Communicating With Our Feathered Friends

Animal Communication: Working with Parrots & Earning Trust

A client wrote in:

“Several weeks ago my heart was taken by a 6 mo old CAG baby, “she” was in a pet store and after several visits the bonding seemed to be two sided. My husband was with me for all of the visits, during which we all met and discussed the possible long term commitment, responsibilities and life style changes. We made the commitment, my love for baby Zoe won. I was now Nana to a loving bundle of outgoing curiosity. Zoe appeared to be adapting well to all the new things in her world, after a day she settled in, chatting, baby grinding, whistling and talking. Then my world with her changed, after being with her the first 5 days, at her beck and whistle, I had to return to work. I left the tv on, gave her food, water and her favorite toys. WOW when I returned that evening, she bit, ran away screaming and seemed to instantly fall for my husband, whom she had met just a few times. After some research, I found my error, I forgot to tell her where I was going and that I would return, I sat and spoke to her for a long time explaining what I did and the working hours, also, after things settled, she could go to work with me after we got the screaming under control. Things have been a little better, we have floated in a truce, the previous bond was gone. She still shuns me, runs away, whistles and talks to my husband, only playing with me, if she does not know he is home or if she cannot see or hear him. I am sure you can tell that I am now heart sick, for I still love her dearly and long to pet and play with her in the manner that she allows my husband to. I still remain her primary caretaker, and nurse maid. What happened to cause such a swift solid bond from myself to my husband ? Is there anything I can do to regain her love and trust or am I relegated to caregiver in the background?” Heartsick Nana….

Zeus - Lisa Caza's African Grey. © 2013
Zeus – Lisa Caza’s African Grey. © 2013

I own both an African Grey and an Alexandrine parrot and I can tell you that most have quite similar “ways of thinking” and behaviors – and are all EXTREMELY intelligent. It’s also not as easy to gain their trust as what it is with dogs, cats, etc.

Your “sudden disappearance” unfortunately has somewhat diminished the trust that was building within Zoe, and although I love how you did try to explain to her the situation afterwards, even though she may have understood, things would most likely not have change much (which seems already apparent). A few reasons why:

Birds are temperamental and you may have also perhaps noticed that Zoe may even “discriminate” against certain clothes that you wear! Mine do – Alex my Alexandrine, he HATES every black sweater I own and prefers a particular white or red sweater. Yet Zeus, my CAG, on the other hand actually prefers that I wear a short sleeved shirt. If I wear a sweater he will even try to take it off by biting it and pulling on the sleeve! It is somewhat the same when it comes to their “owners.” They ultimately “discriminate” or “choose” who they wish to ultimately imprint on – and one huge early indicator of who they may “choose” is actually their gender. Females generally, for some reason and in almost all breeds of birds, tend to imprint more on male owners than females … if there are males present in the household that is – and vice versa – male birds tend to bond stronger and faster with female humans. Scientifically while it has been proven, they haven’t found any solid reasons WHY.

Another factor to consider is parrots will most often bond to those who spend the most time with them – regardless of who feeds them, gives them water 10 times a day and daily cleans their cage. Whoever is home the most, they will tend to bond more strongly to.

Alex - Lisa Caza's Alexandrine parrot - here only 8 months old. ©2012 Lisa Caza
Alex – Lisa Caza’s Alexandrine parrot – here only 8 months old. ©2012 Lisa Caza

One thing I notice in your note is you mentioning that you were there for Zoe’s ‘beck and call for 5 days.’ While indeed it is excellent that you were there to make her transition to her new home easier, at the same time we can’t “cater” to our feather babies either. They need alone time just like we do – and if we constantly come to them, speak to them or give them any kind of attention every time they whistle … well unfortunately we set ourselves up for too strong of a bond forming with one person (therefore creating aggressive/protective behaviors when around their imprinted human owner), screaming behavior – and possible trust breaking whenever we have to leave our home … which is what we are seeing here with Zoe. All of a sudden your constant attention was suddenly taken away from her. In her eyes now it’s like “Well she disappeared on me so I can’t trust her now when I need her or call out to her. But this guy is here so I believe I can trust him. At least his behavior hasn’t changed – it is consistent.” There is such a thing as giving too much attention … I learned that one myself the hard way with my parrot – he is protective of me (won’t allow anyone near me if he is out of cage and sitting with me) and he too had the screaming behavior whenever I left the room. However … we’re somewhat dealing with a double-edged sword here because we have to regain some of that bond between you and Zoe. So for the moment … let’s just set this aside and remember for FUTURE reference.

