Should We Allow Our Birds To Live Cage Free?


Theo, goffins cockatoo

Several years ago, back when I lived in Austin, I was contacted by one of my vet’s technicians about a goffins cockatoo that was in need of a new home. Her former owner, who loved her dearly, felt she was no longer thriving in his care. He did the right thing in making a hard decision that was for her benefit – even when it was clearly painful for him.

After talking, we made plans for Theo’s arrival to my house. He told me that he would bring all her belongings with him. He arrived with only a play stand.

“Where is her cage?” I asked.

“She has never been caged. She lives on the play stand.” he explained.

As it happened, I already had a cage that would be suitable for Theo, but I wanted her to have the familiarity of her own cage when she first arrived. I wished he had mentioned this me.

“So you work from home?” I asked.

“No, I’m gone most of the day. She stays on the stand.”

“How do you know she stays there?”

He pulled out one of her wings, the feathers of which were barbered down to the skin. This bird wasn’t flying anywhere. If she did jump from the play stand, there would be no way to for her to return to it without flight and he would know she had strayed.

After he left I prepared my spare cage for her – I was not comfortable with leaving Theo alone and uncaged for any length of time. However, she flatly refused to go into it without hysteria (her version of hysteria includes throwing herself to the ground and flailing wildly). I felt like I was stressing her out more than she could handle.

I continued my thought process – she was 22 years old and had lived with this guy and without a cage for almost all of her life. Maybe I should reconsider my position on insisting that she be caged. I decided to give the play stand a try.

But first, a test run. After double checking the bird-proofing in the house, I left her out on her play stand and ran out to the supermarket. I was so nervous I spent the entire time there trying not to throw up.

When I returned she was gone. I found her on the floor in a corner where she had utterly destroyed a large area of carpeting. Any notion of cageless-ness was abandoned at that point.

The moral of the story is this: ALL birds have the potential to wander the house while you’re away. MOST birds will. The few that stay put are in the extreme minority and it is a behavior that can change without any warning.


Theo really enjoys her cage now.

I think every bird owner has fantasized about keeping their birds cageless. Caging your bird feels like such an unfair thing to do. We love them, yet we confine them.

My feeling, though, is that a cage is not so much something that is meant to keep your bird in, as it is something to keep danger out. The human environment is full of things that can harm a bird.

Often the most dangerous things aren’t even on our radar when we are bird proofing. Who thinks to check what is hiding up on that highest shelf (my cockatiels found a tube of superglue)…or what is behind the refrigerator (like old insect traps-another cockatiel find)? A curious bird might find its way to everything we overlooked.

Bird proofing the house for a bird that will be hours without supervision is a daunting task. Have you ever paid attention to how many electrical appliances there are in your house? All of the power cords would have to be shielded. Are there cleaners and chemicals in your kitchen or bathroom cabinets? You don’t really believe that baby-proof lock is going to keep your crafty parrot out, do you? Do you have furniture? Do you like it?

Even if you were to completely empty a room your home so that your bird could have free reign in your absence, you may find you have a bird like Linus (my U2) who decided to tunnel through the wall from the living room to my adjoining bedroom one day when he escaped his cage. I am fairly sure that the only thing that stopped him from succeeding was the setting sun. Inside your walls is electrical wiring, insulation and “whatever else”.

I, personally, see no justification to risk allowing my birds to be uncaged when I am not there to supervise, but I do know that some people have done it for years without incident.

So, you have my opinion. What is your feeling on this topic?

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

64 comments

Ash

I does the same with my ringneck and cockatiel as Anna-Marie Groenawald does, but instead of the kitchen I close them in their own birdroom. I also used to let my first ringneck spend time outdoors and let her sit for hours in the high acacia tree, so stupid was I. No more am I doing such things to my beloved birds. I lost that one to a stray cat. I was very inexperienced regarding tame birds when I got my first one. Now I’ve learnt and know better. They do need some cage time for their own safety and goodness, afterall they are not forced to stay in the cage. They go in happily so I don’t find anything wrong in keeping them caged for some part of the day. I also believe they were made to fly so I do not clip them. They can fly around my house when the doors and windows are shut.

