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Is My Single Bird Lonely?

Some birds require more attention than others, but that doesn't mean a single bird can't be happy.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC
Posted: April 10, 2013, 1:00 p.m. PDT

Purchase BIRD TALK Digital Back Issues Q: A rescuer who calls herself an avian behaviorist told me that because parrots are flock animals, a person can't work a full-time job and provide a good home for a single parrot. She runs a bird rescue, and she offered to take my African grey parrot so he can have the company of other parrots. I really love my grey and the thought of giving him up makes me cry ... but I want what is best for him. I can't afford to properly maintain a second parrot, so getting another one is not an option. Am I being cruel and selfish to keep my parrot? Is being alone while I'm at work harming him?

A: I appreciate this question, because this subject surfaces repeatedly. I do not agree with this “rescuer/avian behaviorist” at all. Yes, most companion species of parrots are flock animals, but having multiple parrots is not the only way to deal with this issue.

African Grey parrot
Get your bird some interactive toys so she can keep herself busy while you are away.

First, I wish to commend you for recognizing your limitations to add another bird to your household. Too many people get multiple birds before realizing that they have too many. Upon hearing I have one parrot, people often confide that they wish they had also stopped at one bird. I cannot express how much this saddens me, because a little restraint and forethought would've prevented their current situation.

An Avian Behaviorist?
I am compelled to question the credentials of those who label themselves as “avian behaviorists” for two reasons:

First, there are approximately 8,600 species of birds on this planet (almost three times as many as mammalian species) and, with about 320 psittacine species, the parrot family comprises only 0.04 percent of that huge number. Consequently, it is totally inaccurate to state that they work with “avians” if they work only with parrots.

Second, to call oneself an animal “behaviorist” in the United States, a person must have an advanced degree in ethology (animal behavior). While I have been working full time for 15 years with companion parrot behavior, I have no such degree, and neither do most of my colleagues. Consequently, we call ourselves “parrot behavior consultants.”

I seriously question the motivations of a “rescuer” who encourages people to give up their parrots. In my experience, a good rescuer does the opposite. Through education and outreach, good rescuers do everything possible to keep a parrot in a loving home, not remove it. It makes no sense for rescue people to want to increase the homeless rate for parrots!

Indeed, if you are considering giving up a parrot, contact a reputable rescue organization for help in finding viable alternatives. (Always fully investigate and/or visit a rescue organization beforehand.)

Just One Of The Flock
As for parrots never being happy living away from other parrots, I disagree. People have kept parrots for thousands of years, and there was never an injunction stating that parrots should never live as single birds. It is also important to note the number of single birds in this country that appear happy and healthy in every way. I have met hundreds of happy, single parrots. This would be impossible if a parrot could not thrive without another parrot for company.

In my opinion, it is not true that all parrots need other parrots for company, and encouraging people with good, loving homes to give up their single parrots to a “rescue” organization seems to be similar to telling people with a single child that their youngster will be happier in an orphanage.

So, enjoy your grey; and take pride in the good home you give him. Truly, he is a lucky parrot to have someone as obviously caring as you.

Prevent A Single Parrot From Loneliness
Leave the television on or play soothing music for your single bird while you are out of the house. Find out more in this article here.

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Is My Single Bird Lonely?

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Reader Comments
I am the parrot of a single tag. She is just fine. Some one is home all the time.
nancy, fairveiw, OR
Posted: 10/25/2015 3:12:15 PM
Sorry to disagree strongly. I love to hear people say that they "know" that this animal or that animal is happy or content. Animals are adaptive and tolerate a great variation to some extent when they are placed in an artificial environment. Parrots ARE flock animals. Flock animals are NOT happy to the FULLEST extent they could be unless they live in the environment that nature intended them to. That's a fact. One parrot may ignore another or even a dozen in captivity. That doesn't mean they don't seek companionship. In the wild they will have dozens of other animals to bond with. The fact they don't select one put in front of them doesn't validate that the animal is happy.
DJ, Victorville, CA
Posted: 12/29/2014 4:54:08 PM
I thought this is the best article I have read on this subject, and I concur with the author. Having had birds for decades, I have from experience found that a single bird can be very happy, as long as the owner understands its needs and spends time with her/him.
Nancy, International
Posted: 7/17/2013 1:47:41 PM
I definitely agree with this article. The idea that a single bird can't be happy and that you *have* to get him another bird for company is complete nonsense. As long as you give your bird enough love and attention, and play with him out of his cage for at least 20-30 minutes a day or so, then he'll be perfectly fine. In fact, the only bird I know of that needs other birds for company is finches...but that's because they can't be tamed and they don't bond with humans. But other birds can be happy kept singly. Actually, it's usually better to have one bird if you want him to be friendly and bond closely with you.
Chris, San Bernardino, CA
Posted: 4/9/2013 2:49:13 PM
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