Don and Pamela Harris with their Green-winged macaw,
Navidad, who gets along great with both of them.

Susie Christian

Morro Bay, CA.

How many times have you heard people say that a particular bird prefers or only accepts a male or female owner?  This issue comes up repeatedly when people rehome parrots.

Nan Karahoca’s hen eclectus was rehomed five times and every owner, including the person who hatched her and kept Lacey for years before Lacey became “vicious”.  All five owners confirmed and reconfirmed that Lacey did not like women.  In fact Nan was nearly rejected as a potential home for the bird because of Nan’s sex, even though it was perfectly clear in the pet shop that this particular bird and Nan were bonding well in the store.

However, Nan persisted, visiting every day, and ended up trading an expensive new brooder for Lacey, which was a real sacrifice.  Nan told the shop owner it was OK if she didn’t want her to have Lacey and she could keep the brooder either way.  That generous gesture could possibly have tipped the scale in Nan’s favor.

The shop owner had been very strong on her wishes for Lacey to go to a young male.  In fact one evening when Nan went to the shop, the owner was in the process of choosing between Nan and a young man.  Imagine, a sixty-year old Nan, competing against a twenty-year old in this way!  Nan was an experienced bird keeper, had a stable home and grown children.  A real no brainer who the bird belonged with, one would think.

It was plain to see that Lacey clearly preferred Nan, but the owner said that she was known to do that at first and then “turn” eventually.  Nan said it didn’t matter if she became a sweet pet or not because Lacey would just be accepted in whatever kind of relationship she offered.

When Nan told them she wanted Lacey to see a vet for help with her sore eye, the young man immediately said he couldn’t spend that kind of money on her and that Nan should be the one to take the bird.  It was almost two years ago when they both gave in and let Nan take Lacey home. 

About seven months after she took possession of Lacey, Nan ran into the same young man by accident.  He was working at a local PetCo and it turned out he dabbled in parrots – that is, he took them home, worked with them for a few months or a couple of years, then would resell them.  He boasted how he liked to experiment with having all the different species.

Nan feels the bottom line is not the sex of a potential new owner, rather something else in a given person that a bird is responding to.  It would be nice if all potential buyers would let the birds choose without prejudice and evaluate only the skill and dedication of a potential new owner without regard to their sex.

Taunia Viergutz really does not believe in preferences of male or female with birds.  All of her birds came with those statements and all of them have yet to prove the sex preference statements are correct.  She feels it is all in the way the birds are handled, talked to and respected as birds.

Laurella Desborough agrees with the sentiments shared by both Nan and Taunia, going on to say the statements from people about WHO a bird will prefer, indicates that they may not understand HOW birds relate to people. 

Laurella has received birds that were said to be biters and those birds never did bite her.  She has received birds that were said to be screamers and they did not scream in her aviary.  The point is that parrots are very flexible and they WILL make decisions about people, which we may not always understand.  Laurella believes it is the appearance, qualities, essence and behavior of the person that draws the bird to that specific person.

Laurella tells of a ten year old, male Red sided eclectus in her aviary who was a stand-offish bird.  He obviously didn’t like her at all and would threaten her, even as he took an almond from her hand.  Laurella’s daughter in law visited her and went into the aviary.  This bird flew to a perch next to the daughter in law and started up a big conversation.  Previously, no one had ever heard this bird’s large vocabulary.  Every day she visited him he would make a point of getting as close to her as possible and talking to her.  Daughter in law has no birds and never has had a bird, but this particular bird really liked her so she carried on a conversation with him.

People often expect parrots to immediately respond to them even when the parrot has never ever met the person before.  A pet bird in a home situation may not be comfortable with strangers if the bird has not often met strangers.  

Extremely important is what happens with many young birds when first entering a new environment.  When a new owner interacts with a young parrot in a pet store or at the breeder's home, that young bird may be very comfortable with the new person BECAUSE the young bird is in a safe, known environment.  However, when that same young parrot goes into the new owner's home, the unfamiliar surroundings are a very strange and unknown environment for that young parrot.  Instinctively, the bird is going to be wary, to be watchful, to resist being handled, because instinct tells it to process what happened and to determine whether or not the new world is safe.

This situation is not well understood by the new owner who expects the bird to behave exactly as it did in the pet store or breeder's home!  So, the new owner is busy trying to get the bird to step up, to sit on their hand, to interact, and the bird acts fearful and resistant and may even bite if the new owner persists.  This is setting the stage to change a quality pet bird into a very nervous bird that doesn't want to be handled.

The best way to interact with a young parrot brought into the home of a new owner is to give the bird time to adjust.  Feed it.  Talk to it.  But do NOT try to make it step up and be handled. There is some kind of misinformation that has often been stated..."Don't let your bird become cage bound! Make it come out of the cage!"  Laurella feels that is a very inaccurate assessment of the young bird in a new home.  Once the bird begins to feel comfortable with the new owner and the new home, the bird will be very interested in stepping up and coming out of the cage.  It is critical that the bird be given the time it needs to develop trust in the new owner.  This may happen in an hour, a day, a week or even up to three weeks. But the wait is worth it because the new owner now has a bird that trusts him or her, instead of a bird that is fearful because it was FORCED to interact when it was not yet ready.

Birds are interesting, variable and complex but flexible and we should not put a label on them like a preference for men or women because birds can change as their situation changes, if we give them the opportunity.

Photo credit: Susie Christian

Copyright © 2012, Susie Christian