The majority of bird owners come to me seeking a family companion who will willingly interact with each member of the household. I am often asked whether one species or another is likely to become a “one-person bird” and should therefore be avoided when considering the best fit for their family situation.
While it is true that some species are more likely to form a tight bond with a single caregiver, this is not the only factor in determining the sociability of your pet bird.
How are “One Person Birds” Created?
Bringing home a new pet is an exciting time, and most families spend the greatest percentage of time interacting with their new bird within the first few months of it living with them. During this period of novelty everyone in the family tends to be equally eager to get to know the bird — children may fight about who gets to feed him, hold him, or put a new toy in his cage. Adults may bring the bird cage over to their kitchen counter while they cook, fascinated by the bird’s antics, or have the bird out on a play stand while they work from a home office.
Once the initial novelty wears off — as it inevitably will — the primary care of the bird typically falls to one or two people in the houseshold. Other members of the family might still interact with the bird, but it is no longer the focus of their day-to-day attention.
How does the bird perceive this change? Well, it’s quite simple: the bird tends to bond more strongly with those who spend more time with him/her, and the bond with other family members weakens as a result.
Humans love instant gratification (that’s why “likes” on social media moments after making a post feel so good, and why we are so happy when we send an email and receive a response right away!). When family members other than the primary caregiver decide to interact with the bird (after many days, or weeks without direct interaction) they expect to pick up right where they left off, but this isn’t usually the case from the bird’s perspective.
What tends to happen is that the bird will exhibit signs of insecurity — reluctancy wanting to leave the cage, backing away, or flying to their primary caregiver repeatedly. This frustrates the other family member and thus they tend to adopt a more assertive approach to handling the bird, losing patience and not allowing the bird the time he/she needs to feel comfortable.
This creates tension between the bird and the human family member that only manifests itself in future interactions, putting a strain on the bond between the two.
Some Tips for Avoiding the One Person Bird
- Encourage the entire family to be involved with the bird every day, even if only for 3-5 minutes. Not every interaction is required to involve handling! Are the kids having breakfast before going to school? Great! They can feed healthy treats to the bird through the cage while they eat their cereal. Is dad reading the newspaper? Perfect — perhaps the bird can sit on a playstand with a recently filled foraging toy or a dish of veggies, enjoying ambient interaction with him.
- Keep the bird’s main cage located centrally, rather than in one person’s bedroom or office space. The bird can easily be moved from room-to-room in a travel cage during the day, or have a playstand in each room, but when everyone is home the bird should be part of the action.
- Get the entire family involved in trick-training the bird. Trick training is a fantastic bonding activity that provides mental stimulation, develops trust and is entertainment for both bird and human.
- Encourage visitors to your home to help socialize your bird. Ask them to feed a treat through the cage bars, or perhaps hold your bird if they are comfortable doing so. The more people the bird meets the more social he/she will be in general.
- Ensure your bird gets enough sleep every day. What?! How does this have anything to do with socializing? If your bird is tired he/she will be grumpy and in a less-than-social mood. A well-rested bird is engaged and interested in the family, and therefore easier to train and keen to interact.