Are Horizontal Or Vertical Cage Bars Better For My Parrot?

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It’s essential that whatever cage your bird is in (transport, sleeping or day cage) has appropriate bars to prevent injuries, escapes or an accident. All it takes is for a bird to get too curious (like the galah in the pic above) and your bird could be in trouble.

One of my friends was recently shopping for a new cage for her parrot when she remarked in frustration to me that it’s extremely annoying that cage manufacturers don’t seem to make cages with just plain old boring horizontal bars. “Don’t they know it makes it easier for a parrot to climb around if the bars are horizontal?” she exclaimed.

It’s an interesting question. We’ve talked about getting the amount of space between a cage’s bars right before, but it isn’t often that we look at the direction that the bars go. There are reasons people have cages with one or the other. 

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A rare sight – a bird cage with a horizontal bar setup.

Bar direction is a topic that was covered in an Australian Wildlife Carer’s course that I completed. Interestingly, if a wild bird comes into care, an incorrect cage bar direction can mean death for some species of wild birds.

If you think about birds of prey, so eagles, hawks, kites and owls for example; they all rely on one characteristic: silent flight. If their prey can hear them coming, they’re going to starve. Their entire welfare depends on their feather condition. A barbed feather is going to be noisy when a bird flies.

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An indoor cage with suitable bar spacing for lorikeets is hard to find because larger cages tend to have more space between bars (dangerous for small birds).

This really complicates things if you have to transport or cage one of these birds. It is essential that whatever you put the bird in, doesn’t damage their feathers. Consequently rescuers are taught to line their cages with shade cloth in order to prevent feathers catching in bars. If you have no choice though, we’re taught that vertical bars do less damage than horizontal bars. The theory is that the up and down movement of fluttering wings will cause feathers to rub against more bars if they run in a horizontal direction.

So the obvious conclusion is that a flighted bird is going to benefit from vertical bars or if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get them… a Cages By Design plexi-glass cage like the ones Dave and Jamie use works to protect flight feathers too.

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Fid’s sleeping platform easily bolts to horizontal bars, but would slip downwards if attached to vertical bars. 

However, as my friend aptly noted: some birds prefer to climb. Horizontal bars, do make climbing easier. I especially prefer to use a cage with horizontal bars if I am setting up a cage for a bird with a disability. Horizontal bars are also easier if you’re desperately trying to turn a tree branch into a perch because they give you something to rest the end of the branch on.

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The more bars – the easier it is to climb with your beak full.

It’s not surprising then that most cage manufacturers have settled for a mixture of both horizontal and vertical bars. The most commonly available cages have horizontal on the bars on the sides, and vertical bars on the front and back. This style of barring actually makes a stronger cage. You are less likely to wind up with bent or collapsed bars if you have bars running in a mixture of both directions.

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The front and back of Fid’s cage have vertical bars which helps prevent damage to his flight feathers when he flaps.

There is another style of barring that I should mention, and that is mesh. Fairly obviously mesh is similar to horizontal bars, in the way that there are more bars for a bird’s wings to brush against and get damaged on when the bird is flapping/flying. On the flip side, it’s easier for a bird to climb in a mesh cage and it’s easier to secure perches. If the mesh is fine enough, but still has thick strong wire, it can also be useful to keep predators from reaching through bars to get at your birds.

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Double Trouble: Merlin (front) is an escape artist that likes to reach out of a cage and undo the bolts that hold it together. Nemo (rear) is overly curious and will get herself jammed between bars. These galahs do well with a finer mesh.

It’s also worth mentioning that some birds aren’t necessarily safe in a recommended cage. Using my Eclectus Pepi as an example. Pepi is moulting this month, which has made him clumsier than normal. Somehow he has managed to fall off a perch, get his wing out between two vertical bars and twist it so he can’t easily pull it back in. He then panics, frantically flapping to get free, injuring himself in the process. The first time this happened was last year in a cage with an inbuilt playstand. My dog came to get me, which was the only reason Pepi didn’t break his wing. I upgraded to a new rectangular cage and had no further problems until this moult when it happened again (this time I saw it happen). 

