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What To Do When You’re NOT "The Chosen One”

As bird lovers, we adore our parrots. We’d like to believe that they feel the same way about us, and most of the time they do. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we get dumped at the altar, er… perch.

Cathy Coleman

Moluccan cockatoo
It took time and patience to become best friends with Thor, the Moluccan cockatoo, rather than the "chosen one."

When considering the adoption of Thor, a 30-year-old Moluccan cockatoo hen, I spent weeks getting to know her. I went and sat by her cage. I talked to her. I gave her special treats and toys. When I felt like we had "bonded”, I brought Thor home … where she promptly fell in love with my husband. Did my husband, Frank, give her special treats? No. Did he bring her special toys? Nope. He simply sat down in his recliner, turned on the television, and Thor snuggled up to him with twinkling hearts in her eyes and sparkling unicorns dancing around her head.

Here are 5 tips on what to do when your feathered "soul mate” falls in love with someone else:

1) Don’t Take It Personal 
This is the most important tip, and the hardest one to accept. We can’t help it. As humans, we love "love” and loathe rejection from any species. It’s hard not to. But instead of becoming upset or angry, we need to learn how to turn what we might want to see as a negative situation into a positive relationship … for everyone.

Frank could swing Thor upside down and she would flap her wings wildly, cackling with school-girl delight. If I — lowly feeder of food and cleaner of poop — dare attempt the same thing, Thor would immediately fan out her head feathers, spread her wings wide, hiss loudly and sway back and forth. This became known as "The Pink Cobra Dance.” And it was extremely effective in keeping me away from the cockatoo that I thought was "mine” — as well as the husband who I also thought was "mine.” At that point, I realized that my husband had been crowned "The Chosen One,” and I was simply "The Help.”

Moluccan cockatoo
What happens when your bird chooses your significant other over you? Don't take it personally!

Try Random Acts of Kindness

Bribery works on the playground … until there is no more candy. This is also true with parrots. They know when you are being "goal-oriented” with them and when you are not.

I know this because I tried it … and failed. My husband could give Thor a treat and she would slowly eat it while gazing longingly into his eyes. If I gave Thor the very same treat, she would hold it in her foot and stare at me like I was a stranger trying to coax her with candy into my panel van. As soon as I walked away, "Thunk!”… the treat hit the floor.

What I did have success with was in the form of just being nice. I would visit Thor to give her a hug or groom her head-feathers. I would surprise her with her favorite treat — raw spaghetti noodles — and then go on about my day. I didn’t stay too long … and I never asked for anything in return.

3) See The World From Their Perspective
Relationships take time, especially with parrots. It won’t happen overnight, maybe not even for a long time, but eventually it WILL happen.

In the wild, parrots often take years before choosing their mates and even their friends. In the human world, we choose them as our friends, without so much as considering how they might feel. We imagine a BFF relationship with our parrot, the perfect "flock of two.” But for some parrots, they may view a new life with a complete stranger as something closer to an arranged marriage. It’s not their fault, really. After all, they are captives in the human world. And because of that, they don’t get to "choose” very many things in their life. We choose what they eat, when they come out of their cages, when they go to back in and when they go to sleep. And sometimes we even go so far as to choose their mates. So perhaps if we step back and pause to look at their world from THEIR eyes, maybe we would not be so surprised — or hurt — when they make a choice that we did not expect.

4) Be Yourself
You may feel that life with "The Chosen One” is a competition. It’s difficult not to feel that way… but it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Let’s face it: once your parrot has placed that crown on someone else’s head, odds are you’re not going to get it back. But occasionally, there are glimmers of hope. The key is to help your parrot learn to see the value of "you.”

In the beginning, there were times that I had to towel Thor for time outs. This usually amounted to just a few minutes in her cage. One evening I decided to try a different approach in hopes of gaining her trust. Instead of putting Thor in her cage, I placed her on the back of my rocking chair. When I took off the towel, Thor puffed up her crest and gave me a "How DARE you!” look. Instead of focusing on her, I turned my attention to "Mr. Towel.” I grabbed the terry cloth monster by its imagined neck and shook it hard.

"Bad towel! You leave Thor alone!” I angrily threw the towel into the darkness of the hallway and turned to Thor.

"Oh, Thor…" I said sweetly, "Are you OK? Did mean Mr. Towel hurt you? I am so sorry… you must have been terribly afraid."

