Birds and Mirrors

Q: My friend says that I shouldn’t get a mirror for my cockatiel because he will become infatuated with the “bird in the mirror” and want nothing to do with me.  Is this true?

Sharon M., Waterford, WI

A:  In a word, no. Cockatiels do love their own reflections and will spend a lot of  time staring at and singing to “the bird in the mirror”. Mine do, and I have never experienced my relationship suffering with any of my birds because of mirrors.

It is a bit difficult to understand a bird’s relationship to its reflection. There is really nothing in nature, besides water, that is so highly reflective that a bird could see itself. It would have to be a very still day for a bird to be able to recognize its reflection in a pond, and I have never read that anyone has observed this behavior in a wild bird. So why are so many enamored with their reflections in captivity?

It has been the subject of scientific study whether a bird recognizes the image in the mirror as itself.  Scientists believe that dolphins do recognize themselves and suspect that birds do as well. I know my umbrella cockatoo, Linus, recognizes his own reflection simply by the fact that he doesn’t try to attack it. However, my quaker gets aggressive when anything reflective goes into his cage, including stainless steel bowls. Theo, my goffins cockatoo, sleeps cuddles up next to her stainless steel mirror, and lately I have watched her holding a corner in her foot and manipulating the image behind her. Very clever.

We may never have the answers to the questions this topic brings to mind. The bottom line is that if it makes your bird happy and there are no unwanted behaviors resulting from it, there’s no reason to disallow this form of entertainment.

Be very sure to select mirrors that are appropriate for your bird’s size. For the small birds, budgies and cockatiels, try Hall Of Mirrors. It’s a three sided mirror that gives multi images and is safe for their bite pressure.  My cockatiels love it so much I had to order another so they each had their own.  For any bird larger, conures on up to macaws, only use stainless steel mirrors for safety reasons. 

NEVER use glass of any kind in your bird’s cage.  This includes hand-held and compact mirrors.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

1 comment

Stan Shear

I have been giving my parakeet mirrors since he was a kid – that’s about 15 years. He systematically chews the wood and leaves the glass lying on the floor, which has always worried me but never hurt him in any way, but I’ve always been concerned about it. But he loves it so much a and have never been able to find an alternative. Any suggestions? Stan

Stan Shear

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published