How many of us start off with one bird and end up with more? The greater majority I’d imagine. As many different types of Parrot owners exist as there are Parrot species, and what suits one Parrot owner won’t be practical for another.
In many situations, if one keeps more than one Parrot, they are usually of different species. So how difficult is it to mix species? Are there any guidelines. Some – but not many. Compatibility depends on so many variables, depending on the bird’s individual personality. If you’re acquiring an adult bird.
He’ll have a history and may not have always been treated correctly. Intelligent animals are prone to psychological trauma and neurosis which may affect their behaviour. Parrots are no exception.
Most Parrot owners start with a single bird = often a Budgerigar or a Cockatiel. Both of these species have been domesticated for decades. They are small, less costly to buy and easy to maintain in every respect. Except when it comes to vets’ bills.
Those don’t shrink for common birds no matter what size they are. But that’s a mite cynical. Avian veterinary science has made great strides, and a good proportion of that has been in the treatment of captive Parrots. Budgies, Cockatiels and Lovebirds are social birds and live naturally in enormous flocks, consequently they will usually accept a newcomer into a captive flock without too much opposition.
You may consider bringing two young birds into your home together, If they’re from the same clutch, they are already used to one another. Two hens or two cock birds will bond as companions and grow up together peacefully.
This is often called abnormal. But in the wild pair bonds involving same sex birds occur and are not uncommon. In spite of having a history of being kept alone, Parrots with the exception of one of two species, are social birds.
And it’s therefore no surprise a Parrot kept on its own will often bond with another member of the human household, sometimes not the same sex as the person who cleans, feeds and cares for it.
This is known as gender bias and occurs in many animals including cats, dogs and horses. It’s often stated Parrots prefer humans of the opposite sex to their own but this is opinion rather than proven fact.
What’s certain is that Parrots thrive on companionship, and sometimes a single Parrot will ignore the Parrot colleague his owner has chosen and instead focus his attention and reserve his affection for his human friend. This is most intense with birds who have been imprinted.
In the first few hours after hatching a number of bird species will follow the first animal they see whether it’s a human or dog and will prefer those species to their own kind. A single imprinted Parrot, especially a Cockatoo, will display excessive amounts of physical affection to a human carer.
This can lead later to all sorts of behavioural problems when the imprinted Cockatoo (or any other over imprinted Parrot) won’t accept any other human or even another bird into its life. Two young birds of the same or different species growing up together and receiving affection, training and care from their human flock will usually be friendly with anyone in the household and easier to train.
Obviously, if you do decide to acquire sibling birds it’s not sensible to take brother and sister who will probably attempt to mate when mature.
Inbreeding of any species, avian or mammal increases the chances of genetic defects in the offspring which can result in physical psychological or behavioural problems. The first mating is unlikely to produce defects. If inbreeding is repeated continually defects will show up.
Should you decide on two young birds and you’re not yet skilled enough to tame them, that they are hand tamed by the breeder before you take them home. If not they’re less tame and won’t grow up into agreeable pets. The best advice I can offer is to do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the various species - their habits and needs.
You may be fortunate and find a breeder who’ll allow prospective buyers to meet the young bird. Don’t buy sight unseen from the Internet. The following is an example, of someone who wanted a pet Parrot and already had a tame Conure. They bought a Quaker from an advert on the Internet.
The buyer was assured the bird had been hand tamed. When the bird arrived, it wasn’t tame, and the disappointed buyer after 18 months of trying to tame the Quaker, and being constantly bitten, reluctantly decided to rehome the bird.
Case study in successful acquisition of a new bird
Artha and Casper two African Greys
When my first African Grey Artha was 18 months old I decided she needed a companion. I was fortunate that Artha’s breeder, UK Parrot breeder Barrett Watson, had a young chick from another bloodline. The first night that the youngster came home, not sure of its sex we put him in a cage adjacent to Artha’s cage.
Neither bird would settle until I put the chick in with Artha. They remained close friends for 19 years util Artha’s tragic death at 21 last year.
After Artha’s death, Casper plucked out his chest feathers. I searched the Parrot forums and found a Grey in her 20s needing to be rehomed as her carer had developed COPD. She has been with us for 6 months.
The new bird was introduced to Casper in the birdroom, she was housed in a closed cage, Casper was flying free. After a day her cage door was left open. Neither bird has shown much interest in the other but they don’t squabble which is a plus.
Considerations when bringing a new Parrot into the home
Have you got suitable accommodation for more than one bird?
Will you look for the same species or accept a different species?
What is the age and gender of the new bird?
What is the temperament of both birds?
How will you introduce the new bird to your existing bird ?
It is nowadays generally accepted that Parrots thrive better with avian companions since they are - with very few exceptions - flock animals. Introducing the same species to the resident bird is more natural and easier for you but that isn’t always practical.
You may be offered a Parrot needing a new home for a variety of reasons; change of job, a divorce, the arrival of a new baby. Parrots lose their homes for many reasons sometimes because they bite or scream.
If you’re considering accepting a Parrot with behavioural problems, you need to pause - be sure that you have the patience and time to re-establish trust in a bird that has been misunderstood. You may be offered a rescue or a Parrot needing a new home who isn’t the same species as your current bird.
Suitable accommodation for more than one bird
Parrots unknown to one another cannot share the same cage. It will almost certainly result in conflict, and at the very least, a sense of panic will ensue - stressful to both birds.
Fights between Parrots vary from squawking and shrieking to physical attacks; bites are inflicted which can sometimes cause long lasting injuries and even be fatal. Sufficient room is required for two cages.
When introducing birds into an aviary, one method to avoid injury to the bird is to place the new bird in a cage, inside the aviary, for a few days or longer, to enable the newbie can get acquainted to the surroundings and occupants, and enable the resident birds to get to know the new bird.
