Adding Another Bird to The Flock

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.

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, stress-less distance. As they continue to appears comfortable with each other, the cages can be moved closer together.

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.

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.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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