Rebuilding Broken Bonds Of Trust With Your Parrot

Rebuilding Broken Bonds Of Trust With Your Parrot

 July 19th, 2010
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Congo African Grey Parrot

Q:  I was forced to board my parrot at the vet for two weeks when I had to fly out of town because my mother become ill.  Now my bird wants nothing to do with me, and has actually bitten me twice, which is not like her at all. What can I do to fix our relationship?

A:  One of the first things I teach my birds is an understanding of the words “I’m sorry”.  Accidents happen, toes get closed in cage doors, beaks get bonked with elbows. When I issue a heartfelt apology, all is forgiven. Sometimes, though, we commit such a sin in the eyes of our parrots that all the “I’m sorry”s, special treats and extra scritches in the world won’t make a difference. Usually, these things are done inadvertently by us, or out of necessity, as in your case.  Sometimes we have no clue that we did anything wrong at all.
Try to understand that you are you bird’s best friend, in some cases, only friend.  They look to you for their daily care and companionship. Imagine what it must seem like to your bird to be suddenly dumped in a strange place. Looking at this from a bird’s perspective, it’s a little unreasonable for us to expect that all of them will just accept what must seem like abuse.
Different birds handle their anger in different ways.  Some will turn their backs on you, which is a bird’s way of refusing to acknowledge your presence, some will take favor in a different person, some will bite.
If you had found out that your best friend had stolen money from you, you’d feel angry and betrayed, right?  Isn’t your hurt magnified by the fact that this was your best friend whom you trusted implicitly? If we lived in a society that accepted biting as reasonable retaliation in these circumstances, as birds do, wouldn’t you take a chunk out of your friend’s arm?  I would.

Congo African Grey Parrot

Since we can’t explain our misdeeds to a parrot, there is one way, and one way only, to fix this problem: by earning back the trust of your parrot through your actions. It’s not as hard as it might sound. You have already done this once when you first brought her home.


Take your relationship with your bird to the beginning, right back to the very first day you brought her home, and start over. When you’re done reading this post, write an outline of your first day with your bird way back when. Begin with a paragraph about how you felt.  Were you excited?  What were your hopes for this new relationship?  Were you looking for a constant companion for you or existing bird? What were your expectations?  Did you hope she would talk, learn tricks, accompany you on outings?
Write another paragraph about how the bird reacted to coming to your home?  Was she frightened?  Standoff-ish?  Was she a little slow to accept new things?
Finally make a list of all the special considerations you made to ensure her comfort. Did you speak more softly? Keep the household calm and quiet at first? Move more slowly around her to keep from frightening her?  Make sure she got lots of sleep?
Since you had created a great relationship with your bird, you have to assume you did things to her liking the first time around. Do it again.

Congo African Grey Parrot

It’s pretty simple isn’t it?  This time you even have the advantage of not being a total stranger. Usually the bird will come around pretty quickly, if you put in the effort. As things become familiar and comfortable again, she will begin the let go of her grudges.
I will say, though, that the more clever birds know when you are “sucking up” and will use it to their advantage. This is one area of a bird’s intelligence that we continually under-estimate. You will want to recognize signs of this and know where to draw the line. You are not trying to buy her love by spoiling her.  You are simply re-establishing what you once had. There’s a big difference.
Take a look at the paragraph you wrote about your expectations with this bird. Did you accomplish them?  If not, this is a second chance to change any bad habits or start training the new behaviors and tricks you had once imagined.

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5 Comments on “Rebuilding Broken Bonds Of Trust With Your Parrot”

George  07/25/2010 11:38 am

Hello, i have a question for you, I have two quaker parrots, and they are very sociable and friendly, but when they are inside the cage, the male, every time that I get close to the cage it attacks me and start screaming, but when I take them out of the cage it is all the opposite. What can I do to solve this problem?

Patty  07/25/2010 12:40 pm

Hi George,
Quakers can be very territorial around the cage. It’s an instinctual behavior and to some degree will always be there, especially during breeding season. It sounds like you have a male/female pair, which makes the inclination to bite even stronger in your bird. First, take a look at how you are going about this. Are you reaching in respectfully and slowly so as not to startle them? If not try changing your approach.
I know my quaker will sometimes nip at me no matter how carefully I proceed into the cage. She used to downright bite me but we’ve gotten it to a warning peck on occasion now. Since my quaker is very food motivated, I started reaching in the cage with a favorite treat. Since a bird can’t bite and eat at the same time (these are known as incompatible behaviors), it has helped a lot and adjusted her to allowing my hands in the cage. I only go in with the occasional treat now.
Another approach is to cage the male and female separately to minimize the urge to defend the “nest”.

Victoria  07/26/2010 10:34 am

I got my grey, Gus, when he was just a baby. I spent lots of time holding him when I was up in the morning and at night before I went to bed. I always was in my bathrobe. Now, if Gus is worried or nervous when I get him out, I put on my robe and he cuddles right into it and calms right down and becomes like a baby again. I will never ever be able to get rid of this robe, it is Gus’s :). He seems to feel very safe and comforted by it.

Holise Cleveland  07/29/2010 2:32 pm

Bravo! Well said!

David  01/21/2018 6:08 pm

I have an African grey since 2006. Around 2009 I had to get his wings clipped because he kept breaking out of his cage.
We had a good relationship up to then but I had to throw a towel over him to get him into a smaller cage.
Since then he will not let me pet him. He will come out of the cage and go on a perch, but that is it.

How can I regain my birds trust.