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Choosing a suitable flock mate

Expert Question

I acquired a green cheeked conure 11 months ago. He/she is approximately 16 months old, is very active, playful, healthy and seems very well adjusted. I am trying my best to ensure that he gets the best care and most optimal enrichment that I can provide. After doing a little research, an avian companion for Cosmo might be a good idea (as confirmed by the replies written by WPT experts such as Jim McKendry). I am hoping that you can share advice on the most suitable type of flock-mate and how best to introduce the two, so that they have the best chance of becoming good friends. Considering personality and size, I am leaning towards another green-cheeked conure, but my local bird store does have several orphans up for adoption that have captured my interest (African Greys, a Quaker, and male Eclectus,  amongst others). Also, several local parrot owners have recommended that the birds be kept in separate cages, only sharing supervised playtime together to reduce the risk of injuries. I would greatly appreciate your advice.

Expert Answer

Thank you for considering an adoption parrot for your Cosmo’s companion. In doing so, you are performing two compassionate acts at once!

The proper size parrot to become friends with a Green-cheeked Conure would be another conure or something in the lovebird, Senegal or larger/not as large as a grey size range…

The Quaker up for adoption is a really perfect possibility as we have found monk parakeets to be social and friendly, they allo-preen like conures do, and tend to be laid back and accepting of other parrots.

The questions about that particular quaker would be is it the opposite gender to your green cheek (not necessary but adds a bit of spice to a friendship!), whether it is a healthy parrot, and why is it up for adoption—i.e. does it have behavior issues like extreme jealousy of human keepers, attacks other smaller birds, food bowl competition anxieties, those kinds of things.

Consider noise and whether one or both of the birds are flying pets.

You are correct that the parrots will need TWO cages. Friendship among psittacines depends upon the birds and cannot be forced by humans. They will determine where and when they play together or begin touching, and when they wish to be in their own private space (like for eating and sleeping).  If after several months, they begin hanging out together and sleeping in the same cage, the other cage—hopefully the smaller of the two—can be moved out.

It is essential that you ask yourself “does Cosmo really want another parrot in the house.”  Human feelings about what we think is best for our birds can confuse an issue about what the parrot actually wishes. Green cheeks can be territorial or devoted to one person and this can express as macho and dislike if another parrot is introduced. That is why it is best to always bring another bird into a home slowy—like in a different room where it can be heard but not seen for some weeks. This also solves the problems of quarantine for even if two birds are healthy, they sometimes have microbes that are not so compatible once the two share a close air space or food bowl.

Another consideration is whether the Quaker is handleable by human keepers (biting?) and whether the two birds would become so close that you become the third creature in a triangle of affections. I consider this an acceptable scenario for my birds in that it is more natural than human dependence, but it will change the dynamics of your affections with Cosmo, should the two buddies become very bonded.

At the bird store in Santa Fe, we used to have the owner bring his or her pet in for a meeting with the potential companion. That is not the same as seeing what happens in Cosmos’ home, but it does allow first impressions. Absolutely perfect would be to have permission to take the Quaker home for a trial with the option of bringing it back if things did not work out. Responsible bird stores do not “stick” new owners with a pet sale or adoption that is detrimental to the birds or the humans involved!

Good luck and keep the list informed on your progress.
With aloha, EB Cravens

[Update September 29, 2009]
Hi EB! Thank you very much for your advice regarding my green-cheeked conure, Cosmo, and the things to consider when seeking an avian companion. Unfortunately or fortunately, the Quaker parrot was adopted before I returned to the store. There was however, a wonderfully tempered pineapple green-cheek for sale. He (or she) is the same age as Cosmo, and has resided in the store for the past year. The store owner was not in favor of a “trial sale” for me to determine the compatability of the birds, and so I relied on my own judgement (after several visits) and crossed my fingers. I brought Noodles home, kept him in another room (in ear-shot of Cosmo) for the quarantine period. Slowly, I started to introduce them, moved the cages closer, and now they are at the point of enjoying supervised play time together. They allopreen and contact-call when one is out of sight. Cosmo is a little territorial about his favorite foods, so I make sure to eliminate that concern when they’re together. I’m amazed to see how different their personalities are, and am very glad that they enjoy each others company. I am not sure if they will ever share the same cage, but their daytime and sleeping cages are close and they have plenty of opportunity to spend with each other, as well as their human companions.

I greatly appreciate your expert advice and enjoy learning more from the WPT forums and blogs!

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”