Ash
Randy

My opinion is somewhere in the middle. The personality of the bird is an important factor in addition to traffic patterns in your home. I let my cockatiel fly around for exercise every night but only when all the doors and windows are locked or otherwise covered. After a few laps around the living room, he’s quite content to sit on a perch at my side until bed time. At that point he either flies back to his cage or I carry him there on my finger where he climbs in, has a little nibble to eat or a sip of water, then I cover him for the night. I understand the dangers of letting a bird fly freely when there are open/uncovered windows, mirrors, ceiling fans, or people coming and going through open doors, but I make sure the home environment is safe for him to “get his flap on”. I just wouldn’t feel right about keeping him locked up 24/7.

Randy
Anita Mastracci

Our 7 yr old quaker & 6 yr old blue front amazon have always roamed freely. Each has an open cage ( called ‘house’ ) where they eat, sits or sleeps on a perch, or stands on the top of their house. They walk to another room’s 3 attached gym / play sets & toys or climb onto their dish stand. The best of all these free times is when they go to wherever we’re sitting & stay with / on us – occasionally even roam onto our bed at night. They also love our car rides & walks in their enclosed ( for safety from predators only ) pet stroller. They’re content & relaxed by remaining loose & behave as members of our family of the 4 of us together. I could never keep another pet caged – ( nor did years ago to our 5 yr old dwarf bunny either at home or traveling in our motor home ).

Anita Mastracci
T.Jurmu

My Quaker “Peanut” has full flight and is cage free. She prefers to be on her perch but liks fly from room to room to check on the rest of her flock.(Family) She Fly`s outside too witch I don`t like do to the fact here in AZ we have many birds of prey. but she knows how to find her way home every time. Peanut is very smart and a very happy bird and that is what is important to me.

T.Jurmu
pat

I have a 22 yr old goffin. He’s. My sweetie however I would not trust him alone for any length. Of time. He would distroy. The house. When I first got him as a baby I was told not to try and stop his chewing. It is a characteristic of the bird so I supply a lot of che toys for him. He is let out on hos perch when I’m. Home. We good for walks. And he stays on my shoulder. Wings are clipped. Enjoyed your article

pat
Red B

I have a bird room with 5 cages. In the morning I bring out my Yellow Naped Amazon to a play stand in the living room. My Black Headed Caique to a window perch in the kitchen or a swing on the pool deck until she starts to get restless then she must go into a cage in my bedroom. My 3 African Greys stay in the boardroom with their doors open and are free to climb around. None of my birds play nice together so this is why they are separated when out all day. The Amazon and Caique will attack each other if they get close. They both have been known to go after my dogs 2 Italian Mastiffs and a standard poodle. Even the kitty is not safe from them. The Greys are much nicer – just get a little nippy with each other. At bed time everyone goes back into their homes in the bird room and doors are closed. I’ve had my Amazon the longest (27 yrs) but they have all been with me since babies.

Red B
Lisa

I have B&G who came with the cage. One day, she decided that she was no long going to go into the cage. This was ok, for a while…. that is until she made a mess of my dresser. I’m sure this is a unique situation to do this but we sectioned off part of the room and instead of making her go in a cage, we just built a cage around her. It’s more of a partial room. She can have her boings and orbits without the electrical wires. I’m not sure this would work with a heavy chewer (she is not). We haven’t been quite as inventive with the mini – mac, but he likes the option of his cage and fabric snuggle buddy.

Lisa
Becky Wein

I’m home most days and my Umbrella, Sunny, seems to behave so much better and we are both happier if I keep to a routine. He is out mornings (3-4 hrs.) and then goes willingly (with a treat) into his cage for an afternoon nap. His cage is filled with chew toys and cardboard and his favorite perch. I then let him out at supper time for the rest of the evening. Nine o’clock and he’s ready for bed. This keeps him under control and I can get work done or whatever without having to keep a constant eye on him. Before we established this routine he chewed a couple TV remotes, my cell phone, and a few keys off my computer. I was constantly chasing him and in a frenzy. Now he’s the best pet I’ve ever had and he doesn’t even try to pick his locks for escape.

Becky Wein
julie haffenden

Julie haffenden Nr sunny brighton . I have 2 greys and 2 amazons and leave their cage doors open all the time when i’m home , but close when i’m out. I have to say that dose’nt always apply to my greys they are really funny yes they mooch about ,but both much prefer their cage to anywhere else. My amazons on the other hand must go in if I go out! All go to bed at night and all are very chilled birds infact bomb proof even when the grandchildren are running around.. Good subject though one I was interested to see points of view on.

julie haffenden
Margie Watkins

I have 2 GCC and 2 Suns. I think the decision of “Outside Cage Living” depends on too many variables. Everyone’s home, working hours and bird/owner personalities/ relationships are different. For me, my birds are out as much as possible with supervision only. Why risk it? The loss or injury to my birds are not worth it. My flock are smaller sized and more easily wedged or overlooked. My other pets and family members play a part in the birds safety. Who knows what or where things are left lying around. I can let out my birds and have the fans off and commode seats down. I turn around and the fans are on and seats left up. Nope, for me and my situation, safety is a factor. I didn’t get my birds until after retirement, so I’m home with them the majority of the time. Why did the guy have the wings so close clipped though?