What I recommend in terms of regaining some of that bond back hon, is to actually do what I did with my baby when I brought him home. It takes a lot of patience … but it is so rewarding in the end. For the next little while, every day – a few times a day if possible – whenever you have a moment spend time with Zoe while she is in her cage (and unfortunately you may have to ask hubby to leave the room if he creates too much distraction for her. Another thing he can do is move away from Zoe, look away from her, etc when she tries to go to him instead of you). Talk to her. Share your meals with her. Give her a few of her favorite treats. Figure out what some of her favorite kinds of toys are and only offer them to her if and when she comes to you. Sing to her. Dance even. You will begin to notice that more and more Zoe should start to show more interest in being with you. You have to make time with you appealing and fun and engaging – but you have to be diligent … and above all patient and consistent.

If you approach one of your “sessions” with Zoe in the least negative frame of mind she will pick up on that and will not respond as favorably. And to help with the screaming, give her a “time out” – cover her cage for a while until she has been quiet for a good spell. Also, don’t show any reaction to her screaming because that’s what she wants! So no yelling, no telling her to be quiet – no response at all. Realize – a negative response is better than no response in their eyes – therefore no matter what kind of response you give your bird they will like it – it will only enable the screaming behavior. Instead, what I’ve done, is not say a word and not even peek around the corner at Alex. Then once he is quiet, I will then either speak to him briefly or peek around a corner.

Lisa Caza's 2 parrots Alex and Zeus. Alex sporting his new neck ring! © 2013 Lisa Caza
Lisa Caza’s 2 parrots Alex and Zeus. Alex sporting his new neck ring! © 2013 Lisa Caza

Because there is in fact already a strong bonding for your husband, I cannot guarantee you 100% success with this technique my dear. But I do feel that you can gain at least a little grounding back with it – and you should start to be able to do a lot more with Zoe. For me I was quite successful with this technique of mine – with Alex, while in good health and was partially trained, when I got him from the pet store I had quite a few problems with him (a few things: would refuse to step up, would bite me if I tried to take him out of cage, afraid of hands). Now, I can do almost ANYTHING with Alex: give him cuddles, kisses, tickles and actual hugs. We even have a few games that we play together (peek a boo by placing my HAND over his head and he pops out randomly and says ‘peekaboo’, and he pretends to ‘bite’ me in front of others while I yell “Owie! Owie! Owie! He gets a huge kick out of that one – so much so now he has learned to say Owie). We sit and cuddle and watch tv all night together .. we have a very strong bond and sense of trust – and it didn’t take too long to form (with my diligence, patience, understanding and knowledge of what his body language was telling me). And Zeus – because he was older (he was 2 when I got him), he presented with a few other issues –  at first he hated me and preferred my husband. Whenever I tried to even give him a wee pet he would lash out and bite a finger (he actually almost broke my finger TWICE!). With Zeus I was rather frustrated – but it was because he was older – more set in his behavior patterns. However, with diligence (and actually getting hubby to give him a shower – he hates showers!) things changed so positively. With him too now I can pet him like a dog almost – and he’ll lay on his back in my hand. Only thing we have to work on more is him being comfortable away from his cage.

I believe that you too should be able to gain some of that grounding with Zoe. And once you start to have some of that trust building back – then it will be time to remember and implement what was mentioned above – about giving too much attention … but likewise remaining CONSISTENT in YOUR behavior. Gradually ease your way into a new routine by lessening the time you spend with Zoe – but still remain consistent. Know what I mean? Think of it in terms of “slow weaning/withdrawal.”

As a note on shoulder riding – it is recommended that you do not allow any bird to sit on your shoulder as it creates more dominance behavior from them. However, I personally will allow Alex to sit on my shoulder whenever he has spooked or has felt scared or threatened about something – as birds feel safer the higher up they are. I feel that this has likewise contributed to the trust in him for me – but mind you as soon as I feel that he has calmed then I will instruct him to go back down either onto my knee, my arm, or sit beside me on the couch.

I do truly hope that this helps you some – stay persistent. But above all be patient, loving and CONSISTENT – gradually making changes as necessary.

Much love and blessings to you and Zoe – Please do let me know how things progress I would love to try and help best I can. Lisa

© 2014 Lisa Caza

Share