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Pecking Order

Written by Karine, TaffyWduck

For those of us with multiple birds it can be very interesting, if not downright important, to figure out the pecking order established by our birds. The pecking order pretty much indicates the position of each bird in the hierarchy of the group.

Ideally the flock leader, the "bird" at the top of the pecking order and who has authority over all the others, should be you. This means that the other birds see you as responsible for their well being, look up to you to keep them safe and provide for them.

That being said, the rest of the flock will establish, in time, a pecking order within themselves that might be different than the order in which you acquired your feathery friends. Figuring it out is not that difficult and you are going to find some tips as to how to go about it.

First of all, why is it important for you to be aware of the pecking order in your flock? Most, if not all, parrots are social animals that live in groups. In these groups each individual has a rank that is established mainly through displays and sometimes aggressive demonstrations. Usually the weak and juvenile will be at the bottom of the order, while the experienced and strong will be found at the top of the pecking order... until a younger, stronger individual comes to challenge them for the spot.

In a well balanced group, each bird accepts its rank unless it perceives a chance to move up the ranks. Even then, it is rarely worth the energy to try and challenge the higher ranking birds because they are usually the strongest. However if one should die, become sick or generally become weaker than another individual, then it is possible to replace them in the pecking order.

Being at the top of the order means that you have access to the best food, if the species forages in groups, the best perches (higher is safer from terrestrial predators), best mate etc. If your position is constantly jeopardized, you put a lot of energy into defending it which in turns causes great stress both on you and the lower ranking birds. Usually, in captive situation, the owner is rarely aware of the pecking order of his flock and this causes the flock to have a precarious pecking order that constantly needs to be reasserted, thus stressing the birds out.

Figuring out the pecking order is not that tricky, in fact it can be quite simple. If your birds are all housed together, you can try sitting near the cage and observe the perches used by each birds. Usually, highest order bird will have access to the highest perches, because as mentioned before they are the safest. Higher birds will also have access to the food dish first. If you have a play gym, the same principle applies so look for the positioning of your birds. It also works if you pay attention to who gets to perch where if you have all your birds on you.

For example, my flock of cockatiels is made up of three individuals, two males and a female. From the order shown in the picture, Flamie (male) is dominant over Baby and Indy. In turn, Baby (female) is dominant over Indy (male). However I acquired Baby before I got Flamie, which illustrates the fact that sometimes the pecking order will be different than the order in which your birds joined the flock.

Now that the pecking order is established, it is important that you respect it while asserting your position as flock leader. Here are some things you can do to maintain the pecking order at a status quo therefore limiting the level of stress of your beloved birds:

  • When you feed your birds (assuming they are caged separately), feed the dominant bird first, then go according to the established order (ex: Flamie, Baby and then Indy).
  • When taking the birds out of their cages, go according to the pecking order again.
  • While you need to give the exact same amount of attention to each bird, regardless of their rank, make sure of giving the dominant bird attention first, and then move down the pecking order.
  • While it is natural and necessary for birds to establish and maintain a pecking order, if you notice that one of your bird is showing dangerous signs of aggression toward your other birds, you should step in and separate them (if they are caged together). An overbearing dominant bird will often do better with the other flock members if he is cages apart from them, being in physical contact during supervised playtime.
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