If you think you need a companion bird for your bird, here's some things you should know.
Many people feel that all captive birds
companions to play with, communicate with and preen
with. In theory, that's a super idea. However, there
are many issues with that as far as safety goes.
I love the idea of having a buddy for your bird. My
Moluccan Cockatoo (M2), who was wild caught, would
honestly die from heartbreak if he didn't have another
bird around. However - I'll stress that he was wild
caught. He wasn't handfed and never imprinted on
My other Cockatoo is a handfed Umbrella Cockatoo (U2).
Just like you see in the movies, baby birds imprint on
their 'parents'. Since he was fed by humans he thinks
he's human. He wants to mate with and be with humans -
not birds. That's the case with most handfed parrots.
While it can have it's perks, having two birds is very
dangerous. I cannot stress that enough.
There are certain types of birds known for hurting and
killing other birds. Above all the rest, Cockatoos and
Lovebirds. A young (read: baby) lovebird can bond to
another lovebird, but I do mean BOND. If you want an
interactive pet you can generally forget about it
unless you provide serious one-on-one time with that
bird every single day. Even then, most lovebird owners
never suggest you get two. Handfed Lovebirds just like
Generally speaking, lovebirds don't hurt their mates
if they are introduced as recently weaned babies.
However, lovebirds usually don't accept other mature
Lovies. Lovebirds can and frequently do hurt other
birds, and sometimes get themselves killed in
attempting to do so.
Cockatoos are dangerous in a different sort of way.
Few will be outwardly hostile or aggressive to other
birds. They'll run around with other birds, get into
trouble together, preen together, nap together, but
one day, something may go wrong. Usually they don't
even need anything to be set off. A microsecond is all
it takes for a bird to loose a toe, a beak, or a piece
of their skull. Cockatoo-on-Cockatoo attacks are
I know people personally with cockatoos who have
killed other cockatoos, a cockatoo who seriously
injured (almost killed) an eclectus, a cockatoo who
has bitten off another 'toos toes, a cockatoo who so
seriously damaged another 'toos beak that it entirely
fell off, and so forth.
But they aren't the only dangerous ones.
I know several macaws who have bitten off other birds'
toes, a macaw who took off an amazon's beak and
nostril, an amazon who broke out if it's cage and
slayed a few lovebirds when the owners were out, a
budgie who killed it's FOUR cage-mates overnight, a
sun conure who removed the maxilla (upper-beak) of a
smaller conure, and the list continues.
Unless I stated otherwise all of these attacks
happened during a normal day, and the birds were being
supervised. Even with careful supervision things can
take a horrible and deadly turn for the worst.
Caging most large birds together is highly dangerous.
Many cockatiels, budgies and conures can get on well
enough, but should one ever set it's mind to it, they
CAN kill other birds in their cage.
To house a bird with another bird special
considerations must be taken. A bird should be housed
near another bird for many months, as well as be
allowed to interact with it with exceptionally
diligent supervision. After awhile, both birds can be
placed into a new cage together for short periods of
time. This new cage should be larger than a normal
cage for a single bird. For two budgies, lovebirds,
and other birds of that size, the cage should be at
least 25" wide by 25" deep. For conures, poicephalus
(smaller african parrots), quaker parrots, and other
small birds, it should be at least 35" by 30". For
small amazons, pionus, and timneh african greys, 40"
by 30". For macaws, 63" wide by 36" deep or even
larger for the bigger ones (Greenwings, Buffons and
Cockatoos take these dimensions up many notches. I'd
never house two small cockatoos (Lesser sulfur
crested, goffins, ducorps, etc) in anything smaller
than the largest standard cages (4' by 3' or more).
Medium to large cockatoos (Umbrella, bare eyed, medium
sulfur crested, moluccan, etc) should have enclosures
about as large as small bedrooms. Bird-proofed spare
bedrooms actually work out pretty well.
In all situations the birds must have ample room for
flight! If a bird can't escape from it's attacker it
will almost certainly die. If a bird is known or
thought to be more aggressive than it's mate it's a
very good idea to give it a slight wing trim to slow
it down. Obviously this can't be done unless you know
for sure it's the more aggressive bird.
Also, it's been said that it's great to let your bird
socialize with other birds.
'Not a good idea. Not at all.
Birds are masters of hiding illness. Psittacine Beak
and Feather disease, Polyoma, Psittacosis, and the
ever-dreaded PDD can be spread from bird to bird after
just one meeting.
The scary thing is that PDD can't even be tested for
or treated. A bird looking healthy and being
vet-tested is no reason to let your bird be around it!
When you know another bird-person for years and years,
know that they practice strict quarantines, regularly
vet check, don't shop at bird shows, and disinfect new
toys and bird supplies before introducing them to
their own birds...generally, if you know they're super
careful about disease and are responsible, trustworthy
bird people, it can be okay to allow your birds to be
around their birds. Use good judgment and don't be
A woman who has broken the hearts of hundreds with the
tales of her beloved African Grey's passing because of
PDD has said "There are two types of bird owners. The
ones that have dealt with PDD, and those who are going
to". It's a scary and all-too-real statement. Fun bird
parties sound like a great idea, but there are too
many things that can happen. A bird could attack
another with no prior signs of aggression and end up
killing it, and, of course, your bird could contract a
terrible and incurable disease.