Margie Watkins
Carol

My Blue and Gold Macaw has a nice large cage that he considers home – he knows where the food dishes are! But he gets bored easily. So I open the cage door during some part of the day and he enjoys housekeeping with me. His favorite chores are the laundry and cleaning the kitchen. He also likes to vacuum. I don’t restrict him, albeit he would rather be on my shoulder than any place else. His cage is in his own room and he seems happy and content with this arrangement. I wouldn’t leave him loose in the house without supervision, on the other hand I wouldn’t keep him couped up in a cage for life, that would just be too sad. So, I think we have reached a happy medium for us both,

Carol
Darlene

My Calico Macaw is never caged and it’s been 5 yrs. For some reason he didn’t like being caged, I had a hard time getting him in so when i would see him go in to eat or drink that’s when I would close the door but it got so when he was out he wouldn’t go back in to eat or drink. He’s a good bird only goes to his stand and cage and He does go in his cage to eat and drink now but it took months for him to feel comfortable . My other birds are caged cause I wouldn’t have a house left…lol

Darlene
Anna-Marie Groenewald

mY Indian ringneck flies free in my home most of the time, but when I go out for a short time, I lock him in the kitchen where there is water, fruit an lots of thing to playwith. For longer periods he gets not only caged, but locked in a room to protect him from cats. My cats are used to him but here are a lot o strays. He sometimes fly out accidently and will sit very high in the jacaranda tree,and sometimes in the neighbours garden, but he always come back and then has a lot to say about all his adventures! He is now 10 yearw old.

Anna-Marie Groenewald
Paul New

hi,my sun conure Rusty is now 13..he sleeps with me for 12 years.i am ever so careful as i read your article on having you bird sleep in your bed…RUsty has a big cage in from of a t box on a gold course.He enjoys watching.he gets a ley when the grass cutter comes by but thats just the sound of the engine,he is like that when i vacumne..I do leave him out when gone.he seems to wonder when i’m home because he feels secure that i’m there..he has his big cgae but he has a cute little cottage type cage thats where he sleeps when i’m gone of he is tired while i watch tv..he loves that cage..when i clean the cages he watches every move i make when i get into his haven,the small cage..making sure i don’t change a thing..lol..i agree with what your saying but i’m home most of the day and i don’t feel he wanders when i’m gone..to do that it seems to me only if i’m there will he wander..i keep all the electrical stuff covered very well..i did notice int the bedroom he was tring to get to the cord..so i coverd that well but i do know he would if he could..they just like to bite stuff..need to buy him some safe wood to chew on..i have about 6 shirts that i call rusty shirts as they all have holes from him..he loves to get into my shirt and peek over the top as i walk around..but he loves to chew holes in my old shirts which i wear when i’m home..last week he spoke for the firstt time.he loves unsalted ritz crackers and i gave him one and said i love you.he looked up and clear as a bell and said i love you..wow..maybe he knows more and has been hiding his talent..lol..love your site and thank you…

Paul New
Eileen Forbes, Ont

I have 2 cockatiels, both are caged. Since I work from home, they are allowed out When I am around. They are caged when I am working, because they like to get on top of my cub bard and tear all of the wall paper off. At night the go inside of there cage and squawk until I cover them up for the night. Next morning they come out and play,

Eileen Forbes, Ont
CHRIS

I currently have a 38 year old Red-Lored Amazon. Bibi has a cage that opens on the top and I leave it open all the time, even when we aren’t home. She is very sedate in her activities esxcept when someopne arrives and she goes outside unharnessed and will sit on a perch for hours in the shade. It really is a case by case thing though. I should also mention that I have had 2 other birds over the years that were uncaged, one a parakeet and she flew outside several times following me but flew back in when I called her. The last time se did this she got cauught in the wind and flew around and around the house going ever higher and higher until she was blown away. It was a sad thing to watch as she was trying to return but couldn’t figure out how to get away from the wind. I lived in S. America where I had a Yellow naped Amