Rosemary Low tells us whether your Parrot needs a companion or not.
A very common question is “I think my Parrot wants a companion. Is this a good idea?”
It is a difficult question to answer without knowing more about the circumstances. The person responding needs to have these answers:
How old is your bird? If it is young, under six months, it is likely to accept a companion more readily. If it has been many years alone, introducing another bird is likely to be a difficult procedure and could cause much stress and jealousy to the established bird.
This would definitely not be recommended if one bird is young and the other is mature as it could bring the added complication of the mature bird wanting to breed.
Is it strongly bonded to a family member? If it is, it is emotionally bonded to that person and will be very jealous of an “intruder. The new bird could be attacked and never accepted.
Which species do you have? If you have a species in which there is a strong pair bond (most Parrots), the chances of success are a little higher. Some species have only a seasonal pair bond, in which the female is the dominant member of the pair.
These include Eclectus Parrots and Asiatic Parakeets, like Ringnecks, in which the female is unlikely to welcome the introduction of a male unless she happens to be in breeding condition.
If you have a species such as a white (Cacatua) Cockatoo in which, sadly, the incidence of a male killing a female is high, forget the idea of a companion of the same species in a companion bird setting.
Success is only likely, but definitely not guaranteed, in an aviary setting with observation cameras and a lot of other precautions in place.
Do you have an egg-laying female? The question of whether a Parrot needs a partner is sometimes prompted by the appearance of an egg. A Parrot might lay because it has been stimulated by the presence of a cardboard box which has been provided for enrichment – destruction and entertainment. However, the box creates an environment that replicates a nest site.
An unintended form of mismanagement by the owner is when a Parrot is stroked on its back. This is never advisable because it is a similar sensation to the first stage of copulation when the male mounts the female. This alone could stimulate egg-laying.
Can you provide spacious accommodation for two birds? Initially they will need to be kept in the same room. If they responded agreeably towards each other, then one might be introduced into the cage of the other.
However, a cage made for a single bird would not be large enough or of the right design. Unfortunately, most Parrot cages on the market are higher than they are long. Except for large Macaws, this is wrong because such cages do not permit flying exercise.
In the case of smaller Parrots, such as Conures, Cockatiels, Lovebirds and Parrotlets, it would be necessary to provide a cage that is longer than it is high (easily made from welded mesh). Aggression is more likely in birds that are closely confined. This is especially true of Parrotlets (Forpus species).
Have you thought about the gender of the two birds? If they are mature and of the opposite sex they might want to breed – and this can create many problems. A serious possibility is that a female who has had little flying exercise (and possibly even a calcium-deficient diet) is not breeding fit.
Egg-laying could result in egg-binding and death. I heard of this happening with a Green-cheeked Conure when the owner simply put a nest-box on the side of the existing companion bird cage.
Are you prepared for the fact that your much-loved companion might reject you in favour of its own species? It could even become aggressive towards you.
Do you believe your bird needs a companion because your circumstances have changed? Perhaps your Parrot is now left on its own for more hours than previously. In this case the solution might be to acquire a bird of another species that is smaller and active and never intended to share the cage of the original bird.
Its behaviour and vocalisations will occupy the attention of your bird and prevent them from feeling lonely. To avoid jealousy, perhaps your bird can be taken into another room to spend more focused time with you.
If you decide on a second bird
So if, after some careful thought, you do decide to acquire a second bird, where do you start? If it will be of a different species, carefully research the behaviour and requirements of that species.
Remember too that Parrots are highly individualistic, especially regarding food preferences. Even if it is the same species as your bird, it might not like the same foods. Indeed, its previous diet might have been quite different. You need details from the previous owner – do not make assumptions.
If possible, buy direct from the breeder and see the bird at his or her premises. Unless you are very experienced with Parrots, taking on a rescued bird might not be a good idea. You need to know as much as possible about its history. That might be totally unknown for a rescued Parrot, also for one bought from a dealer.
Equally important is the health status of the bird you plan to acquire. Unfortunately, there are a number of serious viral diseases which are widespread in captive Parrot populations.
These are likely to be detected in an individual bird only with a blood test carried out through a veterinarian. It might sound extreme, but having such tests carried out before the bird enters your home might be the means of saving your bird’s life.
Please ensure that the species you decide on is really appropriate for your lifestyle. It is very sad when a Parrot must be rehomed because the purchaser failed to consider all the important factors relating to its health and happiness.
Recently someone showed me a photo on his phone of a Parrot he had just bought. He did not know the name of the species. It was a Mealy Amazon, a really nice bird. I gave him some literature on Amazons and a Parrot stand I no longer needed. Next time I saw him I asked how it was doing.
I predicted the answer: “Oh, we passed it on to a friend.” It had bitten his little daughter.
The Mealy is an extremely gentle species so I doubt that the fault lay with the bird!