The same species or mixed species
Same species are easier to introduce than others. Mixed species will accept one another dependant on various factors. Problems may arise if pairs are in breeding condition.
Even in a large aviary it’ s not generally good practice to have mixed pairs, when they are in breeding condition because of intra species or sometimes same species aggression.
Birds usually establish a territory when breeding and aggressively defend this.
Common sense would seem to tell us that size between birds should not be too great. That said, I’ve seen smaller and larger birds cohabit without friction. Different species can be encouraged to live together but incautiously housing birds together who have never become unaccustomed to each other can have disastrous results.
The temperament of both birds
Case study a failure
Benni, Blue and Gold Macaw, was seven in August 2021. He was born here in a separate aviary belonging to a tenant. Benni was hand reared from 6 weeks old. He was reared with two African Greys and a Cockatoo in the house.
When taken to the aviary for free flight practice and socialisation, he met various Parakeets. He never showed any aggression to the other Parrots. When he was almost two, I brought in a young Blue and Gold - a cock bird called Mino.
Benni never accepted Mino, he would harass him whenever they were loose together. I struggled for 5 months to habituate them together. It never worked. Mino is now happily rehomed.
Benni chased cock birds but not hens. I acquired a hen, Military Macaw Mina . From the word go Benni accepted her. (It is more likely, except with Cockatoos, for other species of Parrots to live in harmony when they are of the opposite sex.) Was it because she is a hen? I do not know. When I fed her the evening formula from a spoon, Benni would ask for a spoonful too.
When Benny and Mina were younger, visiting Macaws were accepted in the aviary. Now BennI and Mina are mature they no longer welcome strange Macaws in their aviary. However, I have friends who keep same sex Macaws with no problems which is why the individual temperament of each bird must be considered.
Methods of introduction indoors
For a new bird quarantine must be considered. The length of time in quarantine can be decided with your avian vet dependant on the situation; it is generally two to six weeks.
The standard procedure when introducing two Parrots to one another is a matter of desensitising one to the other. Once you are certain there is no risk of any disease you can place the two cages in one room – not too close.
Then you observe the interaction. Are they fluffing up angrily and shrieking or do they seem interested in one another? Once they appear interested you can put the cages side by side. It is a delicate matter of timing when you take one bird out of the cage.
With a helper, you can each hold a bird and watch their reactions carefully. Are they rousing their neck feathers in a friendly manner or are they showing signs of unease, like pinning their eyes, tail flaring and so forth. When two strange Parrots meet there can be a lot of squawking. If the birds are of similar size, the danger of harm from one biting the other is lessened.
How long it takes for two strange birds to accept one another depends on the birds’ temperament. Birds are naturally sensitive and take clues from human body language. Therefore, it helps if you, the carer, are relaxed.
Acceptance between the two birds can be almost instantaneous, or it can take some weeks. Sometimes, as I explained with Benni and Mino it may never take place and the bird has to be rehomed or they have to be kept separately which may defeat the object in acquiring another bird.
However well-adjusted a pet Parrot is to humans, there is something special when you can observe them reacting and relating to their own kind. Quite soon, they'll eat from the same play stand, although I’d recommend providing at least two or more feeding stations for foraging. Eventually you’ll be pleased when they can share a food bowl.
Mixing Parakeet species
This winter I brought the dozen or so aviary Parakeets indoors, Cockatiels, Plumheads, Barrabands and Kakariki. They got on well this winter in a 4 X 5 metre conservatory,
In the aviary various species mix well except when certain species are in breeding condition Rosellas and Ringneck Parakeets, for example, if they are paired up and breeding can become aggressive to other Parakeets. Even in an adjoining aviary, Rosellas for instance can injure each other through the gaps in the wire, and it’s advisable to keep them well separated when they’re breeding.
If you do not want breeding, one solution is to separate the sexes. And keep either all male or all female in an aviary or home environment. A large flying space is good for birds and seeing them constantly displaying their plumage is a source of constant delight. When you enrich the aviary with branches, swings, toys, etc young Parakeets will play together. They are less destructive than their larger cousins.
The following are some case studies of birds in my own flock which involve both positive and negative experiences. As with all experiences you learn more from the negative than you do from the positive.
Case study: Wild caught Amazons
Lena and Archie, an elderly pair of wild caught Orange-winged Amazons, came to me from a local zoo. They had lived together for 20 years in a private home but had been separated for 12 years in the zoo. I housed them together and they were never more than one metre apart for the 11 years they lived until both died in their 50s.
When Basil and his mate, also wild caught rescued Orange-winged Amazons, joined my flock, I kept the two pairs separately in another part of the aviary.
Within a couple of months, the new birds had their flight door opened and they visited the old Amazons Lena and Archie without any mishaps.
Case study: African Greys a success
Artha hen was my first Parrot. After Artha had been here for 18 months I decided she needed a companion, so, I returned to Barrett Watson, Artha’s breeder. There is nothing equal to face-to-face interactions when acquiring birds. Caring breeders like Barrett Watson may allow prospective purchasers to visit the aviaries and watch young Parrots being weaned.
Artha and I had visited Casper twice at Barrett’s. The first night I brought the young Parrot home I put him in a smaller cage next to Artha’s. Neither bird would settle until they shared the large cage.
Because of their excellent socialisation at Barrett Watson’s and the time I have spent with them both Greys were sociable with humans and accepted newly arrived Parrots.
With Artha this was partial. She never bred and has attacked chicks of Parakeets in the aviary - whereas Perdy the Cockatoo accepted them easily.
In dealing with Parrots, you cannot over emphasise Susan Friedman’s dictum, ‘each Parrot is a study of one.’ And you never stop learning.
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