When you have two (or more) birds in the same home you
need to be more than cautious. It's crucial that
you're downright paranoid sometimes. You shouldn't
turn a corner away from your birds when they're out
playing together. I couldn't number the bird-on-bird
attacks that took place when the owner "just stepped
out of the room for a second". A second is all it
The dangers involved with keeping two birds are very
real. Before suggesting that people keep birds in
pairs, you need to make sure that those people can
keep their birds safe.
Handfed birds usually just don't care about other
birds. They might help them pass the time, and they
might enjoy 'chatting' from their separate cages, but
that's about all. For most handfed birds a companion
is never needed or even desirable. It's been said, and
it's true, that if you can't keep one bird happy, you
can't keep two birds happy.
To keep a bird entertained during the day you need the
-A big, safe cage. One unclipped-wingspan deep, and
two wingspans wide. That means 60" wide for most
macaws, 48" wide for umbrella and moluccan cockatoos,
40" wide for smaller cockatoos and large amazons,
about 36" for average amazons, african greys,
eclectus, etc, 24" for most cockatiels, conures and
lories, and 20" for budgies, lovebirds, and
parrotlets. It should be powder coated or stainless
steel. Not galvanized metal, brass, or any "mystery
metals". Cages should not be rusting or have chipped
finishes, and the bars should be spaced close enough
to prevent birds from fitting their heads through.
-Tons of toys of all different types. For most birds
this means hard wood to chip, soft wood to chew, soft
plastic to tear up, safe rope (no cotton, which
tangles) to preen, leather to gnaw, mechanical toys to
work their brains, foraging toys to find things in,
and a bucket of all sorts of foot toys and toy parts.
Get really creative when it comes to finding new toys.
Venture beyond the bird store! Baby toys are awesome,
some birds adore chewing on fabric, pens with the ink
removed are super...use your imagination and find a
potential toy in everything! Remember to watch out for
glues, unsafe metals, super hard plastic (which can
break into sharp shards), batteries and other unsafe
One type of toy gets it's own paragraph: foraging
toys. Foraging in general, actually. Some foraging
toys can be bought, some can be made, but foraging is
absolutely essential. It can't just be a part of a
list. All my birds have treat cages, hide-a-treat type
cups, mentally challenging toys meant to dispense
little dowels or treats if the bird works for it, and
so forth. In addition to that I wrap things up in
newspaper and stash them around the cage, roll them up
in newspaper and weave that through the bars, tuck
things into parts of toys, put them in upside-down
paper cups, stash them in their foot toy buckets...A
good rule: If a bird will work for something, MAKE
them work for it! I never serve seeds, nuts, or dried
fruits in bowls, because my birds hunt for them.
-Sound. I have a radio and CD player on timers in the
bird room. One will go on to play a child's CD.
Another plays the classical music station. I also give
them baby toys that play music or sounds when a button
is pushed. Supervise your birds for a long while with
these types of toys to observe their playing style. If
they're mostly interested in the interior components
(batteries and such) skip them altogether.
If you need to be gone for long periods, get a TV for
visual stimulation as well. Most birds like kids shows
with bright colors and fun voices and songs. Only
leave on G-rated programs, or you may end up with a
bird that repeats off-color phrases and sounds at
-Color. Some say birds don't care about color. I
disagree. In food and toys, color just stimulates. We
humans would go nuts living in a black and white
world. It's thought that human babies love sharp
contrast, and I think this holds true for the birds as
well. However, you need to be careful to not overwhelm
a bird with 'visual noise'.
-A rich diet. Humans wouldn't like waking up to a bowl
of grape nuts every day. A varied, healthy, organic
diet is important for both nutritional and
psychological reasons. Many birds develop behavioral
issues when they are fed diets which contain synthetic
vitamins. Most commercial pellets contain these, with
a few exceptions (such as Totally Organic or "TOP"
pellets). I always suggest avoiding the fruity,
preservative loaded, artificially colored pellets in
large pet stores. Buy an organic, dye-free,
preservative-free pellet to make up the bulk of your
birds diet...It pays off enormously.
You can really add another dimension to your parrot's
life with exciting foods. Birds should wake up to a
fresh breakfast and go to sleep with a crop full of
yummy, wholesome foods. Rice, lentils, veggie pastas,
fresh organic fruits and vegetables, organic whole
grain cereals and more things can be used to build up
a varied diet. "Wet" foods (produce, cooked grains and
such) usually start spoiling within a few hours in
your birds cage, and being such sensitive creatures
your bird shouldn't eat things that are getting
'colorful'. You can offer non-pelleted foods in the
cage for long periods in the form of cereals, uncooked
pasta, seeds and nuts (in moderation), and the many
types of readily available dried fruits and vegetables
out there. And remember - get creative by making your
bird forage for the yummy stuff!
If you have enough of these things to stimulate your
handfed parrot, the last thing your bird is going to
do is stop and look at the cage a few feet away. If
your bird isn't the most interactive with people a
companion may in fact be a super idea, but start the
birds out as "neighbors" rather than "roommates". Once
you've been observing their interactions for several
months and have seen them work out little spats on
their own without getting violent, it may be time to
move them in together. But go slowly, be cautious, and
if you have any apprehensions then stop wherever you
are and back up. Remember - better safe than sorry.