Birds in a Cage: It’s Complicated

Why is it some birds get along with any and all cage mates, and some don’t? This is a question that has many answers, and none of those answers will hold up if applied to a different scenario. Here are some things I have observed in my own flock.

Zebra finches are notorious for needing lots of space when mated. In fact, it’s an accepted rule of thumb to keep either a single pair in a cage, or at least three pair in a larger cage. With three, the combatants are faced with too much going on to pick on any one couple. This has worked for the most part, but I have found that even with three couples in a big flight cage, some days one of the birds just violates some unwritten law of zebra finch behavior, and all the others, even the mate of this poor fellow, will start to pluck him and batter him. Then it’s time to pull that one out and give it a rest. But then you have to watch that the structure of those left behind doesn’t create more unrest.

Zebras also seem to dislike white birds that are claiming to be zebra finches. The white birds have to be protected from the normal grays. And as I really like the looks of the white and light colored zebras, I’ve used several tricks to keep them from being picked on. One thing that works well is putting silk ivy vines around perches, to create screened areas for resting. This also attracts the males to pull at the silk leaves, and means one has to be vigilant to clip threads or remove tattered leaves before anyone gets caught in them.

I’ve been told I am very lucky to have a pair of parrotlets who have lived happily together in the same cage for going on three years now. The little hookbills are very wild and have always gotten along with each other. Perhaps part of that luck is the fact our conures like to go tease them by walking on the top of their cage. Banding together to fight off the invaders may have strengthened the bond between them. But my second pair of parrotlets has been even closer to the conures. Recently I became concerned enough to pull the female when the male began to beat up on her. I kept her in a cage where her former mate could see her, and he did seem to miss her, hanging on the cage as close to her as he could be most of the time. After a week of this, I reintroduced her to the cage, and instantly the male was chasing her, plucking her, and being horrible. This time, he came out of the cage.

It just so happened that a new female parrotlet breezed into town about then, and was set up in a cage behind this male. Poor little first girl was completely forgotten. The new girl is now in the same cage with the male, and things are going pretty well. She’s a bit more aggressive than the original mate, and stands up to the little bully. Meanwhile, the first girl is starting to come out of hiding in the cage and look at the world around her. We are hoping a hand-fed male with a gentler disposition might come along to keep her company without a return to the domestic violence.

Lovebirds are another group with special cage needs. Eye ring species, like fishers and masked, should not be kept with non-eye ring species, like the ever-present peach face. Well, my first lovebird was a peach face, and I decided to get a masked to keep him company. They got along famously, and when I realized they should not be bred together, I worried they would not accept other mates. Luckily that was not a problem. Currently I have one cage with a fisher, the original masked, and an offspring of the original peach face. When I put that last youngster in with the other two, they picked on her mercilessly. So I moved her into a nearby cage where she could see them and be seen. On nights when the lovebirds had flight time, this youngster would try to sneak back into the original cage. After a few weeks of chasing her out, I decided to let her take her lumps again. And to my surprise, the three of them settled in to a happy life together.

No matter what you hear about housing birds together, your experience could be so different, you will think you misread or misunderstood the warnings. But I almost suspect the birds have read those warnings too, and get a kick out of keeping us humans guessing.

Note: I no longer have parrotlets, and am not breeding my zebra finches. I have the first love bird, as I have previously written, and am highly disappointed in his lack of offspring right now. I am consoling myself with the three violet chicks who will be off to the handfeeder next weekend.

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