Grief in Pet Parrots: The Loss of an Owner and the Emotional Impact

Grief in Pet Parrots: The Loss of an Owner and the Emotional Impact

Grief in Pet Parrots: The Loss of an Owner and the Emotional Impact


Grief in animals, particularly parrots, is a topic that has begun to attract increasing interest. These intelligent, social birds form deep bonds with their owners, creating strong emotional attachments that mimic familial relationships. However, when this bond is abruptly broken due to the owner's death or separation, parrots can experience significant emotional distress, akin to grief in humans. This article explores how parrots are affected emotionally by losing their primary caregivers and offers insights into the best ways to support them through this challenging transition.

Understanding the Human-Parrot Bond

Parrots have complex social structures and cognitive abilities that make them particularly sensitive to their surroundings and relationships. The human-parrot relationship is characterised by attachment behaviours similar to those seen in parent-child dynamics​ (British Veterinary Nursing Association)​. Owners often consider their parrots to be family members, referring to them as "babies" or "children." This sentimentality is reflected in how parrots view their owners, often associating them with security, affection, and companionship.

Unique Characteristics of Parrot Attachment

  • Long Lifespan: Parrots often live for several decades, leading to long-term bonds with owners.
  • Intelligence and Memory: Their strong cognitive abilities enable them to recognize and remember people, contributing to the emotional impact of separation.
  • Social Structure: In the wild, parrots are flock animals that rely heavily on social interactions for survival and emotional well-being.

Behavioural Manifestations of Grief in Parrots

When parrots lose their owners, they can exhibit a range of behaviours that signal emotional distress:

  1. Changes in Appetite: Birds may stop eating or show reduced interest in food, leading to weight loss and malnutrition.
  2. Vocalization Alterations: Parrots can become silent or excessively vocal. They might cry out repeatedly for their missing owner.
  3. Feather Destruction: Self-mutilation, such as feather plucking, can be a sign of stress and anxiety due to the disruption of the parrot’s social environment.
  4. Withdrawn Behaviour: Grieving parrots might become lethargic and unresponsive, showing no interest in their usual activities.
  5. Clinginess: Parrots may become more attached to remaining humans or other parrots, seeking solace and security.

Emotional Impact and Complicated Grief

Parrots can experience varying degrees of grief, depending on the depth of their bond with their owner and past experiences with loss. Birds that are overly reliant on their owners for social interaction are particularly susceptible to prolonged grief, a condition where they cannot adapt and continue to display signs of distress. This condition, akin to complicated grief in humans, requires careful monitoring and support​ (MentorVet)​​ (The Veterinary Nurse)​.

Strategies for Supporting Grieving Parrots

  1. Establish New Relationships: Parrots need new social bonds to replace the lost attachment. Gradually introduce them to new caregivers who can offer positive, stable, and predictable interactions.
  2. Maintain Routines: Parrots thrive on routine. Ensure that their feeding, sleeping, and play schedules are consistent to provide a sense of security.
  3. Enrichment and Stimulation: Provide a variety of toys, foraging activities, and puzzles to engage the bird’s mind and keep it occupied.
  4. Veterinary Supervision: Regular health check-ups are essential to ensure the bird is physically well and identify any behavioural changes early on. An avian veterinarian may suggest anti-anxiety medications or supplements if necessary.
  5. Patience and Time: Grieving parrots need time to adjust to their new reality. Offer them space and reassurance, allowing them to mourn at their own pace.
  6. Community Support: Joining online forums or support groups can connect owners to others who have faced similar challenges. Sharing experiences and gaining advice can help guide the recovery process.


Grieving parrots can exhibit behavioural and emotional changes that parallel the grief seen in humans. With their intelligence, social nature, and long-term memories, parrots are especially vulnerable to the emotional trauma of losing an owner. However, by understanding their grief, recognizing the signs, and providing appropriate support, we can help these remarkable creatures rebuild their emotional health and return to a joyful, fulfilling life.

For more insights into pet loss and support, you can find resources at MentorVet​ (MentorVet)​and the British Veterinary Nursing Association​ (British Veterinary Nursing Association)​. Further research and practical recommendations are available through The Veterinary Nurse journal​ (The Veterinary Nurse)​.

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