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Should You Get Another Bird?

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If you're the happy owner of a pet parrot, you've probably pondered the possibility of getting it a cage companion. But are two birds twice as nice or double the trouble? That depends on many factors, say the experts.

Ask Mina Tweti, the Los Angeles-based author of the newly published "Of Parrots and People'' (Viking, 2008), and she'll tell you that getting another feathered friend for your bird is a usually good idea, provided you choose the second parrot carefully and have the time and temperament to care for two birds properly.

"Research shows that the single best enrichment for a pet parrot is another parrot,'' Tweti said. "From the moment a parrot hatches in the wild until the day they die, they are typically never out of eyesight or earshot of another parrot, which is why their voices are so loud. They're always surrounded by their flocks, mates and family unit.''

Kristen L. Nelson, DVM, Veterinary Creative, in Scottsdale, Ariz., agrees that acquiring a companion bird for your pet parrot is a good idea.

"I believe birds like having other birds around for company,'' Nelson said. "I advise clients to get two birds, although most live in separate cages. If they are of the same species, they may be introduced.''

When two's a crowd

Not all bird experts agree that pairing a parrot with another is the best decision, however. Dr. Greg J. Harrison, DVM, said that it's "not critical to get a second bird for your first. Hand-raised birds, or those not born in the wild, have a tendency to only want to be with people.''

If you're going to get a second bird, "it's probably best to give it its own cage,'' Harrison said. "Unless you really want to breed two birds, you probably shouldn't keep them caged as pairs.''

Harrison said that one of the risks pet owners run is that the first bird, which has probably formed a strong, dependent bond with the owner, will form a stronger bond with a second bird introduced to the cage, resulting in the owner being ignored or even attacked.

For these and other reasons, Harrison recommends not allowing two birds to share the same cage.

Second parrot preconditions

Harrison said pet lovers too often rush into a decision to purchase a second companion parrot without weighing the ramifications.

"Two birds take 'x' amount of time, which usually equates to up to 60 minutes a day that you need to spend separately with each bird giving them independent attention, followed by up to 60 minutes spent playing with them together,'' he said. "People think it's really neat to give their bird a playmate, but then they don't spend the proper amount of time socializing with both birds.''

The parrot species that are most compatible as pairs, according to Harrison, are small to mid-size birds such as:

  • African greys
  • Conures
  • Small cockatoos
  • Senegals
  • Pionuses
  • Cockatiels

Parrots with a higher incidence of behavioral problems as pairs include:

  • Amazons
  • Macaws
  • Large cockatoos

According to Harrison and Nelson, choosing the right second bird is a crucial decision that should factor in the age, size and temperament of your first bird:

  • If you have an older first bird, it's wise to get a second one of the opposite sex, as there's less chance of competition.
  • If your original parrot is young, aim for a second bird of the same sex.
  • If you get opposite sex birds, be prepared for the male and female to bond even if you don't want them to.
  • Avoid housing birds of different species together, as the smaller bird is often brutalized by the larger.

The great parrot-pairing project

Before bringing a second bird home, Nelson said it's important to take it to an avian veterinarian for a physical exam and laboratory testing. To avoid expensive testing or illnesses, do your homework on the source of your new bird. Make sure they have records and veterinary recommendations for common illnesses such as PDD, Circo virus, psittacosis, and polyoma disease. Also consider your new bird's family history. It's best to choose a bird with a family tendency to be great pets with no obsessive and compulsive behavior such as screaming, biting and feather picking.

Once you bring it home, quarantine the new bird in a separate cage and separate area for 30 to 90 days and work hard at establishing an equal-time relationship with both birds.

After the quarantining period, "introduce the two birds in stages,'' Nelson said. "Let the birds hear each other first. When they're comfortable, allow them to have visual contact at a distance. Slowly move the cages closer together until they are two feet apart.''

"Breaking the ice'' between two newly introduced birds takes time, Harrison said.

"You have to warm them up properly. When you walk into the room, don't pay attention to either bird. Instead, play with a ball or another pet just to break the silence. Don't create a habit where you take them out of the cage right when you walk in, or else they'll selfishly demand your attention. Try to break up your warming up routines by alternating who gets let out of the cage first.''

When parrots collide

When it's time for a face-to-face parrot meeting:

  • Do so in a "neutral'' area such as a playpen, Nelson said.
  • Hide food in the area and skip the morning meal. Hopefully, the birds will be more interested in foraging for food than each other.
  • Play with your original bird first to get the newer bird used to the fact that playing with people is exciting, Harrison said.
  • Next, put the first bird close to you but not on your shoulder.
  • Then, play with the newer parrot and alternate attention between the two, giving positive reinforcement.
  • Start playing games like rolling a ball on the floor to see how they interact with each other.

Over time, continue to allow supervised play time in the neutral area, Nelson said. "If no fighting is observed, introduce both birds to a new cage with two separate feeding stations. The new cage should be twice the size of an individual cage so that each bird has their own space.''

Ultimately, Nelson said, "remember that patience is the key to a successful introduction. This process may take weeks or months to accomplish.''

"Common sense will tell you if the birds like each other - you'll just know,'' Tweti said. "If they don't it will be really clear.''

When all else fails

Keep in mind that some birds quickly develop jealousies and aggressive behaviors toward other birds that won't go away, no matter how hard you try to socialize them together, Harrison said.

"It's possible that your birds will never be compatible. That depends on how well you did your homework and on how strong your first bird has bonded to you,'' he said.

If it's obvious that the two parrots are not compatible over time, "it's probably in everyone's best interest that you find another home for the second bird,'' Tweti said.

Credit: Reviewed by Greg J. Harrison, DVM, Diplomate Emeritus American Board of Veterinary Practitioners - Avian Practice
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