French Version

To Live with Various Species of Parrots


by Johanne Vaillancourt

Translated by Marlène Picard (Mooghie)

 

Your parrot will love to have a companion with whom spend the day.

The dream of living in the company of many parrots; the desire to provide a companion to your bird so he doesn't get bored; the impulsive purchase of a parrot after seeing the adorable little feathered ball at the local pet shop...; or simply an attack of "acute parrotinitis", there are so many reasons pushing parrot enthusiasts to adopt several parrots, often of various species, over the years. It is almost an addiction some tell me- "you own one and then, you want another one, and another, and another. Rare are parrot-passionate individuals content with just one feathered companion.

The parrot being a gregarious animal, it is certainly a good idea to get a friend for your bird. But do remember that this gregarious nature often manifests itself quite differently depending on the specie (and they are many species available on the market).

In most situations, a parrot will enjoy living with a feathered friend and this is very normal, however, not all of them will be willing to accept any species of parrots as a life companion. Yes, you can diversify your group of parrots, but it can be hasardous to mix together any family of psittacines.

 

Parrots are not dogs...

The dogs (canis familiaris), whether large or small, have all the same nutritional needs, the same innate behaviours expressed in the same way. They all communicate in identical ways (a dog from USA barks just the same as a dog from UK) and have all the same social and sexual attitudes.

The many species of parrots are, despite very pronounced similarities, oftentimes quite different. These changes are manifest in their different dietary specificities, in behaviours expressed differently, or in different means of communication, regardless whether these are intra-or inter-specific (a group of Grey from the north of Africa will not necessarily have the same vocalisations than another group from the south), in variation in social and/or sexual profiles, and that within the same genus.

Families, genus, species, subspecies are so singular that in taxonomy, parrots are classified according to: the nesting period, feeding and social habits and a number of anatomical and/or morphological criteria.

There are more than 300 known parrot species divided into three main families that make up the order Psittaciforms: the Psittacidae, the Cacatuidae and the Loriidae. These families have in common a number of innate behaviour, but it is in their development or in their manifestations that they differ.

You should know that in their natural environment, parrots are divided, among other things, in two categories of social groups: a social group said monospecific and a second group identified as multispecific.

A group of parrots forms a social group when they fly together at about the same speed and the same altitude, when they forage together to the same feeding locations and, sometimes, regroup in the same dormitory.

African Greys, monospecific, tend to stick with those of their own species.

The social group identified as monospecific consists of a single specie of parrots with a fairly gregarious disposition. These birds generally form very, very large groups (hundreds of individuals). They are often species that will feed partially or exclusively on the ground (not exclusively arboreal). To feed in this manner, the group must be homogeneous as their survival depends on their appearance and that the group's sentinels must identify an intruder at first glance because of their different color or size. So no other species is accepted in the territory of these parrots.

Parrots from Africa, especially the African Grey, even those born in captivity, will generally not consent to mingle with other birds, especially if they are imprinted and consider forming a single specie with humans. But, you will say, "my Grey gets along fine with my cockatoo."

Parrots from the America, as a general rule, adapt easily to other specie.

Well, the captive environment is not a natural environment, and sometimes certain behaviours expressed by our parrots (especially hand-fed parrots) are surprising. So, I would say that to increase the chances of a friendly relationship it is best to provide a bird belonging to this category a companion of his own specie.

Although birds of the New World are generally of a sociable temperament (most are multispecific), several species of Pionus are the exception to the rule. The Pionus parrots live in single specie groups and do tend to reject social interactions with other species of parrots considered alien.

The social group identified as multispecific is instead composed of several small groups of birds of different species living in alliance with other parrot species to increase the number of individuals in the group.

Species from South America such as macaws, amazons, conures are part of this second type of group and are therefore much more willing to adapt to living with other species in a captive context.

Life in captivity

If you already have difficulties understanding the attitudes of your parrot, remember that with two species of parrots under your roof, it will be worse; and if you add a third, it will be normal to feel lost more often than not. A cat could not locate its own kittens in this maze...

Captivity causes much confusion among our parrots. We impose cohabitation on many species from regions and/or continents where, in fact, they never would have met and even less mingle. These species will display many attitudes common to psittacidae, but will also show distinctive behavioural manifestations that can even sometimes be opposite. Species belonging to the group said monospecific are birds of temperament rather wary and discreet and are less likely to vocal overflows. On the other hand, they will be more responsive to modifications in the environment, less tolerant to change and novelty. That makes them more vulnerable to the development of phobic behaviours.

Birds belonging to the multispefic groups are more determined and... squawkiers. They know how to get heard. These species are generally more sociable with strangers (humans or birds), accept novelty with ease, are less selective, less fearful and (normally) less prone to psychopathology demonstrated by parrot belonging to the monospecific group.

 

The young parrot will learn more slowly communication codes if he has been deprived of models.

Communication

Even though language aptitudes are not equally distributed among all species, modes of communication in parrots are nonetheless attitudes acquired through contact with other group members. In many cases, the bird born in captivity, separated very young from his parents or peers, and deprived from models, does not immediately recognises the modes of communication of his specie and a fortiori those of other parrot species. He will not recognise either some of the automatic attitudes, including sexual displays, of the species he artificially lives with.

So do not expect the birds to recognise themselves at first glance and to know how to communicate with each other instinctively. Over time, parrots living in these artificial groups created by humans will eventually adapt and develop modes of communication identifiable at least within their social group.

 

Social interactions between species (in captivity)

Social interactions depend highly on the species selected to live together. Generally, there is little or no problems with the multispecific parrot family groups, but the process may get more complex in the case of a individuals from a monospecific group, such as the African Grey, and water may flow a long time under the bridges before these birds start feeling comfortable in the presence of other species.

If you decide to introduce a new bird to your parrot, try to respect the innate attitudes that are an intrinsic part of him. The birds from monospecific groups do not necessarily get along neatly with birds of various species. It is your responsibility to properly inform yourself on the choice of a perfect companion for your parrot, as he is likely to spend several years in his company, so why not make this companionship pleasing to him from the beginning.

 

 

© Johanne Vaillancourt 2006-2009 (french) - 2014 (english)

 

Photos
Molly, anodorhynchus hyacintinus and Elmo, ara macao, CAJV
Clémentine, Pablo, Gazou, Peanut, psittacus erithacus erithacus, CAJV
Amazona autumnalis autumnalis, Christelle Desfrennes
Ara ararauna and ara chloroptera, Mija Portail