Liz Wilson explains what to think about before expanding your flock.
WHY Do You Want Another Bird?
So you are considering getting another Parrot, yes? May I ask why? Are you hoping another Parrot will help to “fix” a behaviour problem in your first bird? If so, please don’t.
Parrots are quick learners and certainly learn from each other as well.
Increasing flock size tends to exacerbate, not eliminate, behaviour problems.
For instance, some basic arithmetic: one screaming Parrot + a second Parrot often = 3 X as much screaming from the 2 Parrots. So you need to fix a behaviour problem prior to introducing another bird.
Or are you pondering a flock upsizing because you feel guilty that your one bird is alone? But what if the two birds don’t like each other, so they won’t enjoy each other’s company at all? And if you didn’t really want that second bird to start with, now what are you going to do with it?
Besides, how would you like to be born not because your parents actually wanted you, but that they wanted your older sibling to have company? Wouldn’t that be awful? Parrots are very intelligent and live a long time. They should only be obtained because someone wants them, not out of obligation to another animal.
When people ask if two birds will like each other (and I get asked that a lot), I usually respond with the following question: If you have one child and you (or your wife) are pregnant with a second child, can anyone tell you if those two kids will get along? The answer is no, of course. After all, my brother and I didn’t really start enjoying each other’s company until we were in our thirties!
So okay, you have thought it over and while you think (hope?) your current Parrot will enjoy another psittacine for company, that isn’t why you want another one. You want another Parrot because you really want another Parrot. Okay.
Next consideration is time. Do you have enough time for another bird? If you work long hours and feel your own companion bird isn’t getting enough time from you, then you do not have sufficient time to share with another bird. After all, any time you give the new bird will be taken from your current bird, yes? Is that fair?
If you’re thinking the new bird will ease your guilt about your current bird, we’ve already discussed that. What if they hate each other? (Besides, a second bird will likely double your Parrot care work load.)
Another bird will also double your current expenses for food, toys, veterinary bills, etc. You will need another cage, just as spacious for the next bird as the one for your current companion. (Note: discussion regarding doubling up on caging will ensue shortly). If you cannot easily afford all that, you cannot financially afford another bird.
Caging and Space Considerations
Since there is no way of knowing if your new bird will eventually get along with your current bird, you absolutely CANNOT count on being able to cage them together. (Territoriality will be discussed in a moment.)
So you not only need the finances to purchase an entire new set-up (cage, perches, cups, toys, etc.), but you will ultimately also need the room for this new cage. If you live in a small area and you are considering a larger second Parrot, I doubt this will work… unless perhaps you are willing to give up your bed …
This is a huge issue. ANY new bird of any species (Parrot, finch, canary, etc.) needs to be fully vetted by an experienced avian veterinarian. Any new bird needs a full medical work-up involving testing and bloodwork. And after a full medical work-up shows everything seems fine, you are still not off the hook. There are, after all, avian diseases for which there are no easy diagnostic tests, and those must be considered as well.
ANY new bird – DESPITE a full work-up that indicates no problems – also needs to be quarantined from your old bird for 45-60 days, depending on your avian veterinarian’s recommendations. And proper quarantine does NOT mean on the other side of the same room.
True quarantine means in another air space, so we are talking about the other end of the house. Or even in someone else’s house who doesn’t have birds. Many diseases are airborne – meaning they are carried by a sneeze, aerosolized droppings or feather dander. After all, you don’t need to sleep with someone to catch a cold from them!
If you quarantine the bird in your home, you need to service the new bird last, and wear different shoes and a big shirt over your clothes when you do so. Shoes are a classic carrier of disease, as are clothes. Wash your hands very carefully before and after leaving the room, and be very careful you do not mix food and water bowls.
And for those of you who think this is a corner that can be safely cut, please ponder a comment from an aviculturist friend of mine. “It seems to me that most people need to have their very own, private epidemic before they understand the importance of quarantine.” Remember, your birds’ lives could easily depend on this.
Next Step …
So you have clearly and honestly evaluated your time, space, and finances and you still would like another bird. So let us now look at the next stage.
Preparing the First Bird
Many years ago, there was a wonderful article in Sally Blanchard’s Pet Bird Report. It was titled something to do with a sock monster. It dealt with introducing a second bird into a one bird household. (As an aside, this should not be as much of an issue if introducing a third, or fourth bird in the future, as the first bird should be used to the intrusion of new birds by that point.)
What the author of this article did was intriguing and clever. She already had a Cockatoo that was apparently highly-strung and had difficulty dealing with changes of any kind. She planned to introduce a Grey. So she went ahead and purchased the cage for the Grey prior to introducing the new bird. Setting the cage up in the same room with her Cockatoo, she added perches, cups and toys and showed everything to the ‘too.
