Our pet birds might exhibit surprising or inexplicable behaviors. The following letter addresses a commonly seen problem.
Q: I am proudly owned by a 15-year-old Amazon parrot named Gus. I was fortunate to adopt Gus from a loving couple who, because of retirement and extended travel plans, wanted to find a new home for Gus so that he would get all the love and attention he so much deserves. I have had Gus for about two years now, and he has proven to be a real joy! He loves to talk, whistle and sing and is a real show-off in front of guests. Gus laughs a lot and barks like a dog. His favorite saying is “Da Doot Da Doo, Charge” (as in “Charge of the Light Brigade”).
We keep his cage open at all times, and, as miraculous as this might sound, he poops only in his cage or other suitable area, not on me. Also, he does not chew anything except for his toys. All in all, he is a kind and loving companion.
Gus’ only quirk is that he does not like men and will not allow them to handle him. He fiercely bites at any male who comes close enough to do so. I even take him to a female avian veterinarian to avoid unnecessary stress, etc. His former owners warned me about this trait, and I accepted it as part of his personality, but I cannot help but wonder why does he/she (Gus is not sexed) not like men?
His former owners took wonderful care of Gus, but he only allowed the woman to handle him. He was briefly owned by a male prior to that, so I wonder if this owner possibly mistreated him. Or is this just something that Gus always felt? What do we know about parrots that do not like one sex or the other? Are there any possible causes and cures? Thank you!
Gus’ aggression toward men is a behavior commonly seen in parrots. Unlike us, birds in a domestic environment lack societal restraints that prevent them from acting out their feelings toward individuals, and we often allow the behavior to continue unabated.
Bird Gender Fears
There is no single factor that creates situations that cause birds to dislike a particular type of person — men, for example. Admittedly, one of the most serious reasons can be due to mistreatment by a male. This was frequently seen in imported wild birds, since most of them had been captured and transported by men. Those birds commonly gravitated to women.
Domestically-bred birds are not exempt from being frightened into disliking people. I remember one 4-month-old, hand-fed, domestically-bred, baby blue-and-gold macaw that was examined by a male veterinarian who did not know how to properly handle a baby.
All of his nails were trimmed to the point that they bled and caused pain for days afterward. That one experience was all it took for the poor baby to become frightened of all strangers, male and female, and to react to men, specifically, in a frenzied, almost suicidal manner. It was so sad and so unnecessary.
Dislike does not always result from a physical confrontation. Some parrots react to verbal teasing with extreme aggression or fear behaviors. In many cases, however, birds develop a preference based on something less dramatic than mistreatment. For example, hand-fed birds commonly gravitate to the sex of the person who fed them when they were babies, especially if there is little outside socialization with people of the opposite sex.
Rarely are we able to determine why one human prefers a certain individual over another, so doing this with birds presents an additional challenge. Birds probably love whomever they love, but their favorite person might also reinforce their behavior, such as by removing the bird from the presence of those they do not like. The bird eventually learns that he can get attention by lashing out at or appearing fearful toward those that he does not want around. Time passes. Eventually, no one remembers exactly why, or when, the bird began disliking a particular human. Everyone fits themselves around the problem and life goes on, with the bird’s behavior never improving.
Birds are much like small children, and children often become jealous of other family members — including a parent — who take away the attention of their favorite person. We understand that this is a normal response in children and teach them that the behavior is not acceptable; birds, however, are often cuddled and rewarded for similar behavior.
Because of the severity and length of Gus’ dislike or fear of men, positive results might be minimal, especially if there are few men around who are willing to work with him.
Still, I think it is worth trying. Remember that Gus does not care whether or not his behavior pleases a man. He is, however, interested in your response. Do not inadvertently reward your bird’s negative behavior.