Does Your Parrot Love You?

Does Your Parrot Love You?

 December 27th, 2009
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Blue and Gold Macaw

Parrots are very self-serving creatures.  Mostly, they are in it for themselves.  We’d like to think they are appreciative for the new toys, the clean cage and the fabulous food, but they aren’t any more than a young child would be.  While they might enjoy and take advantage of all of these creature comforts, the fact is that they don’t really care how these things got there, just that they are there.  It is unrealistic for us to expect them to be grateful for what they’ve got.  However, they will let you know, loudly, if their needs are NOT being met.

Parrots have been known to switch their allegiance from one human to another seamlessly. An example would be of the owner that leaves her parrot with friends while she goes on vacation, only to come back to find the parrot had enjoyed his visit and would like to stay.  He backs this decision with a bite to the surprised woman.  Once home again, the parrot’s loyalties reverted back to his owner, implying that he loves whoever is caring for him at the time.  Bird owners will insist that the reason for this erratic behavior is the parrot’s response to your absence with feelings of betrayal.   You are receiving the cold shoulder.

Hybrid macaw, blue and gold macaw

Science suggests that feelings of  “love” don’t fit in with survival strategies.  In the wild, a parrot selects a mate based on it’s ability to produce healthy offspring, build nests and defend territory.  Many birds mate for life, but when a mate dies, they simply move on to another.  Humans do that too, after a period of mourning (usually).  The idea of a bird feeling grief is an elusive one.  It isn’t possible to scientifically prove that a bird suffers loss the way humans do.  I will say this:  for three weeks, I watched my cockatiels experience weight loss and become less vocal and active following the death of a flockmate.  It is my unconfirmed opinion that they were experiencing grief.

Wikipedia defines love as: “a strong positive emotion of regard and affection”.  Many times my parrots insist on coming out of their cage to be with me when there is no food present and no insistence that I cuddle them or engage in play.  They will sit quietly on my shoulder or on the arm of the chair preening themselves (and me) or chatting about whatever is on their minds.  I have to come to the conclusion that they just enjoy my company.

Congo African Grey Parrot

I try really hard not to place human characteristics on my birds (anthropomorphisizing).  I try very hard to let them be birds and to understand that some of the things they do would be considered naughty or unacceptable in a human, but are natural behaviors for a bird.  I read as much as I can about a bird’s wild nature to try to incorporate it into captive life, and I understand the valuable contribution science makes to this process.  But do our birds love us?  I am of the unscientific opinion that they do.

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7 Comments on “Does Your Parrot Love You?”

Emily Jordan  12/27/2009 10:11 am

These photos are so sweet…thanks for sharing!

Laurie  12/27/2009 1:51 pm

I agree Patty. I do believe they love us. I also they understand our emotions. When I lost a bird and was crying, my other conure sat on my shoulder and rubbed his head on my jaw. He had never done that before. And hasn’t done it since.
Another time that I was upset and crying while in the birds room, all three birds sat very still and quiet. My Grey made little soothing sounds after awhile. They knew.
I too try not to expect them to understand loyalty or other behaviors that we expect from humans. But for the most part I think birds have an uncanny ability to understand many things.

Karla Deacon  12/28/2009 2:04 pm


I enjoyed your post. As a bird (and all other animal) lover I like to think…and do think…that they love us. I also think, like you mentioned, that they are more pragmatic than we are! I believe that animals do have souls, feelings and emotions.

Ali  12/29/2009 7:18 am

I really liked reading that. I believe that parrots can expereince love, and the same goes for other pets/animals. That doesnt mean that all pets will love all of their carers – its all about the bond. I agree that if a pet is getting its needs met, it will be happy and enjoy the company of whomever provides this, but there is something special about bonds we form with our animals… its like humans – some get along really well, others not so much, and that comes down to individual personality. I can think of people whom i formed bonds with that are no longer in my life, that i still think of fondly and wish i could spend time with them. I have other people i care about in my life now, but that doesnt stop me from thinking about old friends/family.
One of my cockatiels loves me, i beleive that so much. The excitement she shows when i come home, or wake up etc is phenomenal. All she wants to do is sit on my shoulder or finger, getting pats and preening me. She is so tame and loving and asks only to be with me. If i could take her to work with me im sure she would love to spend more time with me.
On a similar note, I have had a dog for 13 years, and we have a special bond. We have been so close, and shared so much of our lives together. She really is the best dog i could have ever hoped for, her temperment is amazing. When i do have to leave her, she suffers anxiety and depression, even when she is still in her house with one of my friends dog-sitting, or when she is at a friends house that she is very familiar and relaxed with. She still gets depressed, because she misses me – and i miss her too! I believe that she does love me, feels a wide range of emotions, and is also very perceptive to my feelings.
Something else i wanted to add was that i think that “love” can be compatible with “survival strategies” , because with this emotional attatchment we are likely to work together co-operatively with others to meet our own interests… being loved is in our own interests – if the love we recieve is nuturing and beneficial. So giving love will enhance the love thats recieved. Maintaining a loving relationship means that ones needs are continued to be met…. well, thats my opinion, and im no scientist!

Eva Knoche  03/08/2010 9:06 pm

hey i have a question about my bird (sunconure) skeeter when i have him in my lap or on my chest he will make this rapid sort of clicking noise and sometimes it loud or soft and he is puffed up and looks happ y his eyes are half open im wondering though is he really happy or annoyed or what and what does it mean when he is puffed up or when his feathers are straight and flat/ thankyou so much!!! ps havin fun reading the articles!!

Patty  03/09/2010 10:30 am

Hi Eva,
It sounds like Skeeter is excited. Since you mentioned the clicking beak, my guess is hormones.

Bonnie Hemmersbach  04/14/2010 9:45 pm

I want to believe what you say. I allow for the natural behaviors and responses. I am educated on the temperment of a Yellow-naped Amazon. I hand-raised this male from the time his pin-feathers were emerging. He wasn’t my first parrot and he wasn’t my first Amazon. He probably has a record-breaking vocabulary, he sings and is quite the character. As a baby, he watched TV. I could call him to me from another room, and he slept with me in a basket in bed. Now, to try to handle him, he will bite-and bite viciously.
I know it is out of jealously-there are two other parrots and 5 dogs. Hey, it’s not like he hasn’t learned about the dogs! He calls them all by their names! And, he barks all their individual barks! (He can also say: “Are you ready for some football?”)
I don’t believe he is happy, yet I don’t know what to do. He has been raised on people food. Fresh, daily, the best vegetables, cooked rice, etc., (he also loves pizza) who else can I really trust to take over his care? Or how do I communicate to him he is still just as loved as ever, when he bites me to the bone?
The two other parrots: a Gallah (Rose-Breasted Cockatoo) and a Myers (which was a rescue). The dogs are all small dogs (rescues).