Parrot keeping is far more of an art than a science. That is part of its fascination. You cannot devise a laboratory experiment to prove which situation is of greater benefit to the Parrot - a sole Parrot living with people or several Parrots living with people.
I would like to give some of the opinions and arguments for both situations and provide anecdotal evidence and case studies of actual birds in both situations.
Angela Cancilla Herschel is an experienced Parrot keeper, a keen observer of wild Parrots and a wild life rehabber in her home region of California.
Her view is uncompromising. She writes: “It always saddens me when I know a Parrot is alone without another of its species. With my rainforest travels, it always amazed me how you do not hear much screaming at all, and I have been to the rainforests of Tambopata in Peru and to Bali and Seram and the other islands of Indonesia.”
And she continues, “Parrots only scream for a reason. In the wild Parrots call and communicate but you only hear screaming in nest takeovers or from predators that is how you know something is very wrong and it is NOT common in the wild.
Excessive screaming a lot in captivity means something is wrong or the Parrot has learned that the behaviour has merit and gets it something it wants.”
“One thing you notice in the wild is that you never see a Parrot alone. For example Macaws stay in pairs. When you see a group of them (it is deceiving) what you are really seeing is more of a meeting place, like all going to the same grocery store. Make no mistake, they are not flock birds (you can pick out the pairs among a “group" and almost “see “an invisible bubble around each pair).”
“Conures are another story and are always seen flying in flocks; they are true flock birds. To have a Parrot alone is just not natural and can instinctively can create abandonment anxiety issues like excessive screaming.”
Neena Lynne McNulty keeps two Macaws. She rehomed her first Blue Throat, Ingrid, for two reasons. Neena free flies her Macaws and Ingrid was too socialised towards people and kept flying down to strangers.
When Neena added two young Macaws to her flock (she also has a non flighted Amazon) Ingrid would not accept the young birds although the Amazon nurtured them. With these two Macaws she flies outside daily and says: “it IS true. They rarely ever scream. Contact calls while flying are about the only times I hear their voices.”
Another person who claims the single bird is an unhappy bird is Ann Castro. Ann keeps twenty or so mixed species in a large converted farm building. Several of her training books are translated from German into English.
Most of her birds are rescues from heartbreaking situations, years in dark, too small cages poor diets and even physical abuse. For every bird she accepts, she provides a buddy of the same species. The amount of space in her facility and the exclusion of nest boxes suppress uncontrollable mating behaviour.
Many of the proponents for multiple bird households are those who have doubts as to the suitability of Parrots as pets.
Alicia Andrews says. “Parrots are social, flock creatures and not meant to be kept alone - if they have to be kept in captivity. A lone Parrot is a sad Parrot and I don't care how good a diet, how many toys, how large a cage, how much time out he gets, a lone Parrot is the choice of a selfish person - and when that person is not there, the Parrot is alone, which is not a natural situation for him.”
“I am against the reproduction of Parrots as pets - they are highly intelligent creatures which suffer in captivity, they suffer the lack of exercise (in the wild they would fly miles and miles daily), they suffer the lack of a partner if they don't have one, they suffer being forced to eat what we want them to (not all are lucky enough to have good diets and even then we aren't sure what is right and what isn't), and most of all, they suffer the lack of their fundamental right - freedom. .... Birds should bond to each other, not to us.”
“Unscrupulous breeders who sell birds and advise people not to get two "because they will bond to each other and not to you" are wrong. I run a Parrot rescue - many of the pairs are bonded not only to each other but also to me and whoever else cares for them. They will preen each other, and then sit on my shoulder and preen me.”
“I'm sick of people who think birds should bond only to them and not have the chance to bond to another bird instead. It's cruel, it's selfish, and it's unreasonable. We already have deprived them of freedom - why deprive them of the company of their own kind as well?”
These are strong arguments but another point of view counters them. We have been speaking of Macaws in pairs or groups in the wild or in captivity. Can the single Macaw become a successful pet?
Liz Blide Wickard thinks so, She says, “I have a Blue and Gold as an only bird and she hardly ever screams. I think birds scream out of boredom. Kallee spends any time that I am home out of her cage, and she gets plenty of enrichment. She is trick trained and loves to show off.”
“I think being parent raised makes a huge difference in whether birds are screamers or not. Kallee was parent raised and knows she is a bird and not a person. And, getting a good diet makes a difference too. Kallee gets Mike's Manna Mash, no pellets or other crap they sell, fresh fruit for breakfast, and nuts and seeds for treats.”
One of the chief reasons for keeping a sole Parrot is that the Parrot has no chance opportunity to bond with any other creature except you. Liz Blide Wickard admits this counts for her. “I promised Kallee she would always be my only Parrot...and I intend to keep that promise. I know others who have gotten another Parrot for their Parrot. The two Parrots bonded and they lost them as pets. That would break my heart.”
“Call me selfish, but I got a Parrot so it would bond to me. Kallee and I have been together for 15 years and I wouldn't change a thing.”
Another sole Parrot that contradicts the dictum a Parrot alone in not natural is Alfie, a nine-year-old Blue and Gold Macaw. Alfie lives with Debbie, her daughter Amy and their dog in Wales.
For his first six years Alfie was brought up with Sausage the duck and he copied Sausage’s mannerisms.
When Amy was born seven years ago Debbie managed the issue of jealousy so neatly that Alfie and Sausage wound up protecting Amy. Sausage would not even let visitors into Amy’s bedroom.
Debbie, not a professional bird trainer, nevertheless socialized Alfie to a phenomenal degree. Initially clipped by his breeder, she let him fledge and free flies him, on occasion Alfie will play with local children in the street. He has visited our flock on several occasions and behaved impeccably.
I kept a single grey Artha (see my first blog) for 18 months before getting a Grey companion for her. My reasons for adding another bird relate to the pleasure I have from watching Parrots interact with one another: a mutual preening session; an argument over whose turn of the swing; a cooperative effort to open the biscuit tin;. several Parrots flying to my shoulders for treats. It’s simply fun. As to extra work and expense, that’s inevitable.
Here are two more examples.
Bobby came to Anguel and Wayne six years ago, plucked, biting and miserable from a tightly caged situation. In the better environment with other Greys for company he is no longer recognizable - a chirpy feathered friendly bird.
So my experience shows me that a single bird can be perfectly well adjusted if his human family will become his flock. Max Grey is one such bird. Mandy is often home and Max is in the house free with her; he has an aviary for warm weather. He is flighted and has a large English vocabulary. That he is a well adjusted bird is proved to me that when he meets my Greys, after an initial reserve he blends in with the flock.
SO who is right and who is wrong?
If you are prepared to fulfil the Parrot's needs yourself he or she will adjust. But if you add companions I think your avian experience will be enriched.
MY view is that it is harder to give ONE bird an enriched life than two or more. Here’s another debate ready to be opened.