By Dr. Laurie Hess, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
Birds can make great pets in the right situations. However, unlike pet cats and dogs who often enjoy the company of other animals, not all birds welcome other birds into their environments once they have been established there for a while. Some species of birds do well living in flocks, while others prefer to remain as solo birds in homes. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are thinking about getting a second bird.
Should You Get a Second Bird?
Many bird owners considering getting another bird do so because they are concerned that their pets are lonely or bored. Some birds, especially small species such as finches and budgerigars (commonly known as parakeets), do enjoy the company of other birds. However, many birds see their human caretakers as flock-mates and do not necessarily want to interact with other birds, even of the same species, particularly if they have been the only bird in the house for a number of years. Certainly, small species should not be mixed with larger species (such as macaws, Amazon parrots, cockatoos, Eclectus and other big parrots) due to the potential for injury to the small bird. Some bird owners rush to bring in a new bird when an existing pet’s cage-mate passes away; however, not all birds will accept new mates, even if they have successfully lived with a mate in the past.
If a bird seems bored or depressed, as long as there is no underlying medical reason for the behavior, it is often better to try providing the bird with more mentally stimulating activities (for example, toys to chew on, TV to watch, music to listen to, or more time out of the cage) than to introduce another bird. If the resident bird still seems unhappy after being given more to do, trying out the company of a second bird isn’t a bad idea; however, a resident bird’s acceptance of a new bird is a process that can take weeks to months and will not likely be a quick fix for the original bird’s problems. The resident pet may ultimately come to enjoy the company of the new bird, but the introduction must be done correctly and patiently.
Where to Get a Second Bird
There are many places to get birds, including rescue facilities, shelters, breeders and pet stores. There are so many unwanted birds available (and need to be rehomed) that adoption is always a great place to start. Searching the Internet can lead to you to places in your area to find an adoptable bird. Most of the birds on these sites or in rescue facilities are adults, so if you are looking for a very young or juvenile bird, you may not find one there. Existing birds in homes may be no more likely to accept new young birds than older ones, so there is really no rule for success when it comes to introducing birds of different ages.
Regardless of where you get a new bird, you should have it examined by a bird-savvy veterinarian to help ensure it is healthy before exposing your existing bird to the new one, and you should discuss with the facility from which you are adopting what happens if your existing bird doesn’t accept the new bird or if the new bird ends up being sick. Do they have a return policy or guarantee period during which you can bring back the new animal? If they do, you will certainly want to have that in writing.
How to Introduce Your New Bird to Your Resident Bird
Once your new bird has been checked out by a veterinarian and deemed healthy, you will want to house it in another room (ideally a separate air space so that any potential undiagnosed or developing disease cannot be spread through airborne transmission) for a minimum of a month (ideally three months, to be sure). This will give your existing bird a chance to hear, but not necessarily see, the new addition and will give you a chance to see how both birds react.
After this initial separation period, you can try moving the new bird’s cage into the existing bird’s room, close enough to be visible to the resident bird but not so close as to be able to reach out to the new bird. If the existing bird seems fine with this set up, you can try moving the new pet’s cage closer to the original pet’s and see how they both react. Some resident birds are threatened by having new birds moved into their territories; in these cases, a neutral territory, such as a room not yet inhabited by either bird, may be a better place for an introduction.
Some birds can coexist happily in the same room, a distance apart, but do not like to have other birds in their immediate living spaces. Still other birds will not accept new animals at all into their environments and may act jealous or frightened. Typically, unless you are introducing a small bird (such as a budgerigar, canary, or finch) to another (or a group) of similar small species, the two birds should not be housed together but rather should be given their own cages, feeding stations, perches and toys. Birds of similar sizes living in separate cages may sometimes tolerate being out in the same room on separate perches or play stands, but they must be supervised at all times because of potential for injury.
It is generally not advised to let big birds out around little birds, as bigger birds have the ability to attack and kill smaller ones if they feel threatened. Even birds that have come to live happily in the same room for years can squabble and injure each other if left alone out of their cages. Of course, all birds must be supervised at all times, too, if they are out of their cages and other predatory pets, such as cats and dogs, also live in the home.
Additional Tips for New Bird Introductions
Adding a new bird to an existing bird’s environment can be stressful at first, even if the birds ultimately learn to tolerate each other or better yet, enjoy each other’s company. It is critical that the resident bird not feel like it is being replaced by the new pet; thus, you will want to give the existing bird extra attention in the presence of the new bird to show the existing bird that the new one isn’t a threat. You will also want to interact with the new bird in the presence of the existing bird while giving them both verbal praise, head scratches and coveted novel food treats (that are unavailable at any other time) so that they understand that being around the other bird brings good things and not bad. Good treats to try, depending on what the bird likes, are nuts (or almond slivers for smaller birds that shouldn't have a lot of nuts every day), small pieces of fruit, a small piece of an unsalted cracker or a piece of whole grain cereal.
Remember, just as adjusting to a new roommate, neighbor or relative in the house can take us time, adjusting to a new flock mate can take time for our pet birds. When introduced slowly and properly, many birds can learn to accept other birds in their homes over time. Bird owners have to accept, however, that there are certain birds who are just not into sharing their environments or family members with others and are better off flying solo.
Image: Lorcel via Shutterstock