Pet birds are emotionally complex, intelligent animals, and trust takes time. When you first bring your bird home, they're not sure how to feel about you yet. As you spend more time with them, you will build your bond together, and your bird will begin to trust you more. Learning the signs of trust is important. It will allow you to gauge where your bird stands with you and what work you have left to do.
Signs of Trust
Bird body language isn't always easy to read. Sure, most people can pick up on when a dog is happy. But birds have their own language. There are several signs you can watch for that indicate your bird is building trust.
Preening is when your bird cleans their feathers. If your bird is doing this around you, they trust you. While they're cleaning the debris, they are vulnerable to predators. They aren't acutely aware of their surroundings. So if your bird is willing to do this, they feel safe and secure.
2. Hanging Around
Many birds, including parrots, enjoy hanging upside down. They usually do this when they're playing, but you may also notice them eating or drinking upside down. As you can imagine, birds are vulnerable when they're hanging upside down. If you're around and they're doing this, rest assured you're trusted.
3. Regurgitating Food
This sounds gross, but think about it. Birds regurgitate food for those they're closest to, their young. If your bird regurgitates food to share with you, consider it a special honor.
Even though birds don't cuddle the same way cats and dogs do, they still tend to nudge or rub their head against someone they trust. If your bird is comfortable showing you affection, they feel safe around you.
You might notice your bird doesn't mimic you when they first come home. But as they spend more time with you, this behavior will start to develop. It's the highest form of flattery, after all. If you whistle, and they whistle back, they're enjoying your company.
Birds can make an array of sounds. Each sound represents a way to communicate how they're feeling. If your bird is singing, they're probably happy and sharing that happiness with you. If they're squealing, they aren't comfortable.
Birds have different ways of playing. Some birds might dance, whereas others will mouth you. If your bird is mouthing you, as in lightly touching you with their beak, they're playing with you. And birds only play with someone they trust.
You should never punish your bird for mouthing. This could damage your bond.
8. Relaxing With You
Could you relax if you weren't comfortable? Of course not. And birds are the same way. If you're in the room and your bird feels they can relax, you're in luck. They trust you to keep them safe.
Grinding is a common behavior in parrots. They have to be completely relaxed to grind their break. When they do this you'll hear a clicking noise. If they're this relaxed around you, you're bonded to one another.
How to Build Trust With Your Bird
Building trust with your bird can be a difficult process. It takes time and patience, but in the end it is worth it. The more you work on building trust with your bird, the easier training will become.
Here are some tips that may help you build trust:
- Be calm: Always be calm when working with your bird. If you are stressed out, then it will be very difficult for the bird to trust you.
- No loud noises: Don't make sudden movements or loud noises when approaching your bird. This can scare them and cause them to become defensive or aggressive towards you.
- Gentle handling: Handle your bird gently and carefully at all times so that they do not get injured.
- Don't be forceful: Don't force your new feathered friend into situations where they may feel uncomfortable or scared.
- Be consistent: Avoid changing anything about your routine as much as possible.
- Spend time with them: Trust takes time, and your bird will only acclimate to you with exposure.
- Play with them: Your bird needs enrichment, and the more attention you give, training you do, and activities you arrange, the more they'll trust you.
Being your bird's primary caregiver, spending time with them and sharing your lives together, will set you up as your bird's primary bonded person. It takes time, so be patient and go slowly.
Birds can sense if you are nervous or afraid, so try not to show those feelings around them. If they sense you're nervous, they will become anxious or frightened too.
Your bird is an intelligent animal, but it may take some time to learn how to interact with humans. Some birds are naturally more social than others, and some are just not interested in human interaction. For example, parrots are more likely to interact with us than finches. But if you have a bird that enjoys humans and simply needs socialization, here are some tips.
- Start when they're young. The earlier, the better, but go at your bird's pace. Socialization is a lifelong process, and there's no need to rush progress.
- Go slowly, at least at first. Begin with social exercises under controlled conditions. You don't have to invite friends over right away.
- Introduce your bird to people and other animals. Most pet birds are very interested in new things and will approach others if given the chance.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praise them when they're doing well. They may also show fear, so it's important to reward any positive behavior with lots of praise and treats.
- Keep your bird out of their cage as much as possible. This will help them become more comfortable around humans, other pets, and the outside world in general.
- Talk to your bird often. Make sure that they're getting enough attention and getting comfortable with not only your voice, but other voices.
- Don't force anything. If your bird is shy, be patient and wait until they seem ready to come out before trying to socialize them further.
- Introduce them to new environments (safely). Introduce your bird slowly and gradually over time so they will feel less overwhelmed by the new environment and situation.
Just make sure your bird is in a safe place when you're working on socialization. If your bird can fly, and your home isn't secure, there's a risk they could escape and injure themselves.
Some birds just don't do well with handling, such as finches, but that doesn't mean they can't be socialized. It's still important to bring new people around, so they tolerate new experiences.
Can Birds Be Too Bonded to Their Owners?
Some birds, especially parrots and cockatoos, can become overly dependent on their owners. If a bird becomes too bonded to one person, they could become territorial and aggressive toward anyone else. In addition to becoming territorial, they could develop the following behavioral problems.
- Separation anxiety: Similar to dogs, birds can develop separation anxiety, causing extreme stress.
- Excessive egg laying: If you have a female bird that bonds too closely to their human companion, they may begin excessively laying eggs. This could be harmful to their health and could lead to a condition known as egg binding.
How to Avoid Excessive Bonding
You can avoid over-bonding by allowing your bird to spend time with more than one person. By having multiple people gain the trust of your bird, they are less likely to bond with just one person. If you have a family or friends who are willing to help with your bird, take turns feeding and talking to them.
A Delicate Balance
You want your bird to bond with you, but you don't want them to over-bond with you. There's a delicate balance here. To help tip the scales in your direction, socialize your bird as often as possible allowing them to interact with others. This way, you'll raise a well-adjusted, happy bird who trusts you implicitly.