Updated: Aug 15
It doesn’t matter if we already have a bird or are bringing one home for the very first time… we all have the same inclination to be forgetful about the pressures and fears a new bird experiences when they first arrive. It’s understandable, the bird is new to the household, after all, and we want to begin the process of making it a part of the family. We don’t intend to be forceful, but often we are.
We take the bird out to play for extended periods of time. Sometimes we invite people over to see the new addition to the family. We take pictures for Facebook. We try to cuddle, hoping to make the bird feel loved. We mean well, but these are actually the very things we shouldn’t be doing with a new bird, and here’s why:
Parrots are prey animals which makes them constantly on high alert. It is in their nature to be wary of all things unfamiliar – it is how they are wired to keep themselves alive.
When we bring a new bird into our house, EVERYTHING is unfamiliar – and scary. Think of it from a bird’s perspective: one minute they are at home in the pet store or breeder, in you walk, and their world is forever changed.
They are stuffed into a box and carried off by a stranger. They endure the odd sensation of a car ride. Then, when they are finally released from the box, they have no idea where they are anymore. They get placed into a strange cage containing curious things in a room they don’t recognize. There are unfamiliar sounds and smells and activities. Perhaps there is a family cat or dog…
Some birds will react with a casual “Hey! Where did the bird store go?” Another might think that these are the last moments of its life. Try to imagine how stressful the experience would be to a bird.
When we bring a new bird the very best way you can welcome it is by leaving it in peace to adjust.
Birds learn by observation and experience what is and is not safe. They only thing that will give them the opportunity to make these observations and draw conclusions from them is TIME. Give your bird the time it needs to adjust to its new environment before you expect it to interact comfortably with you.
I don’t mean that you should put the bird in another room and ignore it for a week. But the best interactions for the first couple of days will be the hands-off ones. Approaching your bird’s cage with your hands by your sides and taking a non-threatening stance is the best way to show your bird that you mean it no harm. When you talk softly and reassuringly, and DO NOT force physical attention on your bird, you are indicating the kind of respect and consideration that is most likely to earn trust.
Many birds are at least somewhat socialized at the pet store or breeder, having already been taught the step up command. New owners sometimes misread this as a sign of acceptance and when a new bird graciously steps onto their hand, they assume it is an invitation for further physical attention. Most birds are very uncomfortable being handled by a stranger, not only when they have first arrived home, but throughout their lives. Let your bird perch on your finger without any unnecessary touching in the beginning.
This is a great time to begin touch training, which IS hands-off and can be done while your bird is inside the cage at the beginning. This allows you to start the bonding and trust building process right away without the fear of handling from your bird’s perspective, and it gives you the opportunity to have the interaction with your new bird that you are craving without being forceful.
Let your bird to make the first moves towards hands-on physical interaction. It will let you know when it is ready to be handled by approaching you for it. Keep in mind that human beings are a predatory species and birds in the wild rarely survive physical interaction with a predator. When trust has been earned, you will be the first to know about it.
The first few days with your new bird should go towards building a foundation that will begin to support your new relationship. You don’t want any of your interactions to result in fear, or worse a bite. This will only serve to create suspicion and lingering doubts about your intentions.