Parrots Forever
Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation
   Home      STABILITY April 7 2015

Misconception: Although I’m very busy, and there are many changes in my life, I spend time every day with my companion parrot. Because of that, the situation is stable.
Fact: The fact that you are home every day to feed and acknowledge your parrot does not create a bond of any significance. It does not instill the parrot with a feeling of confidence, or provide an environment where they feel safe and secure emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Without proper time, care, and attention, a companion parrot will never develop a strong bond with their caregiver in any significant way. When that happens, the psychological state and condition of the parrot manifests as perceived behavioral issues. Meaningful interaction with a parrot is extremely difficult when that parrot has little or no respect for the caregiver.
What is proper care for your companion parrot? Many caregivers will concentrate on providing fresh water at least twice a day, feeding fresh food twice a day, providing pellets and fortified seed for variety, letting the parrot out of the cage at least 4-6 hours a day every day, and spending one-on-one time with the parrot every day. So what’s the problem, you may ask? Well, these are only the basic minimums for a companion parrot. These basics are not sufficient to create a healthy, strong, and resilient bond with the caregiver, a bond that is everlasting and robust when stressful events happen. Emergencies and unforeseen events may mean that the parrot’s daily routine is temporarily changed. The prior establishment of a strong bond with the caregiver enables the parrot to withstand these changes, and the parrot-caregiver relationship does not suffer.
Unfortunately, many primary caregivers think that just showing up, letting their companion parrot out for a few hours, and spending a little time with them will produce the results they expect and think they deserve. There is much more involved in establishing a stable environment and a healthy relationship than that!
The best way to explain this is to give an example of a well-intentioned caregiver who was committed to their parrot but had very little control over the environment that the parrot was experiencing and what the parrot was subjected to over a 13-month time frame.
The caregiver to-be had conferred with their partner about bringing a companion parrot into their home and the responsibilities they would be taking on. Much thought, time, and due diligence was taken before they made the decision to welcome a parrot as a new family member. Immediately the parrot felt right at home and comfortable with the new surroundings and with both caregivers. Over the course of the next 3 weeks everything went well, and the parrot became comfortable with the routine and his place in the family.
One week later (just 4 weeks after bringing home the parrot) the couple separated. The primary caregiver took the new parrot and moved back in with the parents. The responsibility of running a business combined with a longer commute put more constraints on the caregiver’s time. As a result, the parrot did not see the primary caregiver as much. Although the primary caregiver was home most evenings, not as much time could be spent with the parrot before bedtime. The parents helped by letting the parrot out of the cage and socializing with him in the early part of the evenings before the primary caregiver came home.
After about 4 months in this environment, the parrot started showing some cage aggression and biting. Although the primary caregiver was busy much of the time, the parents still let the parrot out of the cage and talked to him a lot. However, parrots know who their primary caregiver is, and want to be with that person and have their undivided attention.
Four months later, the environment changed again when another couple (extended family) moved in with the parents. The home dynamics changed for the third time in 5 months, and the parrot had to adjust to a different environment again, in addition to having to deal with new people.
There were no additional changes to the dynamics of the household over the next 6 months. The primary caregiver was still not home much in the evenings. Various different family members (some old, some new) tried to help out in caring for the parrot. The parrot was having a tough time trying to ascertain who to form a bond with. Most companion parrots can get along with most members of the family, but every companion parrot needs that special someone they can form a strong bond with.
Lacking a strong bond with the primary caregiver, the parrot had no base of comfort, no security or sense of belonging, and no self-confidence. The parrot's psychological state and condition suffered because of the confusion and chaos in the household, and serious behavioral issues arose. The parrot was looking for that special someone to be the anchor, someone who could be relied on when the situation became too stressful, and someone who could be counted on to be there and make things better.
After 11 months, the parrot and primary caregiver moved out of the parents’ home and into a new home, complete with a new partner. The parrot now had to adjust to his third home within 1 year and had to adjust to another new person. After about 3 weeks in their new home, the primary caregiver’s new partner had their 2 young kids over for the weekend, and again the parrot had to adjust to new people coming and going. These constant changes were happening while the parrot did not have a strong bond with the primary caregiver, and had no opportunity to form one.
Over the course of 13 months, the parrot and caregiver failed to form a strong, healthy connection. As a result, the parrot had been living without structure in an environment that was not stable. Structure in the environment is good and necessary, but stability is an absolute requirement for the parrot to be able to assess and comprehend the world, and to figure out where and how they fit into this world. Being comfortable with their world and their place in it helps the parrot to have self-confidence and healthy coping mechanisms when changes or stress arises.
I’m not saying that having a companion parrot as a pet is impossible, or that you can never have changes within the home. However, when a companion parrot is brought into a new home as a pet, there is going to be a period of confusion and stress. The parrot is looking for someone whom they can count on from the very first day. If the parrot is young and immature, he/she will look to the primary caregiver as a parent. If the parrot is mature, then the relationship may be that of a mate. Both of these bonds are strong once established. The caregiver must be aware of the dynamics of the relationship with the parrot and the role that they play in helping the parrot cope with changes in the environment, dealing with other household members and strangers, and coping with stress in general.
This situation is similar to what happens to children when the parents are not there for them at the critical early stages of brain development, 0-5 years of age. In children, this condition is known as reactive attachment disorder (RAD).
