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Helping Two Companion African Greys Acclimate to Each Other

Expert Question

Dear Pam, I am having great difficulty in trying to introduce a new baby African Grey into my home with my two year old Grey. My first AG is very hyper active, constantly leaning forward with wings spread, as if wanting to fly, his eyes are always dilated and his general attitude is not relaxed. I am not sure but he received a bad wing clip which left him falling and hurting himself a couple of times and it was after this that his personality changed. His diet is Harrisons pellets with fruit and veg, My new AG is about 8 months old, she is a female and very much the opposite of my first bird. She is steady and gently and allows me to handle her all over with great ease. My first grey loves me very much but has always suddenly bitten me without any reason and has generally been a difficult bird since a baby. My concerns are the new baby is now becoming very scared of my first grey as he constantly wants to attack her. Every chance he gets he will run over to her cage and try to bite the cage or get to her. I immediately intervene but get bitten badly also. I do not want to rehome my first grey but may have to do so if I cannot get him to accept the baby grey or at least calm down a little. Someone suggested Dr Bachs Rescue Remedy for a start and allowing the bad wing clip to grow through but I would really appreciate any expert guidance I can get in this very distressing situation I am now experiencing.

Many thanks

Expert Answer

Dear Debra,
Thanks so much for your question and for using the WPT "Ask the Expert" feature.  I congratulate you for seeking a solution so quickly to what sounds like a very distressing situation for all concerned.  I am quite sure that these two Greys can learn to live comfortably in your home, and I encourage you to have some patience with your older African Grey until you can implement the ideas offered below. 
Without more detail about the two birds in question, I will have to make some guesses about what might be causing your older Grey's behavior, as well as what the best ideas will be for solving the problem.  Please feel free to implement what appears to be best suited to your own unique circumstances.

