Adding Another Bird To The Flock

Adding Another Bird To The Flock

 November 1st, 2010
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Rose breasted cockatoo and congo african grey

I’ve talked about MBS (Multiple Bird Syndrome) in previous posts and know well the feeling that since your bird has been such a joy in your life that it only makes sense to add another (and another). It is a decision, however, that needs to be as carefully weighed as adding a new child to your family. When you add another bird to your home it changes the flock dynamics. Things WILL change, and not always in the ways you had imagined.
Know for certain that bringing home a new bird will double expenses and the mess. You will also have to find the time to spend with each bird individually. The one amazing thing that always seems to happen is that you find you have the capacity to be in love with, not just one, but now two of these magnificent creatures. There seems to be no budget for the depths of the love you will find within yourself.

Blue throated macaws

Before you bring home the new bird, it is important that you consider the emotional well-being of your first bird.  It is completely understandable that the first bird will find the new bird to be an intruder that now monopolizes the half of your time and attention that used to be solely his. All kinds of sibling rivalry can result. It is your job to set up a scenario that guides the birds towards being friends instead of mortal enemies.

Here are five step to follow to make the introduction of a new bird as successful as possible:

Step 1: Set up the new cage a couple of weeks before bringing the bird home, but don’t let it be a play area for your first bird. He will then claim ownership over, and become territorial of, the cage that is meant for another bird.  An ideal situation is to have the cage set up in another room but still partially in view.  Make sure you have the cage fully accessorized with perches toys and dishes at this time.


Step 2: Quarantine your new bird four 4 weeks. This means that you should have the new bird behind the closed doors of another room, preferably on another floor, and, in a perfect world,. on a separate air system. The purpose of quarantine is to give the new bird time to present any symptoms of existing illness before exposing him to the rest of the flock. During this time he can stay comfortably in a dog crate outfitted with perches and toys. He will survive this short inconvenience.  Even the best breeders can be unaware that there is disease in their aviaries. Oh, the tragic stories I could tell of people who didn’t think quarantine was important…

Step 3: During the quarantine period, your very smart bird has been quite aware that there was another bird in his house the whole time. And now it is time to bring your new bird to his new cage where both birds will be able to see each other for the first time, although from a safe, stressless distance. As they continue to appears comfortable with each other, the cages can be moved closer together.

Blue and gold macaws

Step 4: Birds are emotionally complex beings. To avoid issues of jealousy that can turn into aggression toward you or the new bird you must understand that your first bird has come to have certain expectations. He has been living with you for a while and has become accustomed to being treated in a specific way. Your new bird has none of these expectations and will adapt to the program you have in place as he grows more comfortable in your home. Because of this, it is important that your first bird be regarded as “first” as he has always been. Why should he lose his place in line just because YOU wanted a new bird? Greet him first in the morning and when you come home, feed him first at all meals, take him out of the cage first. Your new bird will accept his positioning in the flock.

If your birds are now occupying the same room, the one exception to the “first” rule might be at bedtime. As you settle the birds for the night, be sure to give a special goodnight to your first bird just before you shut off the lights. This way he goes to sleep feeling most important and doesn’t linger on watching you love on the new bird as his final experience of the day.  Like I said, emotionally complex.
Remember, your new bird has come to you without expectations and, therefore, will have no hurt feelings. Later in their relationship, when everyone is feeling secure, you can relax this rule quite a bit.

Camelot and blue throated macaws

Step 5: When physically introducing your birds for the first time, always bring your first bird to the the second. Never invite the new bird to invade your existing bird’s territory, that is asking for trouble with many birds. You might start this process by walking your first bird to the second while he is still safely behind the bars of his cage. Keep your bird securely in your hand and watch carefully for hints in the body language of both. You will probably be doing this for a while before you feel secure enough to let them share a play space, and even then, be present and alert.

So, I need to say here that your birds may decide they don’t care for each other no matter how well you handle the introductions. You will have to learn to respect this fact and act accordingly. In this case, it may simply be a matter of adjusting how and when you do things to allow them each sufficient out of cage time that doesn’t include the other. My goffins cockatoo, Theo, LOVES Linus, my umbrella.  Linus doesn’t share her affection. I rarely have them out together these days, but they manage to tolerate each other which is the best I can hope for.  With their difference in size, it is a real concern that Theo might be badly injured should Linus tire of her advances.
Quite often, the new birds become family just as you had hoped, and can provide each other with entertainment during the day while you are away and have you laughing at the games they invent together when you’re home. Not to mention that you won’t have to be the one preening the head feathers anymore.

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10 Comments on “Adding Another Bird To The Flock”

Connie Vasquez  11/03/2010 1:47 am

As always Patty, great info! Thanks for sharing! ((( – =

Recently I have been wondering if you’ve posted on the topic of air fresheners, candles….? You probably have and I unfortunately might have missed it. It came to mind after a facebook friend shared a tragic story. Her neighbor unwittingly used a Febreeze product and her beloved bird passed away as a result. How heartbroken she must have been. It is too bad the manufacturer’s of these products are not obligated to post warning labels at a minimum. I am always paraniod about using chemicals and probably avoid safe alternatives as a result. I even worry about burning a candle downstairs when the birds are upstairs although I would love to do that on occassion, still I am not sure if the smoke/scent/toxins will drift up the stairwell or linger in drapery… ?

Joy in Seattle  11/03/2010 2:03 am

I got really lucky. My first was so excited to have a new friend in the house, he ignored me for weeks. He couldn’t understand why space and bars divided them for so long. I won’t say it was seamless, but it did go much better than expected.

