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Co-housing African Greys

Expert Question

Can you tell me if these myths are true or not:
We have 2 African greys, Rangi who is 1 year and Kea who is 5 months. We only got Kea a month ago as a companion for Rangi. They have separate cages at the moment, but we would like them to share the same cage. They get on OK outside their cages and have even started to regurgitate for each other. Some people say that no under no circumstances should we put them in the same cage and use the reasoning “how would you like it if you had to spend all day locked in with your boyfriend”. I thought African greys were flock birds and like to spend a lot of time with their mate?

I really don’t want to make a mistake with this as we made a huge mistake when we first got Rangi. All the books told us to teach him to step up by pressing his abdomen gently and he will step up. So we did this and he hated us. We then went to a positive reinforcement training weekend and after that I felt so bad for what we had done to Rangi, but all the books said to do it. We immediately stopped and it took months to get his trust back. We now use positive reinforcement, which works a treat.

Also people say when your Grey bites to not make a noise. I have been studying our Greys and have noticed every time Rangi nips Kea a bit hard she lets out a yelp. I started to mimic her when she bites me. We are teaching her step up and she wants to use her beak first and then her foot. Sometimes she doesn’t realise she takes the hand a bit hard. Anyway when she does, it hurts and I have been letting out a yelp and she immediately stops. I also tried to yelp when Rangi plays too hard with me also and he puts pressure on my hand. When I yelp he stops. So I guess I don’t know why people say don’t make a noise when they bite otherwise they will think it is funny and continue. I have found the opposite, when Rangi puts pressure on my hand and it hurts I yelp he stops, looks at me and then doesn’t do it again.

Thanks for your help, Petra.

Expert Answer

Hi Petra, Your questions certainly highlight just how misleading so much of what is written and discussed about parrots can be. Whenever you read or hear something that doesn't quite fit with your better logic then question it and challenge the person making those statements, such as the one you described, to qualify their thinking. For all of us it's still a work in progress, but some obviously have more work to do than others! It's really frustrating reading some of the generalisations people make about parrots when they obviously haven't ever spent a minute of their time observing them in the wild. It's a great leveller out there. Hopefully you can find a little more logic here at the WPT site. Take a holiday from the message boards and make sure you download all of those cool articles in the reference library, as there's some real gold in there!

First up, housing Rangi and Kea in the same enclosure is most certainly feasible -- provided that your two African Greys are compatible and that the enclosure adequately caters for two parrots in terms of enrichment and access to shared resources and perches. Compatibility can be determined through your observations of the interactions that they are obviously already having away from the cages. You need to reflect on the frequency of antagonistic behaviour between them, how they react towards each other in the presence of a shared food bowl or enrichment item, tolerance levels towards each other on the same perch and observable body language indicators that suggest a degree of comfort in close proximity to each other. You mentioned that there is already regurgitation of food from one to another so I'm inclined to think there's a pretty good situation developing there. Food regurgitation is classic pair solicitation behaviour between Greys so it's a good guide to compatibility. Do you observe any other good compatibility indicators, such as mutual preening?

You mention that there is some occasional aggression from Rangi towards Kea. This doesn't immediately mean they are not suitable for cohabitation in the same enclosure, as all of my pairs will at times be aggressive towards each other for a variety of reasons. With a bonded and compatible pair this rarely escalates beyond posturing but it is important to monitor such interactions to ensure that the frequency is not inappropriate or that physical encounters are quickly resolved. It comes down to good observational skills on your part.

Personally, I love the idea of working towards Rangi and Kea sharing an enclosure. It's achievable but you must make sure that you cater for the transition with sensitivity to their observable level of comfort with each other and ensure that the shared enclosure is adequate in size to properly cater for two African Greys. That's critical as there are pressures on each bird achieving spatial comfort within small indoor cages that are relieved in larger aviary type enclosures, thus potentially making it more of a challenge. Start with short durations of shared cage time when you are at home to observe the birds. As they become more familiar with the routine, and if it's 'happy families', then the time can be extended. It's also another tip to have a complete perch change and furnishing rearrangement if you are using an existing cage as the new, shared environment. This way you can introduce them both into a 'new' environment and give them time to explore it and establish their perching preferences without the variable of pre-existing favourites.

Your next question was about your response to biting or beaking behaviour. Reflect on the function you think that Kea letting out a yelp serves when Rangi bites her. This is a clear and distinct communication between two parrots. We're humans, not parrots. I'm not keen on setting up consequential responses to the behaviour of our parrots that mimics how we observe two parrots interacting with each other because, for a variety of reasons, it's unlikely to be effective or appropriate over time as a learning/teaching tool. For starters, the fact that Rangi stops biting you immediately and redirects his focus may indicate that he finds your yelping an aversive stimulus. Effectively you are reverting back to using negative reinforcement in your behaviour management. My advice is to re-evaluate your interactions with Rangi and become more sensitive to indicators that you have by now associated with an impending bite or aggressive encounter and start rearranging your environment or handling criteria with him to avoid the encounters occurring. Time to replace your current response with new strategies based on differential reinforcement. Check out Susan Friedman and Lee McGuire's ripper of a case study on biting at the WPT reference library in the article 'The Success Files'. It's a beauty. One contributing problem you are dealing with is the use of the beak to lead when stepping onto your hand. In my experience, true use of the beak to lead is done very gently, some large parrots even do so with the front of their upper mandible, not with an open beak grasp. If your 'stepping up' interaction is resulting in an uncomfortable level of beak use then you can start working on training your Greys to step up without leading with the beak. A great visual aid in achieving this can be accessed via Barbara Heidenreich's DVD 'Parrot Training & Behaviour'. It's also time to have a read of Susan Friedman's cracker of a 'step by step guide' (no pun intended) to improving step up behaviour titled 'Empowering Parrots', also available at the WPT one stop 'free' shop of good oil advice -- the Reference Library.

Good luck with Rangi and Kea. I would love to hear how you go with them over the next few months.

Kind Regards from 'Down Under'
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations ( He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at