Author: Gary Colvin, Behaviour Consultant

Companion parrots can be a lot like pretzels&&.it is hard to stop at one! A lot of first time parrot owners sooner or later start to think about adding another feathered friend to their household, but unless you are prepared and ask yourself a few questions, this can be the start of a lot of trouble.

When someone asks me about getting another parrot, there are a few questions I ask them to consider, before taking this giant step.

1. Do you have adequate time to give your new parrot, without neglecting your current feathered friend? Remember your first parrot has had you all to himself and may just resent loosing your undivided attention. Hopefully your parrots will get on together and be the best of friends, but if they dont, have you got the available time to give each bird the individual time it may require? This can also mean double the time cleaning, food preparation and environmental enrichment and exercise times.

2. Do you have adequate space to house each bird separately, should they need the space, or prefer their own company? This means having a suitably sized day and night cage and play area for each bird.

3. Can you afford to look after another companion bird, with feeding, toys and be able to supply the best medical attention needed, should your bird fall ill and need to see an avian veterinarian.

4. If your current parrot and your new parrot form a relationship, the existing relationship you have with your first bird, may change. If this happens, are you willing to accept this and be happy with that change?

5. When you look at your other companion animals, no matter what species, do they all seem happy and healthy? Are they all well cared for, exercised, groomed and are you able to spend enough time with each one of them?

6. Do you think by adding another companion animal to your household it will benefit everyone already existing there&both human and animal?  

7. If your new addition to your household is noisy, or causes the noise levels to rise in your existing birds, will this be a problem and will you be able to address this? 

If you are happy with all the answers you have given and still want to add to your family there are a few things you can do to try and make the addition as stress free and as easy as possible, but always remember you are dealing with living, feeling animals with intelligence and each one will be an individual and be completely different.

If you have a choice, I would try to get two birds at the same time, or as close together in time as possible and as young as possible, so that patterns can be set for both birds from the start. Both birds can learn the routines of your household together and learn what to expect in interactions from you and be socialized into accepting the other bird as part of its flock or family. As with children, or any animals, the earlier you can establish how life is, what to expect, routines and patterns, the easier it is on the animals.

We all know that parrots are flock animals and in the wild, and live in family groups within a larger groups called flocks. We think because of this, they should accept new birds coming into their home as another flock member, but this isnt naturally so. Most of the companion parrots we own are hand raised by breeders so that they will be nice and tame. They are socialized to humans from an early age and usually come to live with us, as soon as they are fully fledged and weaned. If they are with humans and other pets, they soon settle in and consider us to be their flock, which is a good thing, unless you want to add another bird later on, which they may or may not see as part of the flock.

If you have a parrot and are planning to get another one later on, try and socialize your parrot to other parrots. This can be a bit difficult, but if you know other people with companion parrots, planning get togethers in a safe environment can be a great way to socialize the parrots to other parrots. You must always remember that all birds should be checked out by an avian veterinarian and be clear of all diseases before interacting. These times of interaction should always be positive and happy occasions and never situations that could scare your parrot.

Giving your parrot a mirror to play and interact with can also help get used to seeing another thing that looks and moves like him, a bird. Parrots are very smart and I think they work out very quickly that their reflection is in fact not another bird, but they can learn it is fun to interact with something that it looks like them and also get used to the sight of something moving like they do, nearby. A full length mirror next to the cage can give added interest to your parrot and may help in conditioning him to being around other parrots.

If you have spent a lot of time interacting with your parrot, this is a wonderful thing, but it may have created a very strong bond and your parrot may become very jealous of another bird in the home. This new addition can be seen as an intruder that is taking your time and attention away from the existing bird, and cause it to attack your new parrot and try and drive it out. All new introductions should be taken very slowly, with consideration to your existing parrots reactions at all times. Learn to read his body language and reactions and understand what it may be trying to tell you, so you can avoid potential difficult situations.

BRING HOME THE NEW BIRD.

Before you pick up new bird, get prepared by setting up your new cage in quiet part of the house, so that the new arrival can settle in without too much trauma. This can also act as a quarantine area, just in case your new bird has any transmittal diseases. I would try book an appointment with your avian vet for as soon as possible. Straight after you pick your new parrot up would be ideal, but if not, as soon as you can, to have a thorough check up and blood and faecal workups done to rule out any contagious diseases. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what a suitable time for quarantine would be. Strict hygiene control should be observed when moving from interacting with one parrot to another. Some breeders include a veterinarian health check in the purchase price of your bird, as part of their guarantee, but if not, certainly arrange one yourself.

