Saturday, 20 October 2012

Introducing A New Bird To Your Flock

File:Hill Bird Cage.jpg

Source for this image here.

I am feeling a little better today, but still not my usual self!  I don't like being unwell - it makes me frustrated that I can't get on with my daily duties, and enjoy my free time as I normally can.  Papa Bear says I just have to be patient though, and wait until I feel better!

One thing that has been a blessing whilse I have been unwell is that I've been spending a lot more time than usual here in the living room, where the birds live.  And that means that I've been around to be able to help settle our new chicks in.  Not that they've needed much help!

It's been quite humbling to see how quickly our two new arrivals have been able to integrate with the existing birds that we already have.  I was fully expecting the introduction process to take several weeks, as it has in the past, but it took all of 5 minutes this time!  We got the chicks home and took them carefully out of their carrier to go straight into the nursery cage, which was already set up and ready to welcome them.  The cage has a top that opens up (I would always recommend buying a birdcage, no matter the size, that has this function, as it makes life much easier both for you, and for the birds) and within seconds, the new inhabitants were making it very obvious that they wanted me to open the top of the cage for them!  So I did.  And they were straight out onto the top of the cage, and indicating that they wanted to join the "big birds" who were sitting nearby on top of their much larger cage.  So I carefully moved them to the large cage, sure that the "big birds" would not be very welcoming to them.  But I was wrong!  They just moved aside to let the chicks join them, and that was that.  After a few minutes the chicks were busily acquainting themselves with their new home and their new friends, and the whole flock were being quite friendly!

This is such a surprise for me!  Normally it takes a lot longer than this to introduce a new bird to an existing flock.  Birds are, like most animals, quite territorial, and the arrival of a newcomer into their familiar environment is not normally welcomed.  In the past when we have done this, we have had to keep the new arrivals in a separate cage, at least for a couple of months, whilse the introduction was done gradually.  It's always eventually been successful, but has required a lot of patience.  Here are a few hints to consider if you are thinking of doing this for the first time ....

