Birds fly away from humans, or at least try to fly away from humans, when they are scared.
Fortunately for bird lovers, pet birds can be socialized to trust and enjoy the company of the people who take care of them.
In this article, we will tell you how to gain and maintain the trust of your pet birds so they stay close to you.
How Birds React to Potential Danger (and Why Birds Fly Away)
Chances are that you have some personal experience with the anxiety that follows a fearful experience.
When you see something scary, or you think about something scary, your body releases stress hormones.
Your adrenal glands churn out cortisol. This helps your body make quick energy. They release norepinephrine.
This hormone tightens your blood vessels so you would not bleed as much if you get cut. It also makes your blood pressure go up. Your heart beats faster, and your kidneys and bowels get ready to “dump” excess weight so you can run away.
Something similar happens in birds when they are frightened.
The sight of a cat, or a pet snake, or a child who has not yet learned how to play with pets, sets off the same general kinds of stress reactions that people get.
The difference is that birds have one major way of responding to things that scare them. They can fly away.
When a bird is scared of you, it will naturally try to fly away. But why would a bird be scared of you?
Human Activities That Scare Birds
Scientists have discovered that there are certain kinds of motions that trigger fear reflexes in birds:
- Anything long and moving on the ground has to be a snake! Bending down and coming at your pet bird’s cage from the side triggers a reaction of “It must be a snake! I gotta get out of here!” from your bird.
- Sudden motions scare birds. In nature, predators attack swiftly. If you approach a bird at a high rate of speed, it will instinctively try to get away.
- Birds are more anxious about things they see approaching from above than things they see approaching from the side (except at ground level, since that could be a snake). This is why it is best to keep a cage on a pedestal or hanging from a hook, so your pet birds can see you coming from flight level. If a bird thinks “I could fly away if I have to,” it is less likely to fly away preemptively when you approach.
Learn to Be Polite with Your Bird
About 20 years ago, I inherited an African gray parrot my grandmother had named Penelope.
Grandma was practically a parrot whisperer. Penelope was, well, just plain mean to everyone else.
Penelope the Parrot would screech, bare her beak, and thrust at anyone who approached her cage. If you ever opened the door, she would take the first chance to fly away.
The only way to get her back into her cage was to put food in a back corner, and slam the door behind her when she went inside to feed.
Penelope was actually a brilliant bird. Grandma might show Penelope a blue toy and ask her what color it was. Penelope would answer “Blue.”
Penelope knew the words blue, red, and yellow. She also knew round and square shapes, and could ask for her occasional treat of sunflower seeds by saying “Seed! Seed!”
Grandma asked me to take care of Penelope when the time came. I agreed.
Fortunately, Grandma lived long enough to show me how to get along with a very difficult bird.
Here are the most important things my Grandma taught me about how to keep Penelope from flying away.
Every Bird Has a Different Personality
Every pet bird is a little different, even if they are the same species.
Some are more aggressive. Some are less aggressive. Some will want to fly. You have to spend time getting to know your pet bird.
Food Won’t Always Make Friends
Food does not equate with friendship for birds. You can use food as a bribe to get your bird back into its cage, but you have to socialize with your bird in other ways to get it to trust you.
It’s Important to Read Your Bird’s Body Language
Your bird will let you know when it is ready to make friends. In parrots, the signal is a kind of chewing motion with its beak.
This is a signal “I would love to be cuddled.”
Other species of pet birds may wag their tails (like a dog) to say they are happy to see you, or spread out their tail feathers to tell you they are ready to fight.
Happy cockatoos and cockatiels will hold their crest out when they are happy, or hold it close to their heads (like a cat with its ears turned inside out and held flat against its head) when they are angry.
Most birds quiver when they are frightened. Or when they are in the mood to breed.
Birds Can “Talk with their Feet”
Penelope, like many other pet birds, could communicate how she felt with her feet.
In general, birds send signals with their feet in a few ways you can easily recognize:
- Birds tap their feet when they feel their territory is being threatened, that you are getting too close.
- Birds can develop “weak legs” when they want to be petted. They will stand up again when they have been petted enough.
- Some birds hang upside down in their cages. This is a sign they are happy.
Singing Birds are Usually Happy Birds
Birds usually sing when they are happy. This can be a cue to try to pick up your bird.
Chattering is a method of bird-to-bird communication, especially around sunrise and sunset.
If your pet bird lives alone, and it is chattering, it is telling you that you are part of its flock.
Clicking sounds can be a signal that your bird is bored and just wants to hear her own voice, or that she wants to be picked up.
Birds can “pin” their eyes, shrinking their irises very rapidly as a silent communication signal.
Depending on the context, pinning eyes can mean your bird is very happy and excited or very scared of something it believes is about to happen.
I didn’t pick up Penelope the first time she made the “pick me up” sign with her beak.
I made sure that she continued to signal that she wanted to be picked up as I slowly got closer and closer to her cage.
The first few times, I decided it would be best to come back later.
But by giving Penelope a chance to decide whether she wanted to bond with me, I became the only member of the family other than Grandma who could handle her.
Always be gentle and calm with your pet bird. If your bird does not want to be petted today, it may want to be petted tomorrow.
Don’t rush things, and your pet bird will not want to fly away.
Six Easy Rules for Getting Your Pet Bird Back When It Flies Away
As more and more people buy pet birds, whether they are spending $10 on a parakeet or $10,000 on a hyacinth macaw, more and more people are learning a sad truth: Just because a bird has been bred to live in a cage doesn’t mean it cannot fly away.
Pet birds can literally fly out the window. Then what do you do?
These some easy rules can help you keep your bird from flying away forever.
1. Choose breeds of birds that have been bred to provide companionship for their owners. These include budgies, cockatoos, macaws, and parrots of all kinds. They have short tails that are designed for traveling from tree to tree in the wild, so they do not travel far when they get out of their cages. Birds with long tails like canaries and parakeets can travel long distances when they get out of their cages.
2. Invest in a long-handled bird net. It is similar to a net for catching fish, except it has a longer handle. If you have an unusually large bird, you may need a turkey net.
3. If a bird gets loose, follow them. Plan on spending the day with them, if necessary. Beware of obstacles that a bird can fly over but you cannot cross, like chain-link fences. You don’t want to get caught on a fence or in a prickly bush.
4. Once you have located your bird, stay with your bird until it decides to roost, or it gets hungry or thirsty enough that it comes close to you. Have a friend or a family member bring their cage. Place the cage on a white sheet with the door open. Place the food or water your bird wants inside its cage.
5. Don’t use your bird net unless your bird is roosting. Shaking their tree while they are awake will only scare them off again.
6. If you can’t find your bird, seek help! Post a notice on your community bulletin board. Call your local animal control and wildlife rehabilitation centers. Call veterinarians to ask if anyone has reported an unusual bird in their backyard. Don’t delay. Even in good weather, exotic birds can only go 24 hours without water and 48 hours without food. Fortunately, they will stay with people who give them food and water.
I hope this article was useful in helping you understand why your pet bird flies away from you, and some of the things you can use to make your pet bird comfortable with you.
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