While your new parrot is settling in, make sure you try and keep the same routine and time spent with your first parrot, as you always have. Your first parrot will probably be aware of the new addition because of vocalizations, even though he will not be able to see him.

INTRODUCING THE NEW ARRIVAL.

As humans, we always seem to be in a rush and want do everything, yesterday! When introducing the new bird to the existing flock, take it slowly and let the parrots behaviour, body language and interactions guide you as to how fast to move.

If your cages are on wheels, I would start by positioning the cages as far apart as possible, even in different rooms, but just so that the parrots can see each other through a doorway. I usually do this before a meal time and like to pair any new experience with something good, or something the parrot really likes. S So, have some of your parrots favourite treats handy and walk back and forth between the two cages, treating the parrots for good, calm behaviour. Make sure you are calm and relaxed and talk to both parrots in quiet, reassuring tones, as you want to create a calming influence, not excite the parrots. If there are any aggressive displays, or harsh vocalizations, make sure you do reinforce this behaviour by treating the parrot. Simply ignore the behaviour and wait for calm behaviours so that you can reward this. If all is going well, end the session while you are ahead and all is going well. You can put them away and feed both parrots their main meal and repeat the process again later. Like any training, you are far better off doing lots of small successful sessions, that a really long session that can deteriorate.

Really watch your parrots and read their body language. Be aware of what they are trying to tell you as this govern the speed at which you can fully introduce the two parrots to each other. If both parrots seem relaxed and showing a curiosity to each other, try leaving the cages where they can see each other while they are feeding while you come and go. If all seems well try slowly moving the cages closer and closer together&.this may take days, or weeks or months, depending on how well the two accept each other.

If all seems to be going well, I would try taking your original parrot out of his cage and taking it over to the other parrots cage. The repeat the process with the other bird, while your first parrot is back in his cage, always praising and treating each bird for wanted behaviours. Watch closely the reaction of both birds in both situations, as this can sometimes give you a clue as to how they are going to accept each other and what you may have to work on. Again if all seems to be going well, get someone to assist you and take both birds out at once. Take your time and do not try and force them to be too close, too fast. Just because you love and want both parrots, that doesnt necessarily mean that they will be instant friends. You want every interaction to be a positive one, so take it slowly and give lots of treats and praise so they both learn that when they are together, good things happen. If you try and force them together and their first interaction is a fight, it may take a long time and a lot of effort to undo what they have learnt.

Never let a parrot get into a situation of terrorizing another parrot, so if they are still unsure of each other, do not let one parrot get on top of the others cage and make threatening behaviours, or corner another bird, so that it cannot escape.
Hopefully your parrots will get on straight away, but if they dont, be very patient and take it slowly. A parrot that is highly bonded to his human friend may take a lot longer to accept an intruder, that seems to be taking attention and love  away from him. Sometimes it can just take time to learn to accept the new arrival.

WHAT SORT OF PARROT SHOULD I GET?

I do not think there is any hard and fast rule about this and usually you will have preferences to what you like and want anyway. I have seen a  home with 6 companion macaws, of both sexes, all living together happily and I have seen a hyacinth macaw living with a cockatiel as his best friend and even sleeping together in the same cage, on the same perch. I have also seen household with two parrots that just wanted to kill each other, so had to be exercised and played with separately.  If you get two birds of the same species and you get a male and female, there is always the risk of these two becoming a breeding pair, so consider if this is what you really want. If this happens and love blooms, you may be pushed out of the picture, and you know the old story&.Twos company and three is a crowd! So again, consider if how you will feel if this happens.

We keep these wonderful creatures as part of our family and because we have a say in almost everything that happens in our parrots lives, we have to be responsible and think through all the consequences of our actions and decisions. If decide to get another parrot, then we have to be responsible to help see the situation can settle as best as possible and if our parrots, for some reason decide not to get on, then we have to be careful to give each parrot the time and effort it deserves. 

This article was published in Talking Birds Newspaper