  • First of all, before you actually start preparing for your new arrival, ask yourself it is really the best thing for your existing flock.  Don't ever get a new bird on impulse, or because you are being asked to by someone else.  It has to be something that is right for everyone, birds included.  As I've said before, keeping a bird on its own is fine if you are around a lot to keep it company (although personally I would always have a minimum of 2).  But if you aren't able to do this, or you have only one of a pair left due to illness or loss, you may think about getting a companion for it.  This is a lovely idea, but be warned that a single bird will be well bonded to you, its caregiver, and it may well object to the presence of another bird in its territory, and will try to warn it off - especially if it is single because it has lost its cagemate.  This is natural behaviour, but be aware that it may never be possible to integrate the new bird with the existing one.  You might be able to get them to live happily side by side in separate cages, which is fine, but don't get a second bird as a companion for a single bird unless you are prepared for this, and the additional expense and space that will be required for the new cage.  Never, ever just get a new bird and put it in with the existing one.  This will be disastrous and could cause a lot of distress and upset for all involved.
  • If you have more than one bird, a new introduction should be a little easier, but should still be approached with caution.  Don't expect that they will all instantly get along - they usually don't, at least, not to begin with.  Be prepared to house the new bird or birds in a separate cage, and then spend time each day (with you present) letting them get to know each other, outside their cages, which they will consider their own territory.
  • Be aware that male birds will be more territorial than females.  If you have more male birds than females, then it is better if the new bird is female.  The notion of "pecking order" originates from the way in which a flock of birds will establish a dominant (male) bird at the head of the group, and in order to do this, there will be many battles of wills before the victor is announced!  If you introduce another male to a group which already has more males than females, expect lots of fighting!  The new bird, especially if it is a chick, will be at the bottom of the "pecking order" and it will want to fight against this - which can be frightening to witness.  Female birds seem more accepting of this order or status, and don't seem to fight it so much.  I would always recommend getting a female bird if you are introducing only one new bird to a mixed flock.
  • Although we had intended originally to get only one new bird, I do think that if you already have several birds, additions to the flock are easier if there is more than one.  There is safety in numbers, and the fight to establish the "pecking order" is less pronounced and prolonged, if there is more than one new, younger bird.
  • Unless your new birds, as ours have been, are certified healthy by a vet before you bring them home to live with you, make sure that you quarantine them from your other birds to begin with.  This should really be done for about 3 weeks, in order to ensure that the new birds aren't carrying any diseases that could be passed on to the rest of your flock.  After this time, they can be gradually introduced.  If you get your birds from a reputable seller or store that has them health checked for you, then this quarantine period isn't necessary, but do be sure first.
  • However it is still important to have ready a separate cage for the new arrivals to go into.  Please don't  just try to let the birds "fight it out" by putting the new ones straight in with the existing flock.  This isn't fair to any of them.  Normally I leave new arrivals in a separate cage, placed close to the existing cage, for about 3 days.  During this time I don't let the new bird/s out at all, unattended.  To begin with I only let them out for about 2 hours every day, depending on how well the introduction is going.  At all other times all the birds are kept in their cages.
  • During out of cage times, make sure you supervise the new birds to ensure that the existing flock doesn't get too territorial.   The newbies may decide to go exploring, and venture into the "big birds" cage, which may not be very welcome!  Keep an eye on the proceedings, and intervene if necessary.  I usually watch what is going on, and only step in if I think physical harm is going to come - some aggression is going to be necessary to let the new flock establish itself, but I am mindful at the same time that the new arrivals are usually much smaller and younger than the bigger birds, and need to be a bit more protective.  
  • Give all the birds the same amount of attention.  If you focus mainly on the new birds (which of course is natural) then the existing flock may resent the extra attention you are giving them.  Take time to be interested in each bird equally, and to make sure, especially if you only have one other bird, that the new arrival realises that it isn't more special than any of the other birds.
  • Once the birds seem happy together, you can try letting them all stay in the same cage.  This stage may take weeks or even months to reach.  You will need to be able to see that the new arrivals are welcome in the main flock's cage, before you can even consider this stage.  If there is still lots of fighting and aggression then wait a bit longer.   The environment should be as neutral as possible for all the birds to live together happily.  To help this along, I do try to get them to all eat together first.  This is a good way to get the older birds to accept the new ones.  Once they are all happy to eat together they do seem to be happier sharing the same environment the rest of the time.
  • Make sure that the cage where everyone is going to be living together is large enough, and that it has enough perches so that each bird has a separate place where they can sit peacefully to preen or roost.  Some birds become bonded to another (we have 2 sets of 2, it seems - the 2 new birds, and 2 of our existing flock) and they will often be happy to share a perch, but there should still be the opportunity for them to be separate if they want.  Also be sure to allow each bird its own food cup.  Since cockatiels don't drink much, I let our birds share a water bottle, but they also have a water cup, since some birds seem to prefer this, and the females will also like to take a dip in it now and then!  Ensure that all the birds are able to get to their food bowls and receive an equal share of the food.  If necessary, sprinkle extra seed on the floor of the cage so that they can freely get to some if they aren't able to get to a food cup when they want to.  And of course also provide fresh greens, millet spray etc.  Often the younger birds are more willing to try new foods than the older ones, and may set their cagemates a good example!
  • Although I generally dislike wing clipping, it can be useful to have the new arrivals clipped (if they are chicks - don't clip the wings of an adult bird, especially one that has never been clipped - this could cause accidents when the bird tries to fly without realising that it can't).  It does make it easier to keep track of them when they are out of their cage, and is also helpful with getting them used to being handled, which is a little trickier when you already have several birds.  After one wing clip I always let the flight feathers grow in, as I prefer to see our birds fly about, and they are much happier when they can.
  • Personally I think that between 4 and 8 birds is a nice number to aim for in a flock, with the smaller breeds like budgies or cockatiels.  Since we got our newest 2 arrivals, the birds have been very calm and peaceful and I think this is in the main due to the fact that, as flock animals, they are much happier when they are in a group of several birds.  Although it can be cute to have a very tame, sociable bird that talks and imitates whistles for you, I also think that it is cute to see a group of happy birds, behaving as naturally as they can within the confines of captivity, singing, talking and interacting with each other, not with humans.  I like to think our birds know that they are loved, but that they also know that they are birds, and that we are doing everything we can, to make their lives with us as good as possible.

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