Avian Expert Articles

Emotional Like Us: Parrots & Jealousy

blue and gold macawsAs humans, we display a wide array of emotions that reveal our states of mind. It’s quite a sight to witness happiness in full bloom, and equally dismaying to see sadness in action. Of course, those are only two in the wide spectrum of emotions.

Some emotions can be destructive, and some simply annoying. Take jealousy as an example. It’s an emotion that demands attention, can be destructive to both the one who experiences it and the receiving party. But as emotions go, they’re exclusive to the mapping of each individual being. They’re like fingerprint and retinal accuracy unique to the individual. Everyone has retinas, but no one has the exact same one.

The science of jealousy is simple enough. Its inherent basis is in how we feel about people and their actions, our jobs and how we do them, something we own that is special to us, and those we closely love. It is an expression of established relationships and an overstepped imaginary line drawn by ourselves. As a result of instinctive jealousy, a collection of other emotions arises that includes anger, sadness, even depression. For birds, a display of any of these can have terrible results.

Emotional Ranges

Birds (and other living sentient beings) are as capable of emotional range as we are. We accept happiness in birds, and tolerate their occasional bursts of anger. After all, such things are indicative of an existing state of reality that is either pleasing – or not – to the bird. You strive to fix it. So, what happens if your bird is displaying jealousy? Such an emotion requires strong courses of action to alleviate or altogether eliminate the emotion so that all parties can live peacefully.

For exotic birds in your home, an introduction of a new bird, or even another type of pet, that will occupy a bit more of your immediate attention can set off the protective mode of jealousy. Visible results of jealousy could involve a range of aggression toward you or the new animal – or both. This can lead to biting, incessant screeching, and even full frontal attacks. Worse, the bird could internalize and begin to engage in self-destructive behavior such as plucking its feathers (often referred to as FDB, or “feather damaging behavior”), or worse, skin mutilation. Once behaviors get this far, preventing it becomes more difficult.   Therefore, it becomes important to address jealousy in birds long before unnerving behavior degrades beyond help.

Of course, not all birds display jealousy. Some rely on their naturally social instincts to adapt to the introduction of another bird. But should your beautiful bird begin to become despondent over a new addition in your house, any displayed jealousy should be immediately attended to by a practiced set of attempts to help ease the original bird’s disrupted rhythm.

If the new arrival is a love interest, it is important that the new person immediately step in and gain the bird’s attention and trust by lovingly caring, handling, and feeding it. This will go far in helping to alleviate any sense of jealousy in a bird. (Guys and gals, be decidedly careful not to reverse this problem where you spend more time with the bird than with your significant other.) Never punish a bird during any displays of jealousy. You will lose important ground that you and others have worked hard to achieve, all within minutes. Anger is not deterred and thwarted by anger.

With the introduction of a new bird, it’s wise to not house them together. Instead, selected time periods of merging and bonding along with close monitoring will go far in helping the birds to accept each other for the long term-relationship.  Once it seems both birds get along, and you wish to house them together, consider acquiring a new, larger cage for the both of them. Another reason to get a new cage?  If you place a bird in the other’s original cage, a sense of territorial invasion might erupt, thus undoing all of the hard work in getting them to accept each other.  More extreme care in jealousy displays must be employed if dealing with multiple birds (more than two), as two or more might be inclined to vie for the attention of another.

Dissuading jealous behavior among your birds is a tough project. It’s often difficult enough among people; and twice as difficult among our pets as they cannot reason as a human has the ability to do. The internet is filled with resources and hard-gained advice on how to discourage bird jealousy. With a lot of patience, you can help your birds to feel loved and individually special. The fact that you have a bird in the first place already indicates your special qualifications in patience and love.

7 thoughts on “Emotional Like Us: Parrots & Jealousy

  1. This article is great, but it’s a lesson I learned too late! I thought I’d get my Quaker Parrot a friend, so I bought a Cockatiel to keep him company. I learned he hated the new bird, bit one of the Cockatiel’s toes off and you can imagine the rest.

  2. thanks Matt for writing this article- i have been saying this for years about bird behaviour being the same with human behaviour and our emotions the same

  3. My Lutinal Cockateil has turned mean for no reason ….he flys in to my hair then trys to attack me for know reason he has liberty to fly when hes out and then he’ll come around calm and then hes angry then stsrys doing his attcking me then I cactch nim and put him in his cabe for two or three days till I feel he s calm down…….but then he does it agin mean mean…..p.ease help me with him he s15 yrs old …but nothing new not any other bird or pet…p.ease helppppppp me please……..Debbie

    1. Hi Debra, I had a male Cockatiel who did similar things. As a young bird he love, love,loved me. As he got older he got very aggressive and would sometime bloody my ear lobe. A friend of mine bred Cockatiels and suggested that he needed to breed. We loaned him to my friend. He was SO happy. He fostered many chicks. I visited often, and he would whistle for me when he saw me. But… he always wanted to go back to his hens.

  4. My m2 does show some jealousy of me when my wife comes home and i give her a hug and a kiss…he looks at us/her…then usually screams a bit for her to come to him as well and get a hug and kiss…so yes..they can be jealous!

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