The Cockatoo was wary but not panicked. Then she made a little Grey puppet out of old socks, adding a black beak, white face and eyes. Putting the sock puppet in the cage, she began to service the puppet’s cage every morning after servicing the Cockatoo’s cage. She would also talk to the sock puppet and show it to the ‘too (who apparently showed little interest). This went on for the several weeks of quarantine. Then she removed the puppet and introduced the real Grey into the cage. By that time, the Cockatoo apparently found the entire thing rather boring. She continued to ignore the Grey just as it had the puppet. So apparently, all traumas were safely avoided.
‘First Bird’ Issues
We Parrot behaviour consultants have long counselled people to continue to give the first bird priority when introducing new members to the flock. This is to hopefully fend off the problems of sibling rivalry. The last thing you want is for your original bird to feel replaced by the newcomer, so this issue needs to be handled with sensitivity.
Jealousy is a damaging emotion, so it is best avoided. Therefore, always greet, feed, let out and pick up the first bird first, so it does not feel supplanted by the newcomer. You may also find in the future that you need to be very careful about picking up one bird while holding the other one. Be very sure to watch each bird’s body language acutely. Otherwise you might get thoroughly bitten with no one but yourself to blame.
Also keep in mind that territoriality is a strong instinct in many species of Parrots, as well as individuals. Indeed, this makes sense when their wild habitats are considered. Apparently, the primary obstacle to the large Macaws reproducing in the wild is a lack of proper nest trees. This is thanks to logging and human encroachment.
Quaker or Monk Parakeets are famous for their territoriality. This makes perfect sense when one considers that they are community nesters who spend a good deal of their day at the opening to their ‘apartment’, if you will, crabbing at their neighbours. It is a fact of nature that the smaller the territory, the more vehement the defence of it.
As a consequence, you should disallow most Parrots from landing on the cage of another Parrot. This is simply asking for trouble, as bitten, bloody feet and amputated toes are a common result.
Allowing one bird into another’s cage when its occupant is elsewhere is also a dubious practice, unless the cage owner truly does not seem to care. But please, tread very lightly with this sort of thing.
Introducing Two Birds
The first consideration regarding introducing two birds involves size and age. If one bird is a baby, it is not likely to react in a territorial manner. Nor might it understand if the other bird did. Size can play a major role, again depending on age.
A smaller mature bird is more likely to take seniority over a larger baby, for instance. I am reminded of my aunt’s feisty little Chihuahua who instantly taught the family’s new puppy as to who ran the place. That pecking order stayed in place throughout their lives together. This is despite the puppy being a boxer who grew up to be ten times the Chihuahua’s size.
Also, please do not ignore the potential for serious injuries inflicted between Parrots of divergent sizes. Entirely too many smaller birds have had their upper beaks bitten off by larger birds! That kind of injury is ALWAYS preventable but can happen in a microsecond.
Now that you have carefully analyzed your two birds and you have decided it shouldn’t be too dangerous to physically introduce them, other considerations arise. Foremost is the availability of your avian veterinarian in case of a tragedy.
Please do NOT, for example, try to introduce your birds on a Sunday afternoon when no avian veterinarian is accessible. I believe it is one of Murphy’s Laws about preventing something drastic from happening by preparing for its likelihood?
Due to territorial issues, never try to put a new bird into another bird’s space, be that cage and/or play areas. Introductions should be done in neutral territory, meaning an area neither bird considers to be theirs. Also have a towel handy, to throw over the aggressor if problems should arise. And most of all, acutely watch the body language of both birds, focussing especially on the first bird. If you are unsure as to what antagonistic or friendly body postures look like, you should learn more prior to an introduction.
How Many Birds Are Enough? Too Many?
The subject of numbers is a complicated one, with as much variation as there are people. I only have one bird, and this has been good for me. Most of my working life has been composed of nursing someone else’s sick birds. I also boarded birds in my home for many years and that was fun, but much as I might’ve enjoyed them, I was usually quite happy to have each one leave.
One of my colleagues estimated years ago that the “average” (whatever that is) bird owner does fine with 1-3 birds but rarely does well with more than that. Perhaps this is true, I do not know. I do know that a huge number of people have commented sadly to me that they wish that they had stopped at one bird. This is heartbreaking, as it means most of those people’s birds were no longer really welcome. This is sad for the human but a disaster for the bird.
The ‘Other’ Form of Parrot Fever
Those of us who have been in the Parrot world for long are aware of the form of “Parrot Fever” that does not respond to antibiotics. This is the psychological form, often seen in people who are new to the world of Parrots. They get one, usually a baby, and they are entranced. So they go back to the bird store for some food and see another one that is lovely, so they bring it home as well. I have seen really bad cases of this psychological malady where a person has gotten 3-5 birds within scant months, and even more within the year.
As far as I am concerned, this is like adopting 3-5 small children within months of each other, and who could easily do that? Certainly not I! Many of us therefore counsel people to wait at least a year and maybe two, prior to getting another bird. This gives you time to establish a relationship with each animal before adding another, and also gives you time to recover financially between birds!
Get more advice on choosing a Parrot here and more advice on expanding the flock here.