Ask Lafeber

Question:

July 5, 2021

Same sex bonded conures fighting


I have recently adopted an 8 week old male green cheek conure and a 9 week old male black capped conure. Unbeknownst to me the breeder caged them together for a week before I got them. I was originally expecting to adopt 2 single birds. They seemed pretty bonded by the time I brought them home. Inseparable, cuddling, preening, regurgitating. I gave them both their own cages and began working on bonding with them separately from each other. They went from not being able to be handled to both bonding to me in a week so they’ve made great progress with me. But my problem now is when I’ve tried to let them be out together after the first week, they’re now fighting. The black cap was much more timid and attached to the green cheek when they first arrived. I would describe the black cap as obsessive with the green cheek. The green cheek would explore and the black cap would stick to him like glue, behaving very submissively.

Now when they interact they cuddle and feed each other at first, but then it will break out into a fight. The submissive black cap will nudge up against the green cheek and ask to be fed, they’ll look like they’re feeding each other at first, and then they’ll both lock beaks, start screaming and flapping their wings and roll around. I have intervened and thankfully neither of them have been hurt. But it has been a continued cycle now when I try to let them interact. I break up the fight, they go back to cuddling and preening, and then 10 minutes later they fight again. It seems almost like a toxic relationship, as they are inseparable when together, but I’m afraid of the green cheek injuring the black cap. As I believe the green cheek to be the one initiating the fights. The odd part is they both seem to be much more calm once I separate them and they can no longer see each other. They both go back to wanting to be with me. And they have never once called for each other, not even when I separated them for the first time and neither of them were bonded to me yet. I do not believe the cause of their fighting to be jealousy over me as I’ve been observing this behavior at a distance.

I wish for them to coexist together in the same room one day. I have no intentions of ever caging them together. I just want to be able to have a bond with them both individually, be able to handle them both but have them together in my bird room so that I can care for them both at the same time. As they are currently in 2 separate rooms which makes it difficult for me to make sure they’re both getting the attention they need.


Answer:

Hi Meagan,

Your conure’s behavior is very normal. It’s a common misconception that pets birds need another bird as a friend. We are the substitute for another bird. When you add another bird into the mix, and then expect them to be out together peacefully, this is when the trouble starts. It is a bit odd that they are behaving this way, if they are truly the age you were told. It almost sounds like the Green Cheek might be closer to 8 months old or older, and the black cap is a young bird. I say this because the green cheek is acting the way a mature bird acts towards an immature bird. Even if a bird is just becoming sexually mature, a young bird is viewed as a nuisance. It sounds like the black cap is baby begging for food, rather than mate begging. And this is not sitting well with the green cheek. Regardless, the best way to understand their behavior is to understand wild parrot behavior. In the wild, they live in flocks for protection. The juvenile birds will interact, engage in some mutual preening but mostly limit that to the head and neck. As they get mature, they start looking for a mate, and the preening will move to the body if the birds are bonding as mates. Once a pair is bonded as mates, there is little to no physical contact with other flock members. Other birds are now viewed as rivals and a respective distance is maintained. With pet birds, you are in some form the replacement for the mate, although a mate type bond should be avoided. You should try to maintain a flock member bond, where you limit petting to the head and neck. This can help minimize hormonal behavior, but still a pet bird is likely to settle on one person as far as letting anyone hold it. And another bird is now a rival. Again, if both of these birds are only 8 and 9 weeks old, their behavior is not as normal for their age. But it still likely stems from jealousy, even if you aren’t around. I would continue to handle each bird separately, and not have both out at the same time. In many multi-bird households, it’s necessary to handle each bird in a room away from where all of the birds are. It depends on the birds and you can’t make them accept you handling a bird in front of them, because they are acting on natural instinct. The key to dealing with any pet bird behavior is understanding wild parrot behavior. These guys are still exotic pets, even when captive bred. It’s no different than any wild animal raised in captivity. When you handle one conure, if the other gets too upset, then you can first try offering some treats and verbal reassurance. Tell the bird he will get his turn. When it’s time, return the one to his cage, give him some treats, and get the other bird out. Only time will tell if you will be able to handle the birds in front of each other. Every bird has their own personality and something about these two birds has caused an unusual dynamic.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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