I received a question from a reader and would love to share my response publicly here, so that we can all benefit! If you have a bird (especially a parrot) or are curious about pair bonding, this will be a fascinating read!
“Hi! I have a blue and gold macaw that I’m having issues with. She’s taken to me and no one else. She screeches non stop when she sees my husband and she’s not friendly with anyone but me. It got so bad that we’ve had to move her out of the house. My husband wants to me to find her another home but it’s nearly impossible and I will not just give her to anyone. She’s 4 and I am hoping that you can help me!!!! Thank you!”
Thank you for reaching out! I hope my advice and experience will be helpful to you, your bird and the rest of your family.
Parrots (your macaw is a type of parrot) are very social with their flock but especially with their pair-bond mate. Allow me to explain.
By nature, parrots bond in pairs. This means that they create a deep, attached relationship with an individual. They do this in wild nature before they are sexually mature, which indicates how fundamental this need is. In wild nature, they do bond with the opposite sex, and so propagation continues. In domesticated life, they will create a pair bond with whomever is available. A human, a dog, etc, anyone who is available and most suitable candidate will work. If you had another bird, then that would be the first choice, even if they were the same sex of a different species of bird.
Your parrot has selected you for her pair-bond mate. If you were to get another macaw, then she would likely transition her bond to that bird. If you got another bird of a different species, she may or may not transition her pair bonding. If your bird bonded with another macaw, the pair would almost cease having a physical relationship with humans.
Secondary to the pair bond relationship is the necessity of a flock. In wild nature, a parrot would always be with their pair-bond mate and in a flock. In domestication, the flock can is whoever is in the family; humans, other animals, etc.
In domestication, the need of flock engagement is fulfilled by seeing faces, hearing voices, general interaction, but not always physical touch with anyone other than the pair-bond mate. Physical touch is sometimes relegated to the pair-bond mate only, but this depends on the individual bird. Most parrots do accept physical touch from many in the flock with an emphasis on the pair-bond mate.
Parrots are protective, jealous even, of their pair-bond mate — this is why you would likely not have a physical relationship with a bird who has a partner of the same species. This is also why your bird is protective of you and unfriendly to anyone who is not you.
I grew up with an Amazon parrot in my family; his name was Jerry. Jerry came to live with the family when my father was 8 years old. Jerry was pair-bonded with my father his whole life. Even as my father moved away and had his own family, he would cling to my father every time he saw him. Jerry did form a bond with my grandmother (with whom he spent his life after my father moved out) and he also loved my aunt. But the relationship he had with my father never changed.
The most important thing to understand is that it is entirely unnatural for a parrot to ever be alone.
Your bird’s behavior is not misbehavior, it is as natural as the human need for contact. It isn’t something that can be trained out of the bird. Putting her outside of the home, away from contact with her pair-bond mate (you) and outside of the flock (seeing your family), causes her emotional and physical distress. To her, it feels like torture, like a prison’s solitary confinement. I don’t mean to be indelicate, I don’t want you to feel guilty or shamed by my explanation. I am not judging you, please understand that! I am trying to give you all of the information. I am being direct so that I can communicate the truth of the matter here.
And now I will share with you how I have handled having a pair bond with my parrot. My parrot was (she has passed now) a cockatiel. Yes, this is a tinier parrot as compared to your blue and gold macaw, but parrots of all type have this relational need to pair-bond and flock. My cockatiel was named Shale. When Shale first came home to me, I didn’t know anything about this pair-bond business. I got a little book on parrots and read about it. I then went to the store that Shale came from and asked them about pair bonding. The store owners rescue parrots and are well-versed on their habits. They confirmed everything that I have explained to you above. Shale had been in my home for a few weeks and we had, indeed, pair bonded. But I was horrified at the thought of her solitude when I had to go to work. I came up with a solution that helped my Shale.
I welcomed into the home a parakeet. This is a different species of parrot, similar yet smaller in size. I hoped that the parakeet – his name was Fabi – would provide a flock level of companionship while I was away at work. I kept them in separate cages for a while so that I could preserve my pair bond with Shale. After a while, I integrated them. And then I was left with an interesting situation. Shale was still pair-bonded with me. She was still desperate for me, wanted to be with me always, crying for me any time she could not be with me. But – Fabi was pair-bonded to Shale! It was a love triangle! Fabi liked me too, he even allowed me to handle him, although it was usually when I was also holding Shale.
My results are not necessarily typical. Animals have as much individuality in their personalities as do humans. When I devised my plan to introduce a parakeet to my home as a flock companion for Shale, the expert advisors (those store owners) didn’t know if it would work. I guess I used my intuition and it did work out for us. However, note that Shale’s attachment to me was always intense. If Shale had it her way, she would never have left the two foot range of my body for one second of her life.
I loved my Shale bird so much, so so much!! Shale passed 9 years ago. Since she passed, I have not had a pair-bonded relationship with a parrot. Since she passed, I have had pairs of parakeets who pair bond to one another and have a lightly physical relationship with me as a flock member (who feeds them, ha ha!). Some day, I will, again, have a pair-bonded relationship with a parrot. But it is intense, and the grief of losing Shale was intense. So I just have not been ready yet.
I am fully disclosing all of this so that you can understand how to proceed. Perhaps understanding her needs better will help you and your husband to accept her for these needs. Maybe it can help you to adapt, relax, and understand how she can be happy in your home. Or, it could be that re-homing your macaw is the best option. If you do re-home her, then you will know that it is best to select people who understand the needs of parrots and/or who have experience with parrots. Or, you could find someone who is capable of fulfilling her social needs, someone who has the time, patience, commitment and availability and can be educated about her needs as I was when I first got Shale. This is for you to consider.
You all are in my heart and prayers. Please do keep me posted, if it is convenient.