Through many years of research, I have noticed considerable similarities between the attachment-related behavior problems exhibited by companion parrots, as well as dogs and cats, and those of RAD children. The similarities are especially strong with immature parrots (0-4 years of age) and dogs and cats (0-1 year of age). Young animals look to their primary caregiver as a surrogate parent. The experiences and relationships formed in these early years are critical, affecting brain development and how animals learn to view their world.
This also matters to mature companion parrots, dogs, and cats. Although their brains are more developed, chronic stress and anxiety have lasting effects on the ability to maintain homeostasis. Brains are plastic, and permanent changes can occur in response to stressful events. The resulting psychological, emotional, and perceived behavioral responses can last for the rest of the animal’s life, and often become problematic enough that the animal is given to a rescue or euthanized.
RAD arises from a failure to form normal attachments to primary caregivers in early childhood. Such a failure could result from severe early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between the ages of six months and three years, frequent change of caregivers, or a lack of caregiver responsiveness to a child's communicative efforts.[…]1
Children with RAD are presumed to have grossly disturbed internal working models of relationships, which may lead to interpersonal and behavioral difficulties in later life. There are few studies of long-term effects, and there is a lack of clarity about the presentation of the disorder beyond the age of five years. [2][3] However, the opening of orphanages in Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War in the early-1990s provided opportunities for research on infants and toddlers brought up in very deprived conditions. Such research broadened the understanding of the prevalence, causes, mechanism and assessment of disorders of attachment and led to efforts from the late-1990s onwards to develop treatment and prevention programs and better methods of assessment. Mainstream theorists in the field have proposed that a broader range of conditions arising from problems with attachment should be defined beyond current classifications.4
The main similarities between very young children, companion parrots, dogs, and cats are as follows: they all need a caregiver for food, companionship, and love; they need to feel a part of the family; they are helpless and cannot survive on their own; they cannot choose who to associate with; they can never participate in unsupervised activities; they are housed within the home in segregated areas and are not free to move about independently. They all wait for the primary caregiver to come home and be there for them. They are all waiting for us, always.
Most parents of children, especially mothers, understand how important it is for a baby to feel safe, secure, loved, and to have the mother available and present. This dependent, needy state starts from the time the baby is born and continues for the first 5 years, while the brain is developing. A child's brain is not fully developed until around the age of 18. Once a base of security, safety, and emotional attachment has been solidified, the child is not overly worried or anxious about where their mother is. A child with a secure base does not obsess about whether the mother is coming back, whether she will be there for them when they need her, whether she loves and cares for them. In short, a child with a strong base knows absolutely that the mother can be depended on. 
As Dr. Gabor Mate explains about Attachment and Conscious Parenting:
The brain development of the child requires, we’re talking about the physiological development of key brain-circuits to do stress responses, emotional-self regulation, impulse-control; attention, decision-making, picking-up on social-cues. Those essential brain-circuits for their physiological development require the presents of non-stressed, emotional available, attuned, parenting caregivers.2
Not much is different when considering what a companion parrot’s needs are or what the role of the primary caregiver—the parrot’s favorite person—plays in the parrot’s life.
Without structure and proper stability in quality care for a companion parrot in the first 3-6 months in a new home (the most important time to develop a long-lasting, trusting relationship) the parrot is without the support they need, and they will lack self-confidence. Every time someone new comes into the picture, whether it’s for a short time or permanently (the parrot doesn’t know the difference) the parrot is looking for assurance and support from the trusted primary caregiver.
It may take a village to raise a child, but no village is a substitute for the primary caregiver to form a deep, healthy, life-long bond with the child.
If you are making the decision to bring a companion parrot into your home as a pet, you will need to determine realistically what will be going on in your life over the next 3-6 months at a minimum. The question of whether or not now is a good time to be dedicated and committed to providing the best possible experience for a parrot. Within this timeframe, are you planning to go on vacation, or will you have to go out of town for your job or work variable shifts? Are there plans to move to a new home within the first 6 months? Is someone planning to move out or move into the home within the first 6 months? Are you able to commit to absolutely facilitating your companion parrot’s bonding process for the first 6 months? Are you willing and able to maintain that bond forever?
If events in the first 6 months allow a healthy, strong bond to form, then the parrot’s wellbeing will be a primary consideration when changes do occur. Both parrot and caregiver will be better equipped to handle the changes and stresses that changes bring, because a strong bond and trust have been established. Your companion parrot will look to you for reassurance, love, support, and understanding, and will have a strong base, self-confidence, and healthy coping mechanisms in place. When changes occur within the home, new people or pets are introduced, or even a move to a new home becomes necessary, these changes do not matter as much. They are not as traumatic and worrisome, because the parrot has a dependable anchor in their caregiver.
When considering a companion parrot as a pet, remember that the companion part is forever.

1. Prior & Glaser (2006), pp. 218–219.
2. Boris NW, Zeanah CH, Work Group on Quality Issues (2005). "Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with reactive attachment disorder of infancy and early childhood" (PDF). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 44 (11): 1206–19. doi:10.1097/01.chi.0000177056.41655.ce. PMID 16239871. Retrieved 25 January 2008.
3. Prior & Glaser (2006), p. 228.
4. O'Connor TG, Zeanah CH (2003). "Attachment disorders: assessment strategies and treatment approaches". Attach Hum Dev 5 (3): 223–44. doi:10.1080/14616730310001593974. PMID 12944216

         Wesley J Savoy Parrots Forever Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation, April 7 2015
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