond with our birds. Over-bonding is when your bird develops a mate-like bond with one person. This can result in challenging behaviors like:

  • Separation anxiety – Your bird feels alone, lost, and helpless when it doesn’t know where its human flock is at.
  • Territorial aggression – Your bird wants to protect its space or cage and uses aggressive behavior to drive away any perceived intruders.
  • Mate aggression  – This is where the bird has developed a mate-like bond with one family member and perceives other family members as rival suitors. It uses aggression to drive others away from that person. 
  • Excessive egg laying – This happens when a female bird has developed a mate-like bond with someone and certain environmental stimuli perpetuate a highly hormonal condition that results in chronic egg-laying.

How to Prevent Overbonding

1. Develop a specific call that all members in-house use. 
Wild flocks develop distinctive calls with each other so that they can identify flock-mates and they can keep track of where all of the flock members are. Your pet has probably developed a distinctive call with you, too. It will use this call when you leave the room or in the mornings when it wakes up and in the evenings when it is ready to go to sleep. Make sure that everyone in the family uses the “flock call.” This is going to be your way of communicating, “Hey, I’m safe. Are you?”. 

2. Ensure everyone cares for your bird equally. 
Your bird may still choose a favorite human — because that is what they tend to do depending on the species — but by interacting with multiple people, your bird will be less likely to over-bond with one person.

3. Be careful where you touch/pet your bird. 
Petting your bird in certain areas on their bodies is perceived as parrot foreplay! This strengthens the mate-like bond but even worse it causes your bird a lot of stress because that relationship can never be fulfilled. Never pet your bird under its wings, on its back, on its wings or down its tail. This is considered a courtship gesture and will make your bird hormonally frustrated. Do pet your bird's head, the skin around the beak or even the beak if they like it and their feet. These areas are considered friendly, “Hey, I am your friend, you scratch my back, I scratch your back”. 

4. Provide your bird with enrichment and exercise. 
Enrichment opportunities include but are not limited to daily opportunities to exercise, forage, eat a rich and varied diet, bath and play with toys or destroy toys. 

5. Teach your bird foundational “parrot behaviors” 
Wild parrot parents teach their young foundational behaviors. This includes things like eating a healthy, diverse, and safe diet, grooming and feather care, how to live within the flock's social structure, and so on. It is your responsibility to teach them to eat healthy foods like vegetables, how to forage for food (in toys or DIY activities), learn to enjoy bathing if they don’t already, and so forth.

How to BOND With Your Bird

1. Spend time socializing with them 
Some birds might take a lot more time to become social especially if they have not had a good experience with humans or have been rescued/rehomed. Be careful not to make any sudden moves around the bird or startle them with loud sounds. Take the time to desensitize your bird by spending time each day sitting near your bird’s cage and talking to them. Talk in a happy, friendly voice and your bird gets more comfortable with you, you can begin to spend longer periods with them and get closer to them. 

2. Try Sharing Food With Your Bird
Sharing your food with your bird is a great way to bond and show them that you mean no harm. Just make sure that the food you are sharing is safe for your bird. Wondering what foods you can share? Check out the safe food list.

3. Handle your bird daily 
Once your bird is comfortable enough with you it’s time to handle them. This includes holding, petting, and grooming your bird daily. If your bird is a little nervous, start with the bird remaining in the cage but holding out your hand to see if they will perch onto your finger. Remember not to make sudden movements or loud sounds that would scare them. 

4. Give your bird scritches and grooming sessions
In nature, grooming forms a bond between birds and so this can be a great way to show your bird that you are their flock if they will tolerate being handled. If the bird allows you to, try gently scritching around the neck/head area and helping out very gently with many pinfeathers. Petting your bird’s head is a lot like preening as it will remove dust and dirt from their feathers without stimulating their hormones.

5. Dance with your bird 
Birds in the wild communicate with their voices and body language. You can try singing some of your favorite songs to your bird or playing some music and dancing around. Many birds love music and will join in on the dancing! We love calming or upbeat music like jazz, classical piano, instrumental reggae, pop, or deep house. 

6. Take it Slow and be Soft-spoken
Keep your voice inviting by using soft speech as this will help keep your bird calm and relaxed. Making them more curious to listen to you. Loud noises and sudden motions could scare your bird and make them nervous. Make slower movements and create a calm environment to make your bird feel safe.

7. Offer Treats 
Offer your bird treat foods like nuts or seeds. We love almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios. Birds love tasty treats, and if you’re the one who gives them the treat, they will see you as a friend.

8. Play with Your Bird
Offer your bird fun activities to do including a variety of different toys in their cage/aviary. But you also want to make time where they are engaged instead of caged — where you are spending quality playing time with your bird to form a friendship built on safety, trust, and comfort. I love to create foraging games to play together. Check on my YouTube video on foraging activities you can make at home.

9. Teach Your Bird Tricks
Start with the basics, like stepping up and recall, and once they master those move on to things like teaching your bird to turn around, waves, etc. Training is a great way to bond with one another.

Any new pet will need some time to get used to its owners and new surroundings. Be very patient as your pet acclimates to their new home. Birds are beautiful, unique, loyal, and friendly but they don’t connect with just anyone. If you want to build a close relationship with your pet, then you need to gain their trust through bonding activities like the ones mentioned in this blog. It is a slow process that requires consistency and patience but is worth it!