Avian Expert Articles

Pet Birds & Other Birds

red-bellied parrot; red-belly
By TJ Lin

It’s easy to assume that birds must like other birds. After all, they have much more in common with each other than with people — feathers, beaks, squawks, and the ability to fling food in inconceivable places, to name a few. But before you buddy up two pet birds consider that fact that many avian veterinarians treat bird patients that were injured by other bird housemates. I can relate.

Years ago, my cockatiel Gracie (male!) went to introduce himself to the flock newbie, conure Ollie. Gracie hopped over to Ollie’s cage and used his beak to climb the bars outside Ollie’s cage. Ollie apparently didn’t care for Gracie’s intrusion, because he reached in between the bars and gave Gracie’s beak a pinch. This whole scenario went down in a matter of seconds; before I could even utter a “Nooo!”

I learned two hard lessons. Lesson number one: a bird in his cage can injure a bird outside his cage.  Lesson number two: an injured bird will not cry like a baby or whimper like a dog. No, it is often quite the opposite. A bird is more apt to act like the person who, after tripping and falling, quickly gets back up and tries to walk it off, hoping no one noticed.

When I scooped up Gracie to place him back in his cage, he calmly sat on his perch, as if nothing happened. It wasn’t until a half hour later, when I saw Gracie flick his head a couple of times, that I noticed a small indentation on the side of his beak. (If you can picture the beak as a nose, the spot would be about where a person would have a nose piercing.) There was no blood, just a little indent and that occasional head flick, like he was trying to fling food off his beak. I took Gracie to the vet the next day, and learned that if left untreated, Gracie’s beak could get worse … to the point of him not being able to eat properly. He had a fractured beak that was at risk for not growing properly. (Like nails, a parrot’s beak grows continuously, which is why birds need safe toys to chew up!)  Fortunately, my vet happened to have specialized training in beak repair, even using some of the same state-of-the-art dental equipment we might be familiar with. Gracie’s beak healed perfectly, and the indent eventually grew out.

Back to flock dynamics: Just because birds are birds, doesn’t automatically mean they will be friends. Birds can and do have different relationships with other birds in the household. Some birds are practically inseparable and spend a good part of their day snuggling together or preening one another. Other birds might play together on a play gym, or simply tolerate each other’s presence while sharing the same playtree. Or a bird may flat out not like the other bird(s) in the house infringing on his or her personal space. And some birds just need a little time to warm up to another bird’s presence, which is how it ended up being with Gracie and Ollie.

Eleven years later, Gracie and Ollie still aren’t best buds, but they know each other’s boundaries, and I know them, too. They used to sit on opposite ends of the curtain rod during our morning shower, but they’ve closed the gap to about two wingspans over the past few years.  And they do seem to appreciate being housed in the same room; they even contact call with screeches (Ollie) and whistles (Gracie) whenever they are in separate rooms.  However, I would never expect them to share a cage or a travel carrier. When you have birds of differing species, where there is the slightest size discrepancy, you have to be extra-cautious about potential interactions. I don’t think Ollie meant to seriously hurt his cockatiel housemate, but Gracie’s beak nonetheless was no match for the stronger beak of conure.

What’s your experience or advice for others when it comes to flock interactions? Please share!

3 thoughts on “Pet Birds & Other Birds

  1. Thank you so much for that article on birds with other birds. I have had a female African Grey for 3 years, and finally found her a male Grey approx 2 months ago. They were fighting each other for a while but are gradually getting to tolerate each other, as long as they respect each other’s personal places and spaces. Is there any chance at all they might ever breed? They both are great as pets and the female especially, is so gentle toward me. The make has his times when he likes to bite me for no reason that I know of, but considering how short of time I’ve had him, I figured this would be the case.

  2. I have 3 African Greys, 4 budgies & I use to have a green cheek conure. My best, brightest, & oldest Grey, Murphy, killed my little green cheek, Snoopy. No rhyme or reason as to why – they always got along. Murphy never minded Snoopy on his cage & he is very gentle. He squeezed her & caused a broken wing & internal injuries. She never made a sound!! He knew he had done something wrong from the minute I scooped her out of his cage. He told me “sorry” as I took down Snoopy’s cage & told him that she wasn’t coming home. I will never trust him out of the cage again. I still miss her!!!

  3. Woof and Meow are two caiques. The former is a white belly caique, the latter a black headed caique. We’ve had them for 15 years and they adore each other, but it doesn’t stop them from getting jealous of or angry with each other. These are the vibes I’ve gotten from them over time:

    “Why are you holding him? You should be holding me.”
    “Your shoulder is my shoulder, not his. Get him off or I’ll bite you.”
    “Your shoulder is my shoulder, not yours, Meow. Get off, or I’ll take your treat.” (Sometimes, it’s Meow saying this to Woof.)
    “Woof and I are sitting with each other. You’re not invited. Go away.”
    “We don’t want you, we want Charlie” — my husband.
    “I don’t want Charlie, but I don’t like that I’m here with you and Meow’s in the other room with Charlie. What if he’s having more fun than me. Take me there now. I want to check.”
    “That’s mine – give it back or else.” All four of us (Woof, Meow, Charlie and I) all say or think this at some point to any or all of the other three.
    Woof and Meow often go in each other’s cages, sometimes to just play with something that grabs their fancy; other times it’s more sneakily, as if they’re checking to see if the other one has more or less of something desirable.

    Anyone who touches a sensitive pin feather – human or avian – deserves a bite.
    Meow doesn’t like scratches but sometimes he doesn’t like me giving them to Woof. He wants to give scratchies to Woof himself. Woof loves us both wanting to pet him, and sometimes he’ll turn in such a way that Meow can’t see I’m giving him scratchies at the same time Meow is preening him.

    Woof whispers to me sometimes so Meow can’t hear. He can’t say any actual words. It’s more like quiet snuffling and there’s a sense of intimacy to it that gets me every time.

    When they argue, they piggy squeal at each other and each one gets louder and louder and neither of them will let go of the object they’re arguing about but will stand stock still for many minutes, waiting for the other one to give in, then start piggy squealing again. As soon as one lets go, the other one loses interest in the object, too. The whole point seems to have been about enjoying a good argument rather interest in the object itself.

    If I try to stop an argument between them, they forget being mad at each other and team up to yell at me.
    I wouldn’t trade either of them for the world.

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