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Dr Tariq Abou-Zahr BVSc CertAVP(ZooMed) DipECZM(Avian) MRCVS

RCVS & EBVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoological Medicine (Avian) 

Birds Need Bird Friends



Parrots are highly social, flock birds. To keep them on their own is unnatural, anxiety-inducing and ultimately, is likely to have a big negative impact on their mental health. Flock animals have a “safety in numbers” mentality and when they find themselves isolated, they feel vulnerable – which is stressful. Parrots have a huge social requirement and behaviours such as allopreening and play are essential to fulfil their social needs. Although it’s traditional to keep a single pet parrot in a cage, this is not ideal, nor is it to be recommended. We need to move away from this practice, as we understand better what we need to do to meet the welfare needs of these birds. 


The trouble is, that parrots are complex animals. Just like humans, not all of them are compatible. There can be complex social factors which may impact how well birds get on, for example, their age, sex, and imprinting status. If birds are fully imprinted on humans (as happens when they are hand reared without the presence of other birds) – they may not recognise other birds as sources of social and sexual gratification – instead, they may seek these from humans! Because humans can never speak their language, usually this is a recipe for disaster. To add to this, no human can be always with the bird. There will be times where one needs to go away, even if one is at home most of the time, such as if retired. When parrots find themselves alone – they often are stressed, even if it’s difficult for us as humans to properly pick up on this. Prey animals such as parrots don’t always express their feelings and emotions as overtly as other species and they can sometimes be difficult to read. It can be very easy for us to impart our own human feelings onto them – but they are not human and sometimes, we can misinterpret them!


If parrots have been without other parrots for many years, potentially decades – it is often not as simple as just obtaining another one, popping them in together and expecting them to get on like Milli Vanilli! In fact, sometimes, it has the potential to go very badly wrong – with fighting and severe injuries. 


It's important also to recognise that different types of parrots, for example, grey parrots, Amazon parrots and eclectus parrots are all completely different species. While they may take some interest in each other – they are not different breeds of the same species as a Labrador and a poodle are, but totally different species of bird! They all have different behavioural nuances, different vocalisations, and different ways of communicating with each other. 




  • When obtaining new birds, always try to get at least two members of the same species! 

  • Birds are often happier in flocks, if you have the time and space – more birds may be even better. This also means that if one bird is sadly lost further down the road, you are less likely to end up in a situation where you then have a single bird on its own. However, it’s important not to take on too many birds if there isn’t sufficient space and resources!

  • You need to think about their social and sexual dynamics. If you have a pair and a third wheel – there could be issues with aggression for example! Female parrots, even if no males are present, may try to nest and lay eggs. It’s important to reduce the environmental stimuli for reproduction if this is not intended and it may even be worth considering contraceptive options! For more information about this, speak to your avian vet.

  • If you are introducing birds later and not obtaining birds together at the same time, always try to introduce them on neutral territory in a gradual fashion. New birds should initially be quarantined to ensure they are healthy and ideally, they should be screened for the common infectious diseases that affect parrots, such as Chlamydia, PBFD, polyoma virus, avian borna virus and psittacine herpes virus and should get the all-clear from an avian vet, before going anywhere near existing birds. Introductions should at first be via cages next to each other, with a separating barrier. Only when the birds are used to each other and showing no signs of aggression, should you consider introducing them. Introductions must be very closely supervised, and you should be prepared to intervene if for any reason things go wrong and the bird’s get into a tussle. 

  • Never buy birds which have been hand reared on their own by humans. These fully imprinted birds will be far too dependent on humans, especially when they hit puberty. Parent reared birds generally are best, although they must be acquired young, and a significant amount of time and positive reinforcement training must be dedicated to getting them used to humans and to stepping up and down and coming on command etc. Alternatively, parrots that have been hand reared, but with other parrots in a crèche situation are also a viable option as these birds still know they are birds!  


Some people use the argument that if they have other parrots, their bird may be less bonded to them and therefore, they don’t want to provide avian companionship. While it is true that birds will rely on each other for a lot of their social interaction and there is a chance that they may not therefore be quite as “obsessed” with you – the reality is – this is a selfish reason that we humans chose for not providing them with bird friends and really, we should be doing what’s in the best interests of our birds. That is – other birds! I know plenty of multi-bird households where all birds are tame and very happy to interact with their human companions as well as with each other. 


The take home message is, that in almost all cases, parrots are social and benefit from having companionship from members of their own species. For more information, or to discuss what might be best for your specific bird or situation, speak to your avian veterinarian. 

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