I was on the phone this morning consoling a woman who had lost her beloved cockatiel earlier in the week. A mutual friend had put me in touch with her because they felt her story was one I should share with you…
Cindy purchased Benji the cockatiel about 7 years ago from a pet store. She brought him home in a flimsy wire cage that was meant for a parakeet. It wasn’t long before Cindy and Benji became the best of friends and she went online in search of information about his care.
She eventually found her way onto a small, informal bird forum whose membership included mostly small bird owners. Many had kept birds for longer than she had been alive, and she took their advice verbatim.
They directed her on proper diet and took the time to explain spring hormones. They offered her tips on foraging and taught her to make her own toys. She was learning so much about how to care for Benji and spent a lot of time posting on the board with Benji perched on her shoulder.
One day, she posted a photo of Benji inside his cage. Several people advised her that the cage size was inadequate for a cockatiel (it was) and that she needed to replace it as soon as she was able. So she began researching options using references supplied by her friends on the forum. She says that she distinctly remembers the words “bigger is better” ringing in her ears during her search.
Finally, she found the cage she wanted and reported its dimensions back to people on the forum. They were thrilled that she had found a cage that would give Benji so much room for play during the day while she was away. The cage was so big it would be adequate for an amazon or african grey.
With her forum’s stamp of approval, she purchased the cage that would eventually kill her bird. This week she came home to find Benji limp and lifeless with his head caught in between the bars of the cage.
With all their good intentions, the people on her forum neglected to explain the importance of appropriate bar spacing. No one, even the most experienced on the board, questioned whether this cage that was big enough for an amazon, was not in fact, intended for an amazon- and NOT a cockatiel. That surprises and frustrates me.
Our choices are very limited when it comes to buying cages for our birds. There are several companies that make them, but they all seem to follow the same trend: a large cage will only have wide bar spacing – and a small cage will only have narrow bar spacing. That is why it is nearly impossible to find a huge cage that is appropriate for a small bird. I have unsuccessfully searched for a safe, affordable “mansion” for my cockatiels for years. They don’t exist. When Cindy claimed to have found one, it should have sent up red flags with the more experienced owners.
Cindy told me that she instinctively questioned the wider bar spacing when the cage arrived, but she knew the bird’s body would not fit through the bars and she assumed that if he were to poke his head out through the bars he would just pull it back in again.
Heads are strange things. They fit into certain places, but they don’t always want to come back out again. The hinge of the jaw (and the ears on humans) act as a barrier and the head can get locked into place.
When Cindy came home and found Benji trapped and still, she ran and got tools to pry the bars far enough release his head. She was sure he was dead, but she rushed him to the vet just in case. The doctor believes he likely had a heart attack in his struggle to free himself. Cindy is finding it hard to forgive herself for her ignorance.
Heads aren’t the only body parts that can be trapped in between cage bars. Wings can get caught and broken in bar spacing that is too wide, and on the other end of the spectrum, bar spacing that is too narrow for a species can trap feet as they climb around the cage.
Appropriate bar spacing:
1/4″ – 1/2″ – finches, canaries
1/2″ – budgies, lovebirds, parrotlets
1/2″ – 5/8″ – cockatiels, ringnecks, doves, pigeons
5/8″ – 3/4″ – conures, poicephalus, caiques, pionus, jardines
3/4″ – 1″ – Amazons, african greys, mini macaws, medium cockatoos
1″ – 1.5″ – large macaws, large cockatoos
When you are inspecting at your bird’s cage for potential dangers, listen to your gut. If your mind concocts a scenario that has a bad outcome, pay attention! Birds get into everything… especially when you aren’t watching!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.