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Personality Conflicts

Proper Species Selection | Number and Gender | Breeding | Unexplained | Introducing New Birds | What to do

Next to illness, personality conflicts are the most stressful problems in the aviary (for both myself and the birds). For this reason, I try to follow the advice of others regarding what birds to mix and how many - no matter how much I might want that beautiful orange weaver, he will only cause me stress if he's not compatible with the other birds in my aviary. I know from experience what happens when you think you might be able to bend the rules. Of course, even when you follow the rules, there is no guarantee that everyone will get along. And sometimes you can break the rules and end up just fine. Following are some of the causes of personality conflicts between finches.

Proper Species Selection
The first thing you must look at when setting up an aviary is which species do you want to keep. Not all species are going to get along well together.

When I first got my aviary, it included a Java Rice finch. He was a beautiful bird and he sang all the time, but he terrorized the other birds round the clock. He could catch another finch by the leg as it tried to fly by. I am sure he would have killed someone if we hadn't given him away promptly. He just did not mix well with the other smaller birds.

NOTE: I don't want to get anyone upset here by saying that you cannot mix Java Rice finches with smaller finches. Many people have done this successfully. Other people, like myself, have had problems. I don't blame my problems solely on the fact that we mixed the Java with smaller finches. Other factors likely contributed -- perhaps keeping the Java without a companion of the same species, not providing the Java with enough personal space, or possibly he was just an aggressive personality. My personal belief is that if something in your aviary is out of balance, it might show up first in the behavior of the Javas. Hence, the problem is not necessarily with the bird, but instead with the environment. Therefore, I would advise that you do plenty of research into the needs of the Java (or any other species, for that matter) before housing them in a mixed aviary. Rob Salem's Java Finch Pages is a good source of information dealing specifically with this species.

A very nice compatibility chart is posted on Many species are listed on this chart and grouped into type I (Gentle), type II (Medium to Tough), and type III (Can Be Tough) personalities. It is probably best to mix only species from the same personality type, at least when you are first starting out. I stick with the gentle personalities - and you can see from the list that there are many to choose from. This table also provides you useful information about characteristics about each of the species, including diet, hardiness, ease of breeding, etc.

Some of the species within a particular group may not necessarily get along well together. For example, strawberry finches, while normally being a gentle species, may not mix well with other birds that are red in color. Research should be done on each species to try to ensure all desired species are compatible with each other. This won't guarantee a conflict-free existence, but can go a long ways toward avoiding potential problems.

Also note that zebras, although in the group of gentle personalities, can be aggressive at times in their own right. Some people do not expect this because they are frequently recommended for beginners. However, they are so highly recommended for beginners because they are very hardy and easy to breed, and there are many zebra finch color mutations that make breeding zebras more interesting. They can be forgiving of beginner finch-keeping mistakes. They do, however, have a very strong personality. I tell myself sometimes that I will not get any more zebras because when there are conflicts in the aviary, the zebras are usually at the heart of it. But then things quiet down again and I appreciate them for their curious nature and amusing antics. (I'm not trying to stir anyone away from zebras - they are wonderfully fun birds - I am just giving you the heads up that they can at times be a handful).

Number and Gender
The number and gender of birds is also an issue. In general, a bird will prefer the company of its own species. So it is preferable to obtain at least a pair of each species - the pair can be a same-sex pair or a true (male-female) pair. Three birds of a species can be a bad thing, as the third bird will end up odd-man-out and could be picked on by the other two. A particularly bad situation is having two males and one female, as there will be great competition between the males for the affection of the female. Likewise, two pairs can sometimes be a bad thing, as competition can arise between the pairs. A single pair or three pairs or more should generally work out better.

Overcrowding is the cause of many social problems in the aviary. For this reason, the more space you can offer your birds, the better off they will be. For many species, the recommended space guidelines are 2 to 3 square feet of floor space per pair. In general, height should not be factored in. But offering more square feet per pair can go a long ways towards a more peaceful environment. Be sure to research the space guidelines for the species you are interested in. I follow the 3 square feet rule. I believe I could get away with 2 square feet, since I keep gentler finches and I do not breed, but by using 3 square feet per pair, I ensure that they all have a little extra comfort room. Since the new aviary is about 12 ft by 2.5 ft (floor dimensions), that provides 30 ft of floor space for a maximum of 10 pairs of birds. (Note: I don't count the button quail who live on the bottom, since they do not require perch or flight space).

Breeding season can bring out aggressive tendencies in birds that were previously docile. During this time, birds frequently become very territorial and will aggressively protect their nest. My masked grassfinches, normally the calmest of my birds, became quite territorial when they were sitting on eggs. Never mind that they were both female and the eggs were infertile.

Bucky and Evil, once best of friends, suddenly turned on each other for no apparent reason. They eventually calmed down and now tolerate each other, but no longer are a pair.

Sometimes, a problem will just pop up out of the blue. A pair of male zebras in my aviary who had previously been the best of friends, sharing a nestbox and all, one day, suddenly turned on each other. For a few days, there was terrible bickering between the two. I thought it was just a temporary thing and that they would work it out. Just when I was about to give up on the two and separate them, they suddenly mellowed out a little and tensions cooled down. They never made up, though, and to this day sleep in separate nestboxes. One zebra made friends with the societies, and the other occasionally preens the masked grassfinch, but they do not hang out together much any more.

Introducing New Birds
Introducing a new bird to the aviary can upset the social order within. It is not unusual for a new bird to be chased about quite vigorously upon introduction. It is good practice to introduce new birds in pairs or greater, whenever possible, so a lone bird isn't singled out for picking on. This is going to be a very stressful time no matter what, so I usually try to give my birds a little time to adjust before I step in and take any actions. I make sure no one is getting hurt and that the new birds are allowed access to the food and water (placing food and water in multiple places during this period usually helps). Within a day or two, things usually settle down.

Some people recommend placing the new bird in a cage near the existing birds after its quarantine period so that the birds can become a little familiar with each other before introduction. This may help to reduce the chaos that may ensue upon introduction. Others suggest moving the existing perches and nestboxes around before introducing a new bird, so the environment becomes new to everyone and everyone needs to define new territories.

What to Do
When conflict arises in the aviary that either threatens the health of a bird or persists for more than a couple of days, the aggressor should be separated from the others for a while. (Note: a little bit of chasing around is okay even if it persists for longer periods if no one is getting hurt and it is not incessant - this is a judgment call that you have to make). Reintroducing the aggressor bird at a later time may help change the pecking order, turning the tables as the aggressor is now the new bird being reintroduced. This may be particularly helpful if the victim of his aggression is a new bird, as it will allow the new bird to establish relationships and familiarity with the other birds without the interference of the aggressor. If tensions never settle down, the fighting birds may have to be separated permanently. Allowing them to cohabitate will only cause them and you unhealthy stress.

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