What The Viral “Bird Test” Really Says About Your Relationship
Take a moment to look out the window. Find something seemingly unremarkable, like a bird in your backyard, and excitedly point it out to your partner. What’s their reaction? Do they engage with you and admire that resplendent Blue Jay as well? Do they briefly acknowledge what you said without joining you? Do they ask you not to bother them with birds at a time like this?
Observing their reaction is the purpose of the “bird test,” a trend similar to the “orange peel test” that has racked up millions of views on TikTok as users try out the theory on unsuspecting partners. But is it just another viral, flash-in-the-pan relationship test, or does it have some real value? If you don’t take it all that seriously, there are some seeds of truth to be found.
Turning Toward Or Away
The principle behind the test is the idea of a “bid for connection,” developed by renowned therapist Dr. John Gottman. Gottman proposed that when presented with a “bid” — that is, an invitation from your partner to acknowledge or join in something — partners can either turn toward or away from them. However small or innocuous the bid may seem, it is in actuality an ask for validation, reassurance, or general connection. And, in the long run, partners who turn toward bids more than they turn away from them are happier.
We want partners who are responsive and will acknowledge rather than ignore or dismiss us when we ask for connection, regardless of how big or small that request is.
Therapist and social worker Alexandra Caron finds the bird test a perfect example of Gottman’s principles in action. “Although simple, it effectively illustrates the importance of responding to bids,” she says. “It’s a practical, everyday demonstration of the principle that successful relationships often hinge on these small moments of connection.”
In relationships, we are fundamentally in search of a partner who’s accessible and engaged, adds family counselor Ronald Hoang. “We want partners who are responsive and will acknowledge rather than ignore or dismiss us when we ask for connection, regardless of how big or small that request is.”
So, Does The Bird Test Have Wings?
Gottman himself endorsed the test on TikTok, sharing video of himself chuckling heartily as one user implored partners out there to “look at the [expletive] bird.” His enthusiasm may stem from how the bird test additionally ties into another one of his most popular theories: the 5:1 ratio. That is, couples who maintain an average of five positive interactions for every negative one are happier and more secure in the long run. Those who are closer to 2:3 have some work to do; those who are 1:1 are in very rough waters.
A bid for connection is meant to be one of a cumulative series of interactions that only when taken together gives a picture of a relationship’s health
In the example of the bird test, engaging with your partner in acknowledgement of the Bluejay would serve as a positive interaction, whereas ignoring or dismissing them would count as a negative one.
“For greater marital happiness, it’s crucial to cultivate these moments of positivity, understanding, and support, ensuring that the scales are tipped more towards affection, empathy, and appreciation rather than criticism, neglect, or contempt,” says Caron.
Other positive bids for connection, according to Gottman, are activities like “building love maps” (his phrase for learning more about the inner world your partner inhabits) or engaging in “rituals of connection” (the regular things couples do on a daily or weekly basis that nurtures the relationship).
This serves as an important reminder that a bid for connection is meant to be one of a cumulative series of interactions that only when taken together paints a picture of a relationship’s health — a pattern worth noticing.
The Danger Of The Bird Test
As with many other TikTok trends, the psychological roots that make the bird test valuable risk getting lost. Indeed, the rapid viral popularity of the trend may be attributed to its online positioning as a surefire indicator of whether a given relationship will last. Some experts, however, prefer its function as a useful way to note areas of improvement that may need attention.
“Couples should use [the information gathered from the bird test] to reflect on how they generally respond to each other’s bids,” says Caron. “If they find a pattern of ignoring or missing these moments, it could be a cue to consciously start paying more attention to each other’s interests and emotions. It’s a starting point for deeper conversations about emotional needs and how they can better support each other.”
Others warn explicitly of the inadvisability of treating the bird test as more than one potential example of a bid for connection, which may have unintended effects.
“I think confusing a bid and a test is shaky ground for a relationship,” says therapist Frank Thewes. “The test is supposed to generalize the core of a relationship in one few-second exchange. A bid is a moment in a relationship where we can be aware, connected, and empathetic with our partner. A test is a petty and often inaccurate way we can trap our partner into looking bad.”
Want a more interested and connected partner? Tell them that and show them how you feel engaged and connected with them.
It’s important to note, per Thewes, that things we cannot see may affect a partner’s response to the bird test, further underlining the importance of interpreting the results of the test as part of a longer process.
“Maybe they’re upset inside,” he says. “Maybe their stomach hurts, maybe they’re concerned about our finances. For me, this kind of test falls flat and isn’t a great way to run a relationship. You want a more interested and connected partner? Tell them that and show them how you feel engaged and connected with them.”
So go ahead and point out that Blue Jay. Just remember, says Hoang, “we should really be evaluating responsiveness over time and in different contexts. Not just one context that happens to involve a bird.”