I caved to MBS (multiple bird syndrome) a long time ago. When bird people find out how many parrots I have, they promptly ask how I find the time to manage so many? I have 9 permanent flock members here and 1 long term rehabilitation case. That makes 10 tame companion parrots vying for my attention daily and they’re not the only animals here. Do the math, how many hours are there in a day and then consider that parrots need 10-12 hours sleep per night as a minimum… It’s a fair question to wonder how I manage to spend time with them all?
The answer is twofold. One part is my lifestyle. I’m lucky, most of what I do can be done from home, so I’m home most of the time, which does give me more time for the animals here. Secondly, it comes down to the dynamics of my flock, which allows me to create a workable routine.
What do I mean by dynamics? I am referring to the way my birds interact with each other, with me and with whatever happens to be in their environment. There is one golden rule with my birds. EVERY bird here knows that they are a bird. None of them spend their time sitting on a perch waiting for me to come and play with them. They’re all reliant on me to give them something to keep them busy, but they aren’t reliant on me to be there with them all of the time. Independent activity is essential in my household and plays a big part in preventing my birds from displaying psychotic behaviour.
My birds also aren’t reliant on me for company. They are a flock and they constantly interact with each other. That’s not to say they all get along – they don’t. They all need their own space and I have to be very careful of who is let with whom. That said, if the cat dares walk past the bird room, I know that they’ll warn each other if they consider it a threat. They look out for each other and they definitely call for each other when separated.
In fact, many of the birds actively prefer each other’s company to mine. That’s not to say that they’re not happy to come to me and spend time with me; even get a good cuddle or scratch but if they’re not in the mood for me they’ll make it quite clear that they’ve got things to do in their respective cages and I’m interrupting them.
This makes it somewhat easier to interact with so many birds. I tend to interact with the birds that are bonded closely at the same time. So for example I have a pair of bonded galahs (but I don’t breed) who are inseparable. I always have them out at the same time. I might be doing a training session with one on a t-stand but the other will be close by on a playstand watching and waiting for their turn to practice the same trick. Likewise, neither of my female rainbow lorikeets are happy to be out individually, preferring instead to bounce on my head simultaneously.
Which brings me to my routine. I admit I cheat a little. I cover my birds at night. Even the big aviaries get massive quilts or blankets thrown over them, blocking out light. This means the birds wake up when I want them to and it isn’t necessarily at the crack of dawn. Consistent sleeping patterns are important but not all of my birds share the same bedtime. Some of the birds I keep up later but on the flip side, I wake them up later in the morning too. So even though their bedtimes don’t match, they all still get the same amount of sleep. This gives me some extra hours in the evening for interaction that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
Living with this many tame birds is a balancing act and I have to be wary of allowing certain birds out together. When you have multiples, it pays to know your birds’ personalities and how they treat each other. For example, my rainbow lorikeets last about 10 minutes before they look for someone or something to challenge. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be a blowfly or another bird – if it moves they’ll say rude things in parrot to it and demand a fight. My other birds actually aren’t aggressive back but the lorikeets are so full-on that allowing them out with the others is a risk I’m not prepared to take.
Otto my little Musk Lorikeet is the smallest in my flock and he just adores the largest bird here – my Blue and Gold Macaw, Fid. This is a problem because Fid adores dog squeaky toys (you squeeze them and they squeak). Fid doesn’t actually eat or destroy these toys but carries them around, occasionally delightedly making them squeak. Otto the lorikeet imitates that squeak sound perfectly. This means that Fid adores Otto but has a tendency to try to pick him up in his foot and squeeze him to make him squeak. I discovered this when I accidentally placed their travel cages too closely together at a vet checkup. I looked up to find Fid’s foot was in Otto’s travel cage holding Otto. Otto was obligingly squeaking while nuzzling Fid’s foot. No aggression there, but again it’s a risk I’m wary of, so they’re not allowed to get too close.
Many would think that 10 parrots would be incredibly noisy. I’ve found the opposite to be true. I’ve actually found that as my flock increased in size, the screaming noises decreased but talking noises (both human talking and bird) increased. When I had fewer birds, they used to spend a lot of time screaming at the wild birds, trying to get them to come join them. Now, while they occasionally answer wild birdcalls, my guys no longer actively try to recruit wild birds to join them. Similarly, screaming for attention doesn’t tend to happen because they give each other attention. The lorikeets are the noisiest birds here; some of their play sounds are particularly piercing. If they get too loud, one of the other birds tends to crossly tell them to “Shutup” and surprisingly they seem to listen.
I incorporate the birds into my daily activities and chores. Every interaction is a training activity. Fid learned to play catch with food bowls because he has gotten into the habit of helping me stack/unstuck the dishwasher. Admittedly, this does make some chores take longer. (I remove a dish from the dishwasher, he snatches it and helpfully drops it back in…) I also usually have a bird around when I’m reading or working on the computer. Sometimes they’ll sit calmly on my shoulder, other times they’re trying to shove a foot toy in my nostril.
The biggest problem that I face as a multiple bird owner is finances. Feeding 10 birds is no easy feat. I buy in bulk and I get my vegetables direct from organic farmers, which means wholesale prices and some very scenic drives to get to different farms. One of the best things about the birdtricks diet is that it allows for you to make and freeze a decent sized batch of food. I also make a lot of my own bird toys, which is a great way of saving money. Vet bills are harder. My elderly galah in particular is expensive to keep – age related illnesses are unavoidable. I can and do take precautions to make sure my birds aren’t exposed to other birds, which at least reduces the risk of contagious disease. I’m meticulous about acting early when something does go wrong, so that it has less chance to spread.
Multiple birds aren’t something that is going to work for everyone. If you have too many birds to interact with, you will end up with aviary birds instead of tame ones. Sometimes I do look at people who only have one or two birds and feel some serious pangs of jealousy for all the extra time they must have. That said, I couldn’t imagine my life without every bird that is here. As long as I have a supply of chocolate in the house and remember the rule that when it comes to parrots, you get back what you put in – my household while completely insane, still remains fairly harmonious.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.