Parrots are known to be social birds. They are the fourth most popular pet in the U.S. and are beloved for their ability to talk. However, most people can only manage to care for one parrot. That can leave you concerned about your parrot growing lonely. Worse still, parrots become demanding when they don’t get enough attention.
Parrots don’t like living alone. Like most birds, they evolved to belong to a flock. In domestic settings, they’re often rehomed because they require many hours of attention each day. When they’re lonely, parrots get stressed more easily and resort to destructive behaviors, such as screaming, biting, and self-mutilation.
That’s why it’s recommended to keep a pair of parrots. Isolation does more than just cause parrots to misbehave. The loneliness affects their physical health and can even shorten their lives.
Do Parrots Get Lonely?
Due to their high intelligence, parrots prefer company. According to the National Academy of Sciences, parrots have a similar number of neurons in their forebrain as primates. The more complex the brain, the more stimulation it needs.
This is why prisons use isolation as a punishment for prisoners who misbehave. Social isolation has negative mental, emotional, and physical effects on humans. It causes the same effect in smart birds, like parrots.
New owners should get a companion bird for their parrots. These creatures are highly social and become attention-starved if left alone. Even an affectionate owner may be unable to give parrots the constant entertainment, time, and enrichment they need. Another bird will have unlimited time to give and will benefit in similar ways.
Of course, it is possible for a parrot to be satisfied with your company. However, it depends on the breed and the personality of your parrot.
Why Do Parrots Get Lonely?
Parrots are prey animals. They are not at the top of the food chain and exist as food for many predators. To combat this, parrots evolved to live in groups instead of remaining alone. There are many benefits to this:
- There is safety in numbers, as predators will find it more difficult to single out one parrot alone.
- While in a flock, parrots can benefit from the early warning system of other parrots.
- Flocks can communicate where to find food and shelter.
- Parrots can solve puzzles or overcome obstacles together, rather than getting stuck on their own.
- Breeding and protecting eggs is less difficult with a group.
Parrots have been around for millions of years. This way of thinking is ingrained into their being. It is not something you can train out of them. Instead, the need for a flock translates when domesticated.
Solitude Can Be A Danger
When alone, parrots cannot be warned or defend themselves against predators as easily. Because of this, when a pet parrot finds itself all alone, it raises red flags in the brain. To parrots, solitude equates to risk.
More importantly, solitude makes parrots feel on edge. After all, it may indicate that all other parrots have fled the dangerous area, yet your bird is still there. This causes the stress that is so prevalent in lonely parrots.
Parrots Crave Interaction
Other flock or pack animals that evolved to belong to a group, like dogs, get lonely, too. However, the outcome is usually less drastic than in parrots. That’s because parrots are smart. With intelligence comes self-awareness, and with self-awareness comes worry.
Parrots will be acutely aware of when they are alone. Other animals might focus on the fact that there is no immediate danger. However, parrots are complex enough beings to worry about what could happen.
Their ability to form complex thoughts is their downfall. Despite its intelligence, it’s still an animal deeply in touch with its primitive side for a pet parrot. Once it feels like it could be in danger, there isn’t much it can do for itself.
Can Parrots Die of Loneliness?
Loneliness in parrots may result in a shortened life span for your bird. However, loneliness will not immediately kill the parrot. Instead, you will begin noticing these negative effects:
- Less talking
- Destructive behavior
- Self-plucking of feathers
- Hiding from humans
- Less eating
- Repetitive actions
How Loneliness Shortens A Parrot’s Life
According to the University of Veterinary Medicine, social isolation shortens the life of parrots due to the chronic stress it causes them. This is evident in the length of a parrot’s telomeres.
Telomeres are specialized DNA complexes, serving as protective caps on the ends of linear chromosomes. They protect chromosomes from erosion. The longer the telomeres are, the better they can protect the chromosomes.
During cellular metabolism, the body produces free radicals. These are unpaired molecules. An excess of free radicals causes oxidative stress. This deteriorates the cells in an organism’s body, including telomeres. Telomerase, the enzyme responsible for telomere length, is vulnerable to oxidative stress.
In the study, 45 captive parrots between 0.75 and 45 years were observed over the course of 2 years. Of the birds, 26 were single pets, and 19 were paired pets. There was a significant difference in telomere length between the single parrots and those that were paired. That’s true even among those of the same age.
Lack of Companionship Makes Parrots Age Faster
Telomeres naturally shorten as organisms age and the body wears down. However, during the study, researchers observed that the telomere length of a 9-year-old single parrot was the same as a paired parrot that was 23 years its senior. Additionally, 4 of the 45 parrots died non-traumatically, all of them single pets.
Researchers believe that isolation greatly ages parrots. This is through the destruction of cellular material and the reduction of telomere length. Stress, a feeling that manifests itself through physical tension and discomfort, weakens defenses at a cellular level. The result will eventually be biological disequilibrium. So, lonely parrots age faster.
How Much Attention Do Parrots Need?
In the wild, parrots live in flocks of up to 10,000 birds and gather food in groups of 30. They form monogamous pairs and are rarely ever alone. Because of this, parrots turn out to be more than what people can handle. They need constant attention and throw tantrums when they don’t get it.
