Should I buy a Second Bird?

The last time I was at a bird club meeting the speaker was the editor of Bird Talk magazine. She brought up some of the frequently asked questions they receive. As bird club members, we all kind of chuckled at these because they were common knowledge to us. One of the questions they routinely get is "Should I buy a second bird?" She said the fact that the person was even asking the question indicated that the answer was "no." Most people nodded in agreement at this statement. I beg to differ.

I receive this question a lot too, but most people donít ask it out of some nagging doubt it wonít work or they shouldn't do it. In many cases, they want another bird, but are unsure how their first will react. Will the two get along? Will their first bird lose its pet qualities? How soon can they be introduced? What species would be most compatible? To me their question shows that they know enough about birds not to jump into something blindly. They want to educate themselves first. Most people obtain their first bird without doing any research. They learn through trial and error, not really the best way for the pet or the owner. When they start contemplating the purchase of a second they become more wary and try to make the right choice.

Benefits of Keeping a Flock

I have a personal philosophy regarding this issue - I never keep birds singly. A bird that has its own cage is still kept near others and allowed play time with them. The only time I completely isolate a bird is if it must be kept in a hospital cage due to health problems. This does not mean that I think every owner should run out and buy more birds. Many people are happy with just a single pet. This article is for those of you who are contemplating buying another bird, but havenít quite made up your mind yet.

I believe it is psychologically beneficial for birds to be kept in a flock. My adopted conure, Fry, responded well when kept around my flock. He no longer tries to assault other birds. Many people donít properly socialize their birds. One of my requirements of socialization is that bird know how to be a bird. A handfed reared in isolation with no avian contact may have identity problems later, particularly if its owner expects it to act like a little human. Birds are not humans and never will be. We both share many behaviors but have different motivations. Understanding your birdís behavior is the key to getting along with it. I think new owners tend to attribute human motivations to their bird's behavior or simply treat them as if they have no emotions at all. Both views will lead to problems. When you allow birds to interact with one another you give them a chance to communicate in their own language and to be themselves. As an aside: One of my pet peeves is when people ask me about teaching their birds to talk or want to know if my birds talk. Yes they talk- they speak bird! Youíll get along much better with your animals if you learn to communicate with them. Iíll have you know Iím fluent in "duck" and "chicken." Iíve made friends with wild ducks using this skill. Donít ask me how to teach your birds to talk, ask me how you can learn to speak "bird."

Not everyone can give their bird the attention it requires. Many people will buy their pet a mirror, thinking this will help keep it company. This is worse than keeping a bird isolated. If you canít give your bird the attention it needs, give it up or buy a second.

I also believe that owners learn more about bird behavior when observing more than one interacting. Owners of one bird only see that single birdís behavior. They have no point of reference and mistakenly judge their behavior as "odd." When you see birds interact with one another it makes more sense.

Will my first bird lose its pet qualities?

No. If your bird is tame and lovable it should stay that way. I have never seen a bird become unfriendly just because it had a new friend. I think this myth has been propagated by owners whose birds hit puberty the same time as a new bird is purchased. Behavior changes associated with puberty have nothing to do with the introduction of a new bird. Let's say you buy a new tiel. You have it for a few months. Itís so sweet and wonderful you just have to get another one. Your first bird is probably around six months to a year old when you decide to introduce another. Guess what time puberty hits... So you blame all your problems on the new bird.

What species are the most compatible?

This is more of a concern if they are to be sharing a cage. Given a large enough cage, you can probably keep any birds of similar size together. I keep conures, budgies, kakarikis, tiels and ringnecks together. Territorial issues are less of a problem when you are not breeding. If the cage is smaller youíll need the species to be more alike. Tiels and budgies have similar care requirements but they donít get along well in confined spaces, especially if there are only one of each (or one tiel and numerous budgies). Tiels are mellow birds; budgies are pesky and very active. The constant movement alone can drive a tiel nuts in a small cage. Even if it doesnít the budgies are likely to harass the tiel endlessly. When species are very different (in size or behavior) you need to give each their own cage. Supervised play is fine with most similar-sized birds.

How soon can they be introduced?

Quarantine all new birds for at least 30 days. By quarantine I mean keep them in another room with NO contact with your current birds. You donít want to risk bringing in any dieseases. Feed the new bird last and change clothes/wash hands before handling your other birds again.

How do I introduce them?

Some species can be thrown in together with few problems. Budgies and tiels usually fall into this category. Heck, budgies typically welcome new birds! However, birds that have established territory (especially perceived breeding territory) may have a problem with a new bird suddenly sharing it. In this case it is best to start out with separate cages, in view of each other, and supervised play time outside of the cages. How soon the two get along will vary. If you see any fighting (bickering is fine), take things back a step.

How do I keep them from breeding?

Donít buy the same species or the opposite sex. Donít give them a nestbox! Some birds will attempt to breed without a nestbox though. Not all species retain tameness if turned into breeders. Budgies, tiels and kaks do (though they may bite around the nest).

Feisty Feathers
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