Before I moved here to Orlando, I lived in an apartment in Austin, TX that was landscaped with beautiful crepe myrtle trees. They were small to medium trees with branches that were typically just the right size for the feet of an umbrella cockatoo.
They don’t require much maintenance except for occasional pruning during which time I would shamelessly follow the landscapers from tree to tree picking my favorite branches to take home. Not that I am admitting to anything, but I might have slipped out at night with my hack saw on one or two occasions to acquire a particularly good looking branch.
Tree branches do not grow in uniform shapes and sizes. They widen and narrow, bend and twist, and rise in fall in ways that give our birds variety and options as they navigate their cages and allow them to choose what size and shape feels best to them. That variety is important to the good health of their feet.
If you asked a cage manufacturer, I suspect they would tell you that all perches must be invariable in size and shape and must extend from one side of the cage to the other. I think that early bird cages were designed and arranged to enhance the viewing of the birds and did not at all take into account a bird’s physical or emotional comfort.
I like to think that most societies have evolved from that neanderthal-type thinking, but we haven’t come that far in cage design. It is up to we owners to make adaptations ourselves and it is simple enough to do.
Here are the HOW TOs:
Picking the right tree:
Crepe Myrtles are just one of many tree varieties that can provide us with branches to use alternatively to the perches provided when we buy a cage. We have a long list of safe vs. toxic plants that is available here. It is an important list to have. However, knowing which trees are toxic and safe will not help you without being able to identify the tree you are currently looking at.
When you find a tree you like but aren’t sure what type it is, take a photo of it from a distance and a small sample branch (as many tree species are identified by their leaves) and head out to your local nursery. I do not mean the nursery at Walmart. While it is possible you might luck into someone familiar with local flora, it is just as likely the person at the counter has been trained as the cashier for the bedding department.
Look for a well-established business that has longevity in your community for the best knowledge about the trees in your area. Ask them about diseases, fungi and insect infestation that might be prevalent in this tree type which will help you to prepare the branch for use by your bird.
You want to select a tree that has not experienced the heavy use of pesticides. Topical pesticides are difficult to remove from porous branches and when the grounds are heavily sprayed the pesticides can be present in the wood itself.
The safest trees will be the ones that are not in community owned parks or developments and are away from industrial areas. In short, take a hike in the country.
Picking the right branches:
Once a tree has been identified as safe, look for branches that are sized appropriately for your bird. For branches that are intended for perching, it makes sense to pick ones that can support your bird’s weight and have enough diameter to be grasped (there is no law that says the ends of these branches can’t taper off into leafy wisps). Always think in terms of variety.
As birds love to chew, the foliage of a bird safe tree can keep them stripping bark and leaves for hours and it provides lots of nifty hiding places to create a foraging adventure. Foliage also gives your bird an area to retreat to for privacy.
Preparing the branches:
Now that you have found a safe tree and have chosen the perfect branches you need to prepare them to go into the cage. This will require a little “cleaning” to eliminate any molds, fungi and insects, or any topical pesticide or pollutants.
For branches that are meant to be used as perches, I recommend that the bark be stripped off. This is mainly because bark is a good area for anything growing or living to hide, and it makes cleaning difficult. Also, it invites the bird to chew the perch. Since availability to branches is usually limited for me living in an urban area, I try to encourage my birds to chew only the more easily replaced foliage – accent on the word “try”. Preparing your branches is easily done in this three step cleaning process:
Step One – Washing The Branch:
Fill your tub with water and add a quart of bleach (to a full tub use proportionately less with less water). I know, you are thinking that bleach is unsafe for parrots (and you are right), but this is a very important step. You could use vinegar to initially wash off bugs and mold and the following two steps would see to their elimination. BUT vinegar will not completely kill the diseases that might present in your wild bird population. (This step is for the branches only. Use the baking method for foliage.)
I usually soak the branches until the bark starts to pull away at which time I remove it and allow it to soak for perhaps an hour more. Following this I rinse the branch and let it soak for about an additional half hour in clean water. I usually place a face cloth over the drain to catch any remnants that have peeled away.
Step Two – Baking:
This step is a necessary one for those of you who only use vinegar to clean and do not remove the bark from their branches. This can also be done with pieces of foliage intended for the cage or play area.
Set the oven to 200 degrees and bake the branches for 1-2 hours. This will assist in killing anything hiding in the crevices of the bark.
If your branch is too large to fit in the oven, it can be cut into pieces and then reassembled using double ended screws (see photo at bottom of post).
Step Three – Natural Sunlight:
The sun has powerful bacteria killing and sanitizing properties. By placing your washed and/or baked branches in the sun you are providing a second cleaning for the branch. Bleach doesn’t kill mold, but the sun does. The UV rays in the sun will also eliminate any bleach residue left on the branch. Let the branch sit outside in direct sunlight for several days.
Be sure not to set it on a painted surface or one that might have the toxic residues that can be transferred to the branch. Place it in an area that is dry during the day (it is counter-productive to allow it to get wet and start collecting mold/fungus or bugs) and is not underneath anything overhanging that might allow outside birds (or other animals) to soil it. Bring them inside at night if you feel it is necessary.
It sounds like a lot of work, but once you pick out safe branches, it is actually your tub, the oven and the sun that is doing all the work and the benefits for your bird are huge.