The bonds formed between mated pairs of parrots are among the strongest known in the animal kingdom. In most species, paired parrots spend a great deal of time in actual physical contact with their mate, and cooperate in nest-building, rearing the young, defending their territory and all other daily activities. When I observe parrots in the wild, be they monk parrots in NYC or scarlet macaws in Venezuela, I am always struck by how easy it was to identify paired birds amidst large flocks. Even in flight, mated birds of many species align themselves close to one another.
Bonding as a Training Aid
The instinct to bond renders parrots at once both ideal and difficult pets. A parrot that chooses you as a “mate” will become quite attached and affectionate, in a way matched by few other pets. The need to bond explains why single birds are usually easier to train than those kept in pairs.
The Time Factor
If you do not spend significant time interacting with a bonded bird, boredom and behavioral problems (screaming, feather plucking, etc.) will be inevitable. “Significant time” must be measured in light of the parrot’s natural behavior, which dictates that it be in close contact with its mate nearly always; an hour or two juggled among your busy schedule is not sufficient.
Problems can arise even if you can spend a great deal of time with your pet. Once bonded, parrots usually become quite territorial, defending not only their “mate” but also their living area. The concept of “territory” varies greatly among individuals, and may extend to their cage, a room, or the entire house.
The parrot may become very aggressive towards other people, threatening them or attacking if possible. In some cases, parrots may exhibit particularly strong responses to a particular person, i.e. one who enters their territory frequently or who is viewed as a threat to their “mate”.
Avoiding Bonding-Related Problems
The most effective way of preventing aggression related to bonding is to expose the parrot to all household members early in life. Ideally, each person should spend an equal amount of time caring for or interacting with the parrot. Even in this scenario, however, hormonal changes as the bird matures may affect its behavior, so it is important that you observe your bird’s behavior carefully and plan accordingly.
A large colony of feral monk parrots lives on the grounds of Brooklyn College in NYC. You can read about an interesting research project focusing on pair bonding at
Image referenced from Morguefile and posted by Evildrjeff.