How many birds are too many? Does the number of birds you keep affect your relationship with them?
The right number of small pet birds is the number that you can properly care for and maintain in an enriching environment — and allows you to find joy in doing so.
Birds have strong urges to bond and flock. A pet bird will adopt you as a flock member if there are no other birds around. When there are other birds added to the flock, they will either ignore them or be jealous of any attention you give a new bird.
If you have pet birds of the same species and opposite sex, their interactions can become sexual. You’ll have to learn how to deal with hormones, territoriality, eggs and mating. Consider keeping multiple species to minimize breeding behavior. Each species should be in a separate cage until you know the dynamics of the individuals. A budgie and cockatiel or budgie and lovebird can bond, but don’t force them to be together.
Of course, every pet bird you add to your flock adds to the time you spend cleaning. You should have two to four small birds in the average cage (about 2 feet long, 15 inches wide). As you add birds, you’ll be cleaning more cages. Keep bird areas clean. Wipe cage grids and bars down daily, and then deep-clean cages one at a time. That’s when you move the birds, take your cage apart and scrub it down as well as disinfecting dishes.
If you get a flight cage for your birds, then you could keep seven to 10 birds together. Watch flock dynamics in this setting. Squabbles could lead to vet visits if birds are aggressive to each other, and birds of the same species might pair up and be more interested in breeding than in being your pet. A tame cockatiel usually stays tame, but a tame lovebird needs to be handled daily to stay tame. Will this happen if you keep many birds in a large enclosure? It minimizes squabbles to have multiple feeders, treat dishes and water bottles for your birds.
Multiple birds means multiple vet visits, too. Some veterinarians will be willing to treat your group of birds as a flock rather than several single birds. Others will visit your house, allowing them to assess your husbandry practices as well as your birds’ health. Practice strict quarantine procedures when bringing a new bird into your house. When you have several resident birds, you have a lot to lose if you bring in a contagious disease!
There’s something rewarding about offering birds a chance to flock. And the diversity of birds available as companions is enticing. Can you/should you have just one?
Add Up The Flock
With one bird, you are responsible for all of your bird’s physical and social needs. You two could be very bonded. Place your bird in the center of activity and make sure there is some kind of entertainment (radio, TV, watching wild birds) available when your bird is alone. If you have a pet lovebird, this is the right number of lovebirds to have in your life.
Breeding behavior and nesting could be more of a factor with two birds, sometimes even if they are of the same sex. This is one too many lovebirds for a pet owner. If you have more then one lovebird, cage them separately to avoid bloodshed. Budgies generally like to be in gregarious flocks and cockatiels get along with each other. There may be jealousy between birds and about your attention.
Birds like to pair up. With three birds, there may be one left out, watch the flock dynamics. Provide plenty of bowls for food and water so no one gets bullied away from necessary nutrition. Unless you have a flight cage, you might want to house the birds in two separate cages, with play time all together out of the cages.
Bird noise will be getting louder. Is this OK with the neighbors? Be observant about dynamics among the birds. This is four times the mess of having one companion bird. You may be cleaning papers and water dishes more than once a day. You’ll certainly be vacuuming all the time. When your young males are being hormonal (likely in the spring and fall) separate them if they start fighting. If the birds pair up or buddy up, consider putting them in two separate cages.
With five or more small birds you are likely to have two to three cages or a large flight cage. It’s entertaining to watch the dynamics among group members. It can be difficult to separate one bird for socialization with you. The other birds will call to an errant bird to maintain the integrity of their flock. If you do plan to breed your birds, then keeping a group of youngsters together like this allows you to see who pairs up with whom.