You’re worried your bird is not getting enough attention from you. Or maybe it starts out more simple. Perhaps your cockatiel has developed a crush on the toaster or the bathroom sink faucet. What’s wrong with giving your bird a mirror? Everything. Mirrors are very psychologically damaging to your bird.
Birds a very social creatures. It is because of their strong flocking instincts that they can make such great pets. Many owners give their pets mirrors because they are afraid their bird will get lonely. If you are giving your bird its due attention and providing it with toys to play with while you are gone, you have no need to think your bird will become lonely.
So what exactly do mirrors do? The first thing most people notice is increased territoriality. Bird behaviorists are often contacted about cockatiels who are so attached to the toaster that they will viciously bite anyone who comes near it. They will isolate themselves from their owners and throw a fit if not near their “buddy.” Sadly, this is a lesser problem that mirrors cause.
The real problem is this: mirrors give your bird an incorrect perception of reality. They are NOT talking to another bird, they are talking to a reflection. Reflections can only mimic- they do not react in the same manner as a real bird would. Think of it this way: you have a young child. This is your only child so instead of letting him play with kids down the street you get him a mirror. The kid spends all his time talking and playing with his reflection. When he turns fifteen years old you send him to high school. How well do you think he’s going to socialize with real people who may not agree with him, may not like his looks, may look different than him, etc?
It is true that not all birds will eventually come into contact with other birds but let’s be realistic here. How do you know that down the line you won’t want another bird? How do you know that something might not occur that will force you to have to sell or give away your bird? Does the possibility that it may never meet another bird justify improper socialization?
Allow me to give you a case in point. In fall of 1999 I adopted a mitred conure, Fry. A woman had caught him outdoors in Southern California. He had been dive-bombing some local gardeners. He stayed with her a year before she ended up giving him to a friend of hers. This lady had him for six years. During that period he was fed nothing more than safflower seed, apples and white bread, at his request (never let birds or kids choose their diet). He had a mirror on top of his cage and had no access to real birds. His owner had just had a baby when I acquired him. This, and the fact that her husband hated the bird, were her motivations for giving him away.
Fry has the worst flocking skills I’ve ever seen in a bird. I’ve actually had him fly across my room to attack a bird in a hospital cage. He has maimed toes and feet and has no clue how to react to real birds. In the beginning he also had no skills at playing by himself. All pet birds need to know how to keep themselves entertained. I offered him plenty of toys but he ignored them. His cage was located on my dresser, which has a large mirror attached to the back. I covered the mirror with a towel but he chewed it to shreds to get to the mirror. I re-covered the mirror and moved the cage out of reach so he couldn’t chew it while inside. About a week later he started playing with the toys. He also became more interested in people. Instead of hanging out on top of his cage all the time or trying to steal my sun conure’s food, he’d jump over to my desk to watch me and Jay-Jay (the sun).
So what do you do if you have a single bird? Though it is not necessary, you can buy a second bird after the first one is tamed. If you do not want two birds, just make sure to give your bird lots of attention and keep those mirrors away! Birds can be kept singly just fine, but access to a mirror will teach them bad habits, as well as make them territorial and withdrawn.
© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.