People who adopt larger parrots for the first time often hold the misconception that they’ll get to know their new feathered friend in a week or two, give or take. That their parrot will have maybe a week of transition as they settle into their new home for the first time.

Bonds take time. Trust. And positive experiences. Lots, and lots of positive experiences!

As a former dog or cat owner, I expected these same things–you feed a kitty, you snuggle a puppy, boom, they’ll love you forever. You know your pet, and they’ll adore you even if you have to scold them a time or two for breaking the rules.

Scold a parrot a time or two in the first few weeks, and they might just never forget it–or forgive you.

The longer I’ve been a parrot owner, the more I’ve realized how important it is that every experience be a positive one.

We’ve had our cockatiel approximately a year, our eclectus for eight months, and our senegal for six. We’re still learning new things about each other every day; any time I’ve reacted in a negative way, I find myself taking two steps back for every step forward with each of our little men.

Thus, in order to truly bond with your flock (especially rehomed parrots) and build that coveted bird-person relationship, it’s important to consider what needs to happen each time you interact with your bird so that he enjoys himself.

Make every experience count: make it deliberately positive.

Our senegal, for example, is an absolute sweetheart; he loves to sit on shoulders, sings and dances and enjoys scritches.

He also bites like the dickens when he doesn’t want to be put down somewhere.

Now, I am terrible at not reacting to bird bites; what can I say, I have a low pain tolerance! His control-biting is the slow, tendon-grinding, deep-flesh puncture wound type that gets a reaction out of me every time.

Naturally, having someone scream out in pain and/or yell in anger isn’t exactly a positive experience for a bird. This issue resulted in a few more nasty bites before I realized I was destroying the tenuous relationship we’d been building.

Our solution? Stick training; Ozone now has a little stand that he steps up on instead of our hands. No more control-biting! We pet him, we coo to him, he dances, he interacts with us and enjoys time on a stand every day, but any time we pick him up, we know we are taking a measured, calculated risk.

We’ve been bitten a lot less, and Ozone dances a lot more–our little man is MUCH happier!

Progress is generally slow; our cockatiel, for example, started by freaking out and posturing with squeaks and frantic bites every time a hand even approached his cage. One year later, he reliably steps up–but I am still envious of my friend’s cockatiels, who snuggle and beg to be petted like puppies.

It may not seem like a lot of progress, but for Qtip, he’s taken HUGE leaps of faith in order to trust us. When he initially made a BIG show of biting, we picked him up anyway, gently and lovingly with a happy “Step up!” command, and eventually he stopped trying to bite us… sometimes. Occasionally, he reverts back to the early days of posturing aggression, but those episodes are becoming fewer and far between.

He hates to be touched, yet craves it from our budgies who want nothing to do with him–whereas before, he’d erupt in a chorus of angry, bite-laden chirps if our fingers hovered anywhere near him, now he’ll tolerate his shoulders touched–for a second. Maybe two. But he’s such a lovely fella that I have confidence we’ll eventually get to a place where we understand one another better.

Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to show our feathered companions that we adore them. That they are safe. That they are loved.

Make every experience a positive one–even if progress is slow.

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