From your description of your older Grey's body language, it appears that he may be a parrot who has relatively high anxiety levels.  Anxious or nervous Greys will frequently display the "wide-eyed" appearance that you describe.  They will also stand up quite tall, with feathers slicked down and held closely to the body.  They often startle easily, and do also display the behavior you describe of leaning forward with wings spread and quivering.  His sudden biting is also consistent with this problem.  His earlier too-short wing clip and resulting falls lend credence to the idea that he is a relatively anxious Grey.  This type of early beginning frequently results in this residual problem behavior.  I always feel a great deal of compassion for birds who have started life with this disability.
Therefore, the first part of your solution will be to help your older Grey to relax.  It isn't within the scope of this response to describe all the many ways that stress reduction can be accomplished with a parrot.  However, you may find an article I wrote on the subject, titled "Stress Reduction for Companion Parrots," at ; This may give you some usable ideas for helping him to calm down.  Obviously, if he is more relaxed, this will help him to accept your new Grey's presence in the household.  It is possible that the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy may help him if placed in his drinking water, but this will be only the beginning of the solution for him. 
Your older Grey's anxious behavior is a result of learning.  He learned that he had reason to be afraid because of his sudden falls.  You will see his behavior return to a more "normal" state when he has a chance to learn that his world is a safe place.  The article referenced above will help you with this goal.
It's too bad that we can't just ask him why he is behaving so aggressively toward your baby Grey.  However, in the absence of an explanation from him, we can make some guesses based upon his behavior.  His aggression toward your new Grey indicates that he does, in some way, consider her a threat.  Therefore, this previously frightened parrot now feels even more threatened due to the presence of his new roommate. 
I would not despair at this point, though.  I have lived with a great many African Greys and, generally speaking, they usually learn to appreciate the presence of other Greys in the home.  I feel confident that your older Grey can learn to enjoy his younger "sister" over time, but this will need to be a learning experience.
It is important that you separate their cages by enough distance that he cannot run over to attack her.  My usual advice is to separate parrot cages by at least five to six feet.  Parrots, by virtue of their intelligence and sensitivity, tend to have "big" personalities.  They usually appreciate having some space around them, rather than having another parrot (especially one they don't know well) very close to them.  By separating the cages, he will feel less threatened by her presence and she will feel protected from him.  That way, they can get to know each other from afar and will have a better chance of being friends in the future. 
Next, try to enrich his life in the present.  Have things changed for him since your baby Grey came home?  Does he get less attention than he did before?  Might he sense your frustration with him for his behavior toward her?  See if you can't give him a little more attention each day, introduce a new activity or give him some toys or projects that he can stay busy with.  By giving him other things to think about he may settle down and be less focused on her.  If he is afraid of new things, see if you can't create some small projects for him that we might readily accept.  A wonderful resource for such ideas is Kris Porter's website ; Lastly, try to find a sense of compassion towards him.  He wants to be happy and successful in your home.  He just had some early experiences that make this more of a challenge for him than it is for your younger Grey who did not suffer the trauma of a too-short wing trim. 
The above changes will help to ease the current stress between the two birds.  However, the real solution will come about when your older Grey learns that this new addition to the household means that good things happen for him because of proximity to her.  Figure out what type of treat he really loves.  Try to find an item that isn't a part of his usual diet.  Greys usually like best any foods that are high in fat.  Perhaps a bit of cream cheese on a spoon?  Maybe sunflower seeds or bits of nuts?  Once you've identified a training treat, then begin to use the following exercise on a daily basis.  This should be begun only after you've moved their cages further apart.
Have your older Grey step onto your hand (at a time when he is not likely to bite you) and then take just one step toward your younger Grey.  Hold him so that he can see her, talk to him about her, praise him for going closer to her, and then when his body language is relaxed and shows no signs of aggression, give him the treat and return him to his cage.  Do this several times until you can step him up, take a step toward her and he shows no signs of distress.  Give him a treat every time.
Once you have accomplished this initial exercise, then begin to move closer to her, always making progress in very small increments.  Next, hold him and take two steps toward her, offering him the treat when you see his body language relax.  After several successful sessions at that distance, then move three steps toward her.  Continue in this regard until you can walk all the way up to her cage with your older Grey on your hand, and with him showing no signs of concern.  Your keys to success will be the following:  (1) don't proceed too quickly through these steps (try for many repetitions at each distance), (2) only give him the treat when his body language is relaxed on your hand (you don't want to reward any aggressive body language), and (3) completely ignore at all times any signs of aggression in him toward her (unless there is direct physical threat to her).
By the time you have implemented this behavior modification plan for several weeks, you should begin to see a change in your older Grey's behavior toward the younger bird.  However, even if you see a complete absence of aggressive behavior towards her, I would still encourage you to keep them apart.  They should each always have their own cage and their own play stands or alternate perches.  Just because they are the same species, does not guarantee that they will become good friends.  However, you should all be able to live peacefully and happily in your home together.  And, who knows?  Perhaps they will surprise us and learn to interact happily with each other, if given enough time to get to know each other.

Warm regards and good luck!
Pamela Clark, CVT

Pamela Clark, CVT
About Pamela Clark, CVT

Pamela Clark is a well-known author, speaker and parrot behaviour consultant whose experience with parrots dates back 40 years to the purchase of her first pair of lovebirds. Her knowledge extends to a wide range of parrot species, and has been gained through experiences as diverse as breeding to rescue and rehabilitation. Pam has also trained parrots in behaviours as complex as that of free flight outdoors.

As a behaviour consultant, Pam’s approach is uniquely comprehensive, coupling improvements in husbandry and nutrition with the most positive and effective behavior modification strategies.  She consults with clients throughout the United States, and as far away as Canada, Europe and Japan. Areas of particular interest to her are those of feather destructive behaviour, psittacine nutrition, the provision of indoor flight, and the human/parrot bond.

Pam is also a licensed veterinary technician, working for an avian specialist in Salem, Oregon. She lives with a mixed flock of 10 companion parrots, a dog and two cats. Her articles have appeared in the Grey Play Round Table, Companion Parrot Quarterly, Bird Talk magazine, Birds USA, PsittaScene magazine, Parrots magazine, Good Bird magazine, and the Holistic Bird Newsletter, and have been translated into several foreign languages.