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Pepi’s old cage. Should be suitable for an eclectus but it’s dangerous for him.

Consequently Pepi now lives in a custom-built mesh cage. There is no way that he can get a wing out through the mesh. It’s odd because his old cage is the type that would be recommended for an eclectus. Put simply, this ability to get a wing out of the cage is not a normal problem for an Eclectus. It shows you really need to know your own bird’s needs and find a cage to match. 

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Pepi now has a wider spaced mesh. Handy because he likes to smear food on bars, so a fine mesh would be a real pain to clean!

 Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

10 comments

Cath crowley

Mel your posts are very informative and entertaining. Please keep them coming. Cath

Cath crowley
Syl

Always make sure the space between the bars are wide enough that if your bird stretches a wing through it, he will be able to take it back out with no problem. We had put our Cockatiel in a budgy’s cage for years with no problem till the day he somehow managed while we were out, to put his wing through the bars and got stuck there till we came back. We rescued him but damages to his shoulder wing was done and he was in terrible pain (because he tried to free himself from that position) and he died from it. It was such a traumatising and sad event. Now we have an appropriate cage for our 5 year old Cockatiel.

Syl
Mel

Hi Susan, We don’t really get them in Australia (would need to have plugs adjusted with Australian adapters if we imported them) but Patty did another post on them. http://www.birdtricks.com/blog/are-heated-perches-safe-for-parrots/ Cheers!

Mel
Mel

That’s a really tough topic Patricia. A lot of the studies available on lighting actually contradict each other. I think it’s an area where in a few years we’ll know more. If your cockatiel hates the current ones, I’d trust the bird’s judgement. They see light quite differently to us and a lot of lights produce a ‘strobe light’ effect for birds. It may well be that the globes you have are doing this and may even be causing damage. Have a look at this post that Patty wrote as it does explain about different types of globes (and check out the comments as a lot of people have added info). Hope that helps! – Mel http://www.birdtricks.com/blog/safe-use-of-full-spectrum-lighting/

Mel
Merilee

Susan- I spent the money on heated perches and my birds wouldn’t use them. They’re expensive and they’re slick. They couldn’t seem to get hold of it. What I do is use a heater like you might use in a dogs crate. I use them all year long. Here in Oklahoma we go from air conditioning to heating. I don’t keep my house too warm in winter and I keep it pretty cool in the summer. I put the heater below the bottom tray.

Merilee
Abdulhameed

Horizon bars are usual traditional style im most cases. However, I have noticed as mentioned above the vertical bars do help parrots in climbing up. It worth trying. Change sometimes maybe better. Good luck with your birds.

Abdulhameed
Susan

Can someone weigh in on heated perches. Two parrots on a cold climate would like to know.

Susan
Patricia Huber

I enjoy all of your blogs Mel…they are informative, and sometimes really funny! Would you please post an article regarding cage lighting and proper bulbs to use that are ideal for parrots!! PLEASE. I need to purchase a new one for my cockatiel – for whatever reason, he hates the one I have now, and I don’t know why! I am confused about these types of products on the market and the best ones to buy… THANK YOU!

Patricia Huber
gus

reply to Susan about heated perch. There are a couple of articles about them in birdtricks. However my Galah has one and so does my cockatiel, and they love them. But i notice that their nails grow faster ‘cos the perches are quite smooth. I also know that nowadays they’re selling rough coated ones that should help keep the nails nice and tidy. Hope this helps :-)

gus
michael and Cookie

Although it might be true the way bars run in a cage makes it easier for parrots to climb around on, theres something else that can be done other than shelling out a few hundred bucks on a new cage. Its called a ladder. Cookie has a travel cage and that cage the bars run sideways and she doesn’t like that cage and her main cage the bars run up and down and that cage has 2 ladders in it. She always uses her ladder and seldom climbs around not using her ladders. And that cage is also heated. This is Miami, it really doesn’t get cold here but she catches cold easy and this time of year when she starts sneezing, out comes the heater which is a 100 watt red flood light under her cage. Heat rises and red isn’t as bright as a white light. And its safe.

michael and Cookie

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