Mel  11/03/2010 7:34 pm

Hey Patty, that’s a great post! I’ve recently introduced a 4th galah into my flock. One is special needs and on his own, so the other three are now together. My first bird is female, 2nd male and they were displaying mating behavior/hated any separation. The female became grumpier towards humans when the first male was introduced and sometimes towards her male friend but it was worse if he was ever out of sight. He was always hyper, she was more quiet, so I got the impression she got annoyed with him but loved him at the same time.
Since introducing the new bird (male), the bond between the original 2 has broken and the 2 males have paired off. I never saw it coming! The female stays by herself most of the time (the other 2 tolerate her presence) but has become much more affectionate to the humans in her life. I worry that I have effectively stolen her boyfriend and made her unhappy but it is hard to tell because she is soooooo much calmer (less bitey – is that even a word?!?). I guess her temperament was always quieter. So I now have 2 hyper birds in the aviary and one who prefers to sit quietly/munch on something. Do you think that’s ok or should I pull her out?

Patty  11/03/2010 7:37 pm

Hi Connie!
You know, I have mentioned toxins in the air in several posts, but I don’t believe I have ever done one solely on this important subject. You can bet one will be coming right up! Thanks for the great suggestion. Sorry to hear about your neighbor’s friend. There are so many tragic stories out there!

Patty  11/03/2010 8:07 pm

Hi Mel,
I toyed with mentioning the possibility of the first and second bird bonding tightly to the exclusion of the human in this post, but opted against it. I was afraid that it might affect how a now concerned human might go about introducing their new birds. It really needs to be done carefully and compassionately, because a bird or owner could be injured should one of the birds become aggressive. This will be the topic of a post in the near future.
In your case, your first bird grew to prefer the company of your second over you, but was jilted when the third arrived. Am I correct? Birds seem to get over that type of rejection fairly easily, they have their place in the flock and accept it, unlike we humans. She has found her way back to you, and personally, I would just go with that. You are a flock member after all.
You mentioned that the other two are hyper. Is there any sense that there is aggression directed at the female? If everyone seems safe I would leave them alone. Since the two males have each other, you might dote on the female a bit (not to the point of causing jealousy) by keeping her closer to you during out of cage time or putting a playstand for her in another room you might occupy often.
It sounds like the birds have worked things out for themselves and established a new order in the flock.

Name (required)  11/04/2010 11:40 pm

The male is extremely dominant. He does chase both of the other birds occasionally. Not in a way that anyone gets hurt though, it’s mostly vocal “I want that toy and I want it NOW and I’ll chase you if you touch it” sort of thing. I think that’s pretty normal, after all kids have “That’s MY toy” fights often enough, so why can’t birds?
All three sleep together in the afternoon and at night, so there’s no fighting over perches. None of them appreciate sharing food bowls (but that’s ok because I use 3 bowls and about 6 foraging toys and the floor of the aviary, so everyone gets first pick at something…)
It’s just the female sits on her own a lot, so I worry that’s a sign she’s unhappy. The other two are constantly playing, foraging, destroying their cage, preening each other… She’s just never a part of it, she just sits and watches them. If she plays – it’s on her own in a different part of the aviary and normally a lot more gently. She used to play with the male, not all the time (he’s ALWAYS playing) but quite regularly. Now it’s all solitary.
It’s just hard to pick if solitariness is a bad sign or not!

Patty  11/06/2010 12:12 am

Hi Mel,
The flock dynamics have changed for now, but they don’t always remain that way. Try to let them work things out for themselves for a bit. If you still feel concerned that your female is unhappy after a few months, then you will get to be her new partner in crime! She may not care for the new male at the moment and is being stand-offish, but, again, that can change.

Mel  11/30/2010 6:21 am

I thought I’d follow up this thread with the outcome. It turned out that the solitariness was a problem. It left the other two to bond very closely and it has finally escalated to them now attacking the female. I stepped in and pulled them apart (nearly lost a finger).. So the outcome is that I have removed her. She now has her own cage (next to the males’ because they call her continuously if she is out of sight)… So obviously they’re all still friends, they just got territorial and needed more space. Morgy is like a different bird, so much friendlier to humans! Only problem is that I really didn’t want to spend $ on a new cage setup at the moment! That’s life I guess.

Patty  11/30/2010 10:50 pm

Hi Mel,
Not the resolution you had hoped for, but a resolution none the less! I know cages are expensive, but the vet bills will be higher if they stay together! Good job in recognizing a problem in the making!

RUTH KANTOR  02/03/2011 4:16 pm

I love your information! I have only one bird, Cassie, who is an Eclectus. She is fine with human visitors. I was chatting with my friend on the phone for about an hour one day. Cassie was out but not begging attention. She suddenly walked up me to the phone and pecked it. My friend, who had raised budgies, said to put the phone up to her ear and let her hear my friend, whom she knew. Cassie went crazy! She pecked the phone and my finger in turns, then latched onto my forearm. I had to pry her mouth away to make her let go. I gently put her on the floor where she stalked around growling and pulled a piece of newspaper off a surface and ripped and tore at it! Of course I hung up the phone and waited for her to calm down. The bite on my arm looked like it was made by a mouth: oval in shape with eight marks evenly spaced around the perimeter. It’s the worst bite she has given me. I’m careful now to keep my calls short or to talk when she is in her cage. I applaud her for her patience and for taking her rage out on the paper!