Q: I have a 7 year old yellow naped amazon named Petey. I have had him since he was a baby and he means everything to me. I was just given a promotion at work and my new position is going to take up a some of the time I used to spend with Petey and I am afraid it will change our relationship. How much time is too little to be spending with him?
-Jack M., Laguna Beach, CA
A: There really aren’t any minmum requirements as to the amount of time our birds need from us every day. There are many factors that play into determining what amount of interaction is satisfactory for any particular bird. It depends largely on that bird as an individual.
Some less hands-on birds are independent players that are fine with more in-cage time. Some birds are more intensely focused on their owners and need to be out socializing whenever possible. Some birds are more secure than others in their environment, with their owners and themselves and are less likely consider the drop in personal interaction time to reflect a drop in their status in your home and heart.
It also depends on the birds play area and cage. Is there lots to do in the cage? And does your bird actually utiluze what you have provided him with for entertainment? How enriching is your birds life when you remove yourself from the equation? The big question is: does your bird still feel fulfilled and valued with having less of your time and attention?
Much more important than the AMOUNT of time that we spend with our birds is the QUALITY of the time spent together. There are different types of out of cage attention that we give our birds. There is out of cage time apart from the owner (on a perch playing independently), there is out of cage time with physical contact (perched on a shoulder while owner goes about chores or watches tv) and there is out of cage time that involves engaging the bird in activity (training, playing, interaction/conversation involving direct eye contact).
Only the last example is truly interactive and meaningful. Yes, your bird loves to be freed from its cage and enjoys simply being in your presence, but neither of these things have the same value as even short periods of time where your focus is solely on your bird and nothing or no one else.
As long as you make sure that Petey has enough of these significant experiences with you to keep your bond with him strong, there is no reason your relationship with him should deteriorate even with shorter durations of interaction. Think quality, not quantity.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.