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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.