Most new bird owners dream of the day they can pet their bird, but it can be a rigorous process before your bird allows you to pet them comfortably. Knowing the do’s and dont’s of petting is important for maintaining a close bond with your bird without fear of ruining that relationship.
I have outlined a simple guide for acclimating your bird to petting, which should help get the basics down to earning your bird’s trust. The act of petting can take weeks to months for some birds before they are comfortable with it, so be patient with them throughout the whole process.
Not all Birds like Being Pet
Some birds take to petting immediately, while others may never want to be pet. That’s okay! I’ve dealt with both types in my life before. You should never force a bird who doesn’t want to be pet into being pet, it’ll only worsen your relationship with them.
Birds that typically don’t want to be pet are rescue birds, especially if they had been abused before. Smaller birds like budgies and canaries can also be daunted by the idea of a large hand petting them. Birds that are inclined to bite their owner are another beast entirely, and you should not try to acclimate them to petting until they have been trained to stop biting.
The Biggest Step: Earning their Trust
The biggest mistake I see owners do is they try to pet their bird before their bird trusts and respects them. You are only going to worsen your relationship with this bird if you try to do this. Your bird should already trust you immensely when you start to pet them. It is, after all, a bonding experience between trusted friends.
Does your bird readily step-up onto your finger? Do they comfortably sit on your shoulder or arm by choice? These are two of the most basic forms of trust your bird can give you. If your bird is more inclined to bite or run, then you need to improve your relationship first.
You can help your bird by introducing them to clicker training, this way they see your presence as a pleasant experience, rather than a negative one. Once you start earning solid trust with your bird, then you can move onto the next step.
Stay in their Eyesight
When you first start petting your bird, you want to make sure your bird sees your hand approach and, as you are petting them, they should readily see where your hand is at all times. Sneaking up on them isn’t going to work and may induce a bite reaction.
The best places to start petting your bird is the beak and above the nose. This way they can see you and decide whether or not they want to be pet in the first place. Once they start letting you pet them more, you can move towards the cheeks, top of the head, and around the eyes.
There are just as many places you should pet as there are places you shouldn’t pet. The tail, the crop, the wings, and the back are some of the most common areas you should avoid petting. Most of these places illicit a breeding response out of your bird.
Pet around the head, beak, neck, and chest.
Pet the back, wings, tail, or crop.
It’s fairly obvious when a bird doesn’t want you petting them: they’ll lurch towards your hand, beak wide open, ready to bite you. You want to be sure to read their body language and know instinctively when to pet and when not to pet.
You might be bitten a few times, and that’s okay, just be patient with them throughout the whole time. It may take some time before they let you pet them, and your bird might never want to be pet, but understanding their body language will better your chances of forming a bond with your bird.
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below!