Ask Lafeber

Question:

June 29, 2021

I do everything for my cockatiel and he hates me. But he loves my fiancé that does nothing.


I am so frustrated and heartbroken. We adopted Charlie about 3 years ago. We let him take his time to get adjusted and never pushed him (he’s a rescue that had been rehomed several times) and gave him space while showing him love from afar. Well now he will step up and hang out with my fiancé and I…but he wants nothing to do with me. I do everything for Charlie but he still seems to hate me. All he wants to do is sit on my fiancé’s left shoulder. And when fiancé leaves the room, Charlie flies right back into his cage. I don’t know what to do with him, I’m getting so frustrated with him because I spend hours a day trying to train him and show him love, but he hates me. I’m ready to give up. All he wants to do is sit on my fiancé’s shoulder all day long. Is he a lost cause? Am I taking this too personally? Is he just extra hormonal right now? Please help me 😢


Answer:

Hi Dove,

I know this is very frustrating and upsetting for you, but his behavior is very normal for an adult bird. Liz Wilson, a respected pet bird behavior consultant, had an article and talk about this type behavior, and the title was “Don’t Take it Personally”. As with all pet birds, Cockatiels are still a wild species, with wild instincts. We tend to expect a pet bird to be like domesticated dogs and cats, but instead, birds are still guided by natural instincts. As prey animals, they are wary of being grabbed. As a species that mates for life, Charlie’s instinct is to have a bond with one close mate, and in his case, he has chosen your fiancée. In the wild, Cockatiels will live in flocks for protection, but once an adult Cockatiel has a mate, it will no longer have physical contact with other flock members. In fact when breeding season arrives, breeding pairs will distance themselves from the other pairs or flock members and those will be considered rivals. There are things that can be done to try to prevent developing a mate bond with a pet bird, and limit it to a flock member type bond. This is better, because hormonal behavior does not come into play as much. If you had raised him from a young bird, it would be best to limit contact to head scratches. When you pet a bird on the body, this is something only a mate would be allowed to do. But with Charlie, he was already an adult when you got him, and his full history is unknown. Maybe he belonged to a couple to begin with, bonded with one person, and the other demanded that the bird be given away since they both couldn’t handle him. Sadly this is a common reason that a couple gives a bird away. It’s not likely that Charlie will change, but you can try some things that might help. Since he can fly, this puts him in full control over where he goes when he is out of the cage. A wing trim might help, and once Charlie molts, the feathers will grow back. Your fiancée could stop allowing Charlie on the shoulder – again, this puts Charlie in a position of being in charge. It’s best to keep a bird like Charlie just below eye level – about chest level or lower. This goes for when he is out. If he has a tall cage, get him a small playgym or stand instead to keep him from being above eye level. While Charlie may not warm up to you, it will make it easier to be around him. My concern is that if he remains flighted, he will start to attack you any time he feels threatened or gets jealous of you. I do hope that you can work this out, and be content with Charlie not being tame with you. You might consider getting your own bird, and just make sure you are the one who cares for it and do not let it interact with Charlie. If you and your fiancée spend equal time with a young bird, and avoid hormone triggers like petting it on the body, or allow it to fly or roam at will, the bird would be more likely to remain tame to both of you. But I hope if you do get a second bird, you will keep Charlie. After being bounced from home to home, he is finally ready to accept a human. It would be sad to break this bond. I know it’s hard to sit by and not be able to handle him, but now that you understand why, maybe it will be easier for you to understand Charlie, and know he has been through a lot and is finally happy.

Thank you for Asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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