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Budgie Ownership: differences and dynamics between flocks
When choosing a budgie for a pet, there are a few aspects that should be considered before purchase. First and foremost, the budgie's overall appearance which can give us clues on their health, this comprises of bright, alert eyes, good feather condition and physical build, a decent level of energy/general activity/alertness . If possible and given the opportunity, it's also good to actually watch the interactions this potential new budgie friend has with the flock he/she is currently with.
Does this particular budgie appear to be dominant over the others? Do you see him/her shooing away the cagemates off a perch or fighting for a specific toy or food dish? If so, then there is a higher chance of this budgie having a more aggressive temperament that may prove troublesome for the owner when it comes to training, not to mention that it can also lead to further bullying of a second same species friend.
The solo budgie experience
While it can be truly rewarding to share a deep connection and bond with one budgie friend, a person must realize that not all budgies will adjust well and be happy by being solo birds and this is regardless of the amount of love, time and attention given to said budgie. This is a very important matter that should be carefully considered by any potential new owners who are determined in having just one pet budgie.
Generally speaking, budgies who have more of a shy/nervous personality aren't as receptive to bonding with their owners, their anxiety/nervousness leads them to set strict safe boundaries on our interactions with them and this will put a barrier in further attempts on making good progress when it comes to training and forming a strong trusting bond. In most cases, these shy budgies only go as far as being finger tamed.
For the mental and physical health of these budgies unable to form a deep bond with their human friends (and in order to avoid possible issues with depression or obsessive compulsive disorders, such as unwanted mating behaviours and over-regurgitation on a toy that leads to severe weight loss, for example, or in extreme cases the development of self mutilation issues related to feather plucking), the best thing to do is to get them a same species friend. By doing so and finding the right mate, the shy budgie will truly blossom and be happy and in due time can even muster up the courage with the support of his/her budgie friend to be more open, friendly and trusting of the owner (if there was good progress in terms of training the new bird during the time it was in quarantine). In this case the owner must put aside his/her original plan of keeping just one pet bird and to make the necessary adjustments for the budgie's wellbeing and happiness.
Getting a second budgie
Under normal circumstances, any new pet bird should be quarantined for about one month in a different cage and room away from the other budgie(s). After quarantine is over, it's important to properly introduce the two budgies and this begins by placing both cages within view so that the budgies can see and talk to each other. During this introductory stage, by paying close attention to the budgies body language and general behaviour, you will get clues as to when they feel ready to really have a closer interaction. If they appear increasingly curious towards each other, are more energetic and singing happily, then you can proceed to the next step and let them have closely supervised out of cage time together on a neutral territory (away from cages, you can set up a special play area for them). Depending on how these meetings go, you can then allow your budgies to share a cage or not.
Good signs that can tell your budgies are compatible would be their ability to calmly share food without bickering, to show affection by kissing, preening or feeding each other, to maintain or even increase their general playfulness, happy singing and overall enthusiasm.
Usually two male budgies will bond well and be good friends and so will a male/female pair. When it comes to two females sharing a cage together, this arrangement could be more troublesome, but depending on personality and good temperament there are females who are able to be good mates. It's important to take the right precautions in order to avoid fights for territory (especially when the cage has been previously occupied by a single female) and this can be minimized by rearranging the whole cage before the move in.
There are many advantages in allowing two budgies to share one cage. By doing so they will develop a stronger bond with each other and will never feel truly lonely when we need to leave the house for a longer period of time. It's always a joy to see them happily playing around without a care in the world. A bonded pair of budgies, regardless of gender will often offer comfort and support. In some cases when one of the budgies is not feeling well, the mate will even go as far as providing extra heat (by perching right next to his/her friend), give comfort by preening/pampering the mate and offering extra feedings via regurgitation.
This level of care and devotion may not be present when multiple budgies are sharing the same cage, since the budgies' attention gets divided by all or a few choice flock mates, not allowing them to focusing solely on one mate to develop a stronger bond with.
Adding more budgies into the mix
If an owner is thinking of increasing the flock's number, before taking that step there are a few aspects that should be carefully thought and taken into consideration. The first one would be the room in one's house.
Do you have a specific "bird room" safe for your budgies to be in? Do you have extra rooms for quarantining new birds or sick birds that need to be isolated from the flock? Do you live in an apartment?
You have to take into account that more birds mean more singing and you may have troubles with your landlord/neighbours due to the "noise" made by your pet birds.
Another very important aspect worthy of being mentioned is the increased responsibility in properly taking care of a bigger flock and of catering to all of their needs and this includes extra vet expenses. More budgies also means more money to be spent in food, toys, accessories, cages (the number of cages can increase when there are cases of bullying in the flock and immediate and permanent separation is needed). It takes a lot of commitment to keep a flock happy and healthy and to devote time to each bird. With each budgie added to the flock, the singing will also naturally increase and some owners may find the "noise" quite overwhelming and react negatively to it. This in turn will have direct consequences on the way the unprepared owner interacts with the flock and it may promote more of a hostile and stressful environment for the flock.
The neglect and inability of responding to the flock's needs and to make the necessary arrangements to keep them healthy and happy will lead to further problems. This stressful and negative environment can also potentiate a shift in the budgies frame of mind by putting them on high alert "defence mode" and this will translate into the escalation of fighting.
Differences between flocks and signs to watch out for
If an owner is planning on housing multiple budgies (4+ budgies) on the same cage, it's imperative that this cage has more than enough room and capacity to have the flock safely in. It's vital to pay close attention to the flock's dynamics, their overall behaviour and interactions in order to correctly identify a problem and to have it properly addressed.
There is a big difference between the occasional bickering that has the span of a few seconds and all-out abuse.
The major red flags that call for immediate and permanent separation of one or more budgies are the following: the dominant budgie is constantly chasing the other budgie around (on a daily basis and for most part of the day) and will often not allow the victim to eat at peace; pecking at the head/eye area and feet, the heavy pecking can escalate to feather plucking; when seeing two budgies locked in fight at the bottom of the cage.
Depending on the type of flock, some budgies are able to live together in harmony and this can be seen in same gendered flocks (as in an all-male flock) or mix-gendered flocks. When it comes to a mix-gendered flock, in order to minimize problems it's best to have an even ratio of males/females. For any flock it's also best to have an even number of budgies, so that no bird is left out without a buddy. As to housing multiple female budgies together, while it can be possible, chances are high there will be issues to deal in terms of dominance and fights for territory can be triggered as they reach breeding condition and their hormones make them more moody and prone to aggression.
The same issues can happen in a mix-gendered flock as soon as the budgies reach maturity and their attention shifts to a preferred mate they wish to court. Both males and females can fight for a chosen mate in order to win his/her affection.
These fights can end up badly and when nesting areas are provided, the fights can even be more vicious and end in tragedy.
This is why it's so important to not allow the flock to have access to nesting spots and dark hiding places on the cage.
No nest boxes should be on the cage, as well as coconut and half coconut toys, birdie tents and logs that after being chewed can be used as nests.
People relatively new to pet bird ownership may not be fully aware of the added responsibility and the potential problems that can arise from having a larger flock sharing the same place, especially as they grow into maturity and their personalities are fully formed. Even when having a larger flock, there is a good solution in terms of minimizing problems and this can easily be achieved by housing fewer budgies per cage. By housing two budgies per cage, each budgie will bond more closely with their mate and can still have all the advantages of living in a flock environment by having out of cage time with their mate and the rest of the flock. By using this method, the potential for fights is exponentially reduced and the owner has a better control over the flock.