Ask Lafeber


February 15, 2021

Cockatiel companions

I had 5 cockatiel boys. None are related. Two are bonded for a long time. The two newer ones bonded very much. Unfortunately, Pepper who had been a feather picker passed away of renal failure. Now Mo wants to bond with one of the birds who is already bonded to someone. He has a rough time adjusting to the death of Pepper. He started a little feather picking and has started biting me. I clipped his wings so I could get him to do step ups which is better. But how do I get him to blend in with the other three cockatiels.


Hi Kathleen,

Flock dynamics can be complicated, even with same sex birds. In the wild, when a bird reaches maturity, they bond with a mate and have little interaction with the rest of the flock. Other birds are considered to be rivals and will maintain a distance from any bonded pair. The main purpose of the flock is for protection and for juvenile birds to interact and learn until they are old enough to choose a mate. When you have an odd number of birds together in captivity, again even if they are all the same sex, they still follow their instincts and will tend to pair off, leaving the odd bird without a companion. The single bird is often bullied and picked on when it isn’t being ignored. He isn’t going to be welcomed by the two bonded males. It’s likely that they will continue to rebuff him and it could escalate to serious fights and attacks. He is viewed as a rival and they instinctively do not want him around. I’m not sure if these guys are all caged together, but I never recommend having an odd number of birds in one cage. The best option is to separate the single bird, and the survivor from the other pair. Let the two bonded birds be a pair – they have each other and are not interested in another bird joining them. See if the two single birds will form a bond – cage them side by side and observe them for any interest or interaction. If they show an interest, try letting them out together or try them in a cage together, closely supervised. You mentioned working with him, and him trying to bite you. This is natural for a bird that has other birds for company. Birds will almost always choose another bird as a companion if they are caged together, and if they form a bond with another bird, they usually lose interest in human companionship. There can be exceptions, but instincts are strong and usually they end up following their instincts. So it isn’t realistic to expect birds to live as a flock, yet still be tame. It’s usually an either/or decision you have to make. You can keep the single birds separate from each other and the pair, and possibly they will start wanting to be handled again. It’s confusing to them for you to expect them to all get along, and also let you handle them. And again, I don’t know your caging situation – are they all in a big cage, or do they just interact when out of the cage? Regardless, it’s not good to try to make birds get along. They have their own preferences, and generally you can’t change this once bonds are worked out. I would shift focus to either having the two single birds as pets, or giving them a chance to bond. But the other pair should not figure into this – they have each other and that is by nature the only companionship they want. If the single birds do not show interest in each other over time, there is nothing you can do. Not all birds get along and they don’t always like the mates or companions we choose for them.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,


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