People recommend that parrots be given 2 to 4 hours of attention a day. The truth is, those numbers are too low. Parrots are toddlers that never grow up. Toddlers need more than just 2 to 4 hours of direct care.
How Long Can You Leave a Parrot Alone?
Parrots cannot be left alone for more than 6 to 8 hours. Once you have bonded with a parrot, it considers you family. In the wild, parrots are accustomed to being with a flock. They will naturally want to be around the humans they consider family at all times. Your parrot will feel in danger if it doesn’t have its family with it.
Can You Leave A Parrot Alone While On Vacation?
If you’re going on a long vacation, it’s recommended to find a pet sitter that can keep the parrot company. However, this only works if the parrot is bonded with the sitter and considers the person a part of its family. Parrots tend to mal-imprint on those that feed it. This will form parent-child bonds with the surrogate human parent.
Even if the sitter is someone from the same household, the parrot might not have a strong bond with them. It will still feel lonely if the owners are away. Parrots that are hand-reared that mal-imprint on humans tend to be more aggressive and demanding than wild parrots that are parrot-reared. The sitter might have a hard time handling the parrot’s tantrums.
Can Parrots Befriend Other Pets?
Parrots are prey birds. Becoming alert when they perceive any danger is in their nature. Animals of other species can trigger those instincts in parrots. They shouldn’t be left alongside cats or dogs while you are away. This is true even if it’s only for a few hours.
It is possible for a docile parrot to feel comfortable near an equally docile cat or dog. However, those types of inter-species friendships are the exception, not the norm.
Is It Better to Have One Parrot or Two?
Since parrots need constant social interaction, it’s usually better to keep parrots in pairs. Of course, like anything related to animals, there are variables to consider. The greatest concern will be the individual species.
Small Parrot Breeds
Smaller birds, such as cockatiels, are one of the most popular types of parrots to own. That’s especially true among first-time owners. These birds tend to chirp instead of scream and are easygoing. They do need a lot of attention, but they are highly affectionate. Even just snuggling up against you will be enough to satisfy them.
If raised to be comfortable around humans from a young age, cockatiels don’t need a companion parrot. They can actually be very territorial with animals and people that aren’t their favorite human. Bringing another bird into the family might upset a cockatiel.
Still, your cockatiel may get depressed, even after spending plenty of time with its owner. If it starts engaging in stress-induced behavior for no reason, it may be wise to get a companion. Like any living creature, not all birds are cut from the same cloth. Some cockatiels have so much love to give that they desire another bird friend to keep them company.
Large Parrot Breeds
Large birds, such as macaws, African greys, and cockatoos require more attention. These species do well with a companion. They are smarter than smaller birds and thus, require more stimulation. They can become grumpy with age, so it’s best to get a pair when they are both still young.
With that said, there can be some downsides to introducing a new companion. These include:
There is a chance that the birds won’t like each other. If this happens, they can attack and even kill each other. Because of this, it is best to introduce them slowly.
Parrots are stubborn. If two parrots don’t like each other, little can be done to make them grow closer. Aggressive conflict among parrots can seldom be resolved. The newer parrot usually has to be sent away and replaced with a parrot the older one might like better.
Growing To Dislike You
In contrast, the parrots can grow to love each other a little too much. When parrots share a deep bond, there is always a chance that their bond replaces the one that exists with you.
That’s another reason to introduce parrots to each other slowly. It gives them both time to bond with you before they can bond with each other. Bonded parrots may:
- Scream if you separate them, even just a few feet apart.
- Bite you when they get jealous.
- Go from being affectionate towards you to completely indifferent.
A parrot’s personality can change significantly once bonded to another parrot. Make sure that’s a risk you’re willing to take if you get a companion.
The more parrots, the bigger the mess. Of course, this can result in more cleaning time needed from you. That may subtract from the time you have to actually bond and play with them.
On the flip side, if you don’t maintain their area properly, the birds might misbehave. That could mean you solved one problem (loneliness) but created a different one (bad behavior).
When deciding on a companion parrot, you may wonder if two different species can coexist. That depends on the bird itself. Some parrots will be prejudiced against others and only tolerate their own kind. In contrast, some parrots will be pleased to socialize with any bird. Parrots known to be friendly to others include:
- Hanging parrots
These species are happy to share a cage and get along. In contrast, bigger parrots are notoriously unfriendly to other species, such as:
- African greys
The only exception is if the parrot itself has a docile personality. No matter the case, it’s not recommended to pair large parrots with small parrots. The bigger ones tend to be more aggressive.
Can Two Parrots Live in the Same Cage?
Two parrots can occupy the same cage. However, be aware that conflicts are more likely to arise with this setup. This is true even with parrots that are bonded and friendly towards each other. There is always a chance that a disagreement can break out, and disaster could strike.
For example, parrots are destructive and can be territorial with their possessions. One parrot may destroy its toy and steal its cage-mate’s intact toy. This can lead to fights if you don’t constantly provide them with things to play with.
Parrots can also get tired of their roommate and want some alone time. If the cage isn’t big enough, the parrot won’t get the space it needs. Instead, it will feel trapped and stressed.
While two parrots can share a cage, it is best to observe their individual personalities. You should accommodate accordingly by changing the cage type, size, and environment.