-Andrew F., Carlsbad, NM
A: This is a question we get frequently. Many people have birds of two different species that get along well and become very attached to one another. When they are out together in their play area, they always share the same perch and snacks, and they always preen each other to perfection.
It is completely understandable that their humans would begin to wonder if they would be happier being together around the clock and to consider caging them together. There are several favorable aspects to this idea, such as: having only one cage to clean and gaining some extra space in the home.
However, even though birds of different species might become the closest of friends at play time, it does not mean that they will accept sharing a cage with another species.
In the wild birds are very territorial over their nesting areas. They have to be. Parrots put a lot of effort into locating and remodeling the tree cavities in which they will raise their young. The loss of that nest to a competitor (of any species) might mean the loss of this year’s breeding season, and it puts their own personal safety at risk until a new home is found. For this reason birds will violently defend their nest and are especially cautious of other species.
Because they are not domesticated animals, captive parrots bring their wild habits with them when they come to live with us. Their cage is their nest site, and they will become defensive in protecting it. It explains why many birds object to our hands reaching into their cage especially during breeding season.
Putting your budgie and cockatiel together into one cage, regardless of which bird was the previous owner, puts them both into a precarious position. In a neutral play area, the two birds are able to enjoy each others' company without feelings of defensiveness about territory. Living together in a cage, that might all change.
There is a considerable size difference between a cockatiel and a budgie. If one or the other were to become aggressive (it is not uncommon for small birds to take on larger birds in the defense of their nests), the cockatiel might cause serious injury or death to the budgie. Neither bird will have the ability to escape an attack when locked inside the cage with the attacker.
The best plan is to keep things as they are. Let each bird have their own cage and let them enjoy each other in their play area. You have a good thing going with the way things are. Why change it?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.