June 1998 Magazine
Birds are natural flock creatures and they form strong bonds with other members of their flocks. Raising birds in pairs can satisfy their natural flocking instincts. Daily interaction between members of the flock can consist of verbal communication, mutual preening, feeding, and play.
When considering the purchase of a pair of birds or the addition of another bird, be sure to purchase your bird(s) from a reliable source. Make sure the birds are unrelated and that they come with a written health guarantee or contract.
First we will consider the purchase of a pair of birds. If future breeding is a possibility be sure that the pair are of the correct sex. Birds of different sexes have been known to form close bonds, but given the choice, I have found that they will choose a member of the opposite sex.
One of the best ways to ensure that your pair will bond is to purchase unrelated birds from the same source and allow the birds to choose their own partner. Unless you are experienced at handfeeding, you should purchase fully weaned birds just after weaning. Many species of birds will form such close, tight bonds that they will totally ignore their owners, so it is imperative that the human family begin interacting with the birds daily on an individual and group basis, as early as possible, to form a lasting relationship with each bird. This is especially true with Lovebirds and some South American species of birds.
Some pairs of Cockatoos, Lovebirds, and Macaws, etc. have been known to have problems with aggression. Pairing birds close to the same age and allowing the birds to choose their own partners may reduce the risk of aggression. Birds that have not freely chosen their own mates may bond by default, and may be more prone to acts of aggression. Always watch for any signs of aggression with newly introduced pairs, and separate the birds at the first sign of aggression.
Raising birds in pairs is not only beneficial for the birds, but also has a few benefits for the owner. Housing birds together means that you have one less cage to clean., but that cage will have to cleaned more often. In addition, the birds will keep each other company during the times when the you are busy and can't spend a lot of time socializing with them. Birds housed together don't seem to develop the behavioral problems that singly kept birds do. I have found that many behavioral problems such as feather mutilation, biting, and screaming cease to exist with the introduction of another same species bird, even when caged separately.
Group playtime is double the fun with two birds. Watching the birds interact with each other is rewarding and often comical, but make sure each bird also receives the same amount of individual attention, to prevent jealousy between the birds.
I have also found that the birds learn from each other rather quickly and that they learn to work together to accomplish their goals. Teamwork develops naturally, and bird owners need to keep one step ahead of them. I have a pair of Lovebirds that worked together to get the cage door open. The female Boo Boo, raised the cage door and her cage mate, Bam Bam, flew out of the cage. Once outside of the cage, Bam Bam raised the cage door, and let Boo Boo out. I also had a pair of Timneh Greys housed in a cage that had a sliding bar as a cage door locking mechanism. Working at the same time, each bird took one end of the bar and slid it out of the slot, thus opening the cage door. A pair of my Goffin Cockatoos worked together to get the feeder door open and both proudly escaped out of the cage and chewed up the window sill in the bird room. I now use key locks on all of the cage doors to prevent accidental escapes. These feats could not have been performed by a singly kept bird!
My pairs also seem to learn new words from each other. One of the pair will learn a new word or phase first, then the other bird will begin to repeat it within a few days. They also mimic each other, often making it difficult to determine which bird is actually talking.
Introducing another bird to an existing pet bird may or may not work out. Birds have their own personal preferences and their choice may be different than ours. Be sure to practice strict quarantine procedures for a minimum of 45 days, and get a complete vet check up on any new bird during the quarantine period.
After the quarantine period and all vet tests have come back negative, place their individual cages side by side. When the birds are sitting as close to each other as possible you can begin to introduce the birds to each other. The orginal introduction should happen in a neutral place such as the playstand. Always supervise the initial introduction and closely observe the birds looking for any signs of aggression. Also watch for signs of bonding such as mutual preening, sitting side by side, and feeding each other and eating out of the food dishes at the same time. Bonding may take a few days, weeks, or unfortunately, it may never happen.
If bonding takes place, then you can supervise the introduction of a new cage for the birds. Make sure the new cage is large enough to adequately house both birds, and allows for climbing, swinging, and wing flapping. Place a set of food and water dishes at each end of the cage. Have an ample amount of toys and several perches of varying diameters in the cage.
Even if the birds don't bond enough to share a cage, they may still enjoy having another bird in the house and may verbally communicate with each other. I have a female Goffin Cockatoo, named Osacar, and a male named Ernie, who have separate cages placed side by side, for about the last 6 years. They don't physically interact with each other when they are both out of the cage, but they do verbally talk to each other and watch each other. When only one of them is out of the cage at a time, he/she will go over and visit the other one and climb up on their cage. They will preen each other through the cage bars, beak each other, and nip at each others feet. When only one of them is out of the bird room, the other one will scream until the other one is back in the bird room. When they are both out of the cage at the same time, they will avoid each other and get as far away from each other as possible. Let the pair decide how much they want to interact with each other, and allow them to proceed at their own pace.
The disadvantage of housing birds together is the possibility of disease transmission. If one bird becomes ill, it could be passed on to the other bird. It also may make disease detection a little more difficult. For instance, if you spot abnormal droppings in the cage you may not be able to instantly determine which bird has the abnormal droppings. Knowing your bird's individual personality, normal behaviors, and observing them often, will help you determine if your bird or birds are ill. Regularly weighing your birds is a must for early disease detection.
At the first signs of illness, separate and quarantine an ill bird. Immediately call your vet and also tell him that you have other birds who could have been exposed, in case the illness is contagious. Have both birds checked as an added precaution, even if only one bird is exhibiting symptoms.
As the pair sexually mature you may find that your pair will want to breed. Many birds will copulate for the sheer pleasure of it, so don't assume that the pair want to breed. Egg laying, increased preening, increased mate feeding, and nestbuilding are signs of breeding behavior.
Breeding pet birds can have its advantages. Raising pairs together from an early age ensures a close bond between the pair. You will also know the pair extremely well and will be alerted to a problem at the earliest sign. Some pairs may even interact with you during breeding. This will allow you to easily inspect the nestbox, the pair, and the chicks. The pair may even allow you to play with the babies while they are still in the nestbox. I have a Lovebird hen who will incubate her eggs in my hand. She will allow me to pet her and the babies during brooding. My pair of Sun Conures will run out of the nestbox to give me kisses, and preen my hair for a few minutes, before returning to the nestbox. One of my pair of Blue Crown Conures will proudly show off her eggs for me, and she allows me to candle the eggs and handle the babies too.
On the other hand, I have pet pairs that will rip my face off if I even dare to look inside of the nestbox. Since these birds have no fear of me, they will not hesitate to attack me in defending their nest. To prevent them from accidently breaking the eggs or injuring the babies, I use a stethoscope to listen inside of the nestbox. This helps me determine hatch dates and I can hear if the parents are feeding the babies.
Certain species of pet birds that are socialized and bonded with their human families may not make good breeders. Notably, pet males of certain African species such as Greys, Meyers, Senegals, etc. do not breed well. The females of these species seem to do well in breeding situations. Other problems with breeding pet birds is that many will not incubate their eggs or feed their babies. If your intention is to breed your pair of pet birds, then you will want to keep your relationship with them at a minimum.
Deciding what your plans are before you purchase a pair of birds will contribute to building a successful relationship with your birds. Even though your food bill may go up a little with two birds, it definitely doubles the pleasure and doubles the fun.
Winged Wisdom Note:Anne Johnson has been a companion bird owner for 14 years and has been breeding birds for the past 8 years. Anne is the owner and creator of Avian Antics Bird Toys, a well known manufacturer of bird toys.
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