Thor’s shiny black eyes were pools of endless gratitude and she stared up at me, clearly in awe of my power. She scurried over and buried her head in the crook of my arm. I smiled as I looked over at Frank, who was desperately trying to reclaim the lower part of his jaw.

moluccan cockatoo
Birds in the wild get to choose who they spend time with. They don't in our homes, so give them the time and space they need to figure out you're a friend.

It was only brief, but in that moment as the clouds parted and golden trumpets sounded forth from the heavens, I had become "The Chosen One.”

5) Practice Persistent Patience
We live in a hurry-up world. Parrots do not. It takes time for our parrots to learn to see us as individuals who can each bring something important into THEIR lives. Even if you aren’t "The Chosen One,” remember that you have plenty to offer your parrot.

My husband watches TV with Thor. He shares different treats with her than I do. He plays with her differently than I do. She and I sing hilariously awful together. I am her shower-buddy. Over time, Thor has learned the value of "me."

In the evenings, after Thor has spent her time with Frank, she comes and sits quietly on my shoulder with her cheek feathers fluffed up. She asks me to put her to bed. I give her a hug, tell her I love her and she softly clacks her beak in response. That did not happen overnight: it took years of me learning to be patient… yet persistent.

I understand that I will never be Thor’s "Chosen One”… but that doesn’t really matter anymore. Now I am something else: I am her best friend.

Loved this article? Then check out these!

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Posted: December 2, 2014, 10:45 a.m. PDT

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What To Do When You’re NOT "The Chosen One”

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Reader Comments
Birds aren't simple pets. I've learned that you need to watch and learn. I watched a Lessor Sulfer Crested Cockatoo hide from the staff at a bird store over a period of weeks. One day the right person walked in and the cockatoo couldn't take his eyes off the girl. It was the defining moment for that bird.

In my home I noticed that two problem rescues responded well to each other. The Major Mitchell is quite aggressive and the Citron is quite fearful. I've been using them to train each other. Both birds have blossomed as a result. The Citron needs a wingman and relies on the Major Mitchell for support. Sunday I'm taking the Citron to my parrot club without the Major Mitchell. I want to put the Citron in a situation where he needs to rely on me more. It will improve our bond.

You can manipulate the circumstances to gain the desired result. Everything relies on your power of observation.
Charlie, Orlando, FL
Posted: 5/3/2016 8:55:24 PM
i rescued otto, a male ekkie, from a basement. plucked, malnourished in a cage too small for him, i brought him home and began to work on all aspects of his recovery. it became obvious rather quickly, though, that he really preferred men. as otto became physically healthier he began to show his temper. he became very willful. he soon bonded with my husband and attacks me when i come near. otto is fed an all organic diet of veggies and sprouts and multiple supplements. it is a lot of work and my husband does none of it. it's ok with me though, i just want otto to be happy. otto and i sing together, talk to each other and i give him special treats also. i'll love him from afar, for the rest of his life. i've hung a sign next to his cage that says "love me when i least deserve it, because that's when i need it most". thanks for this article. it does help to know that you're not the only one out there loving a parrot who just can't love you back.
mary ann, wadibg river, NY
Posted: 7/30/2015 10:58:33 AM
i had an adorable blue budgie and he would think i was just a minor character in a storybook until when he got a kidney tumor and he needed a lot of help so i helped him because he could not use his left leg so we finally bonded and i became his chosen one. i fed him and helped him from perch to perch and until February Fri 13th he lay on the ground, lifeless. i will miss JD dearly.
Bianca, Markham ON Canada
Posted: 3/8/2015 6:49:25 PM
A friend had a rescue in her bird store a few years back. Stewie was a LS2 that had been pushed aside for a boyfriend an eventually sent to the garage. Stewie trusted nobody. I started a treat system where I placed a treat in a particular spot every time I visited. Along with the store's staff we were able to earn some trust. However, Stewie still didn't want to be handled. One day a petite young girl and her family came into the store. I watched as Stewie watched the girl. Soon the shy little bird was at the edge of his cage watching this girl. At my request, the girl reached through the bars to give Stewie scritches. Stewie was in heaven. The staff and I watched in amazement. Adoptions plans were made and fell through. Then another young girl with the same look came into the store and Stewie was in love again. I guess that birds are superficial too. Stewie got adopted. Shortly after moving into his new home Stewie broke out of his cage and went looking for people. His fear was gone. Stewie found love.
Charles, Orlando, FL
Posted: 2/4/2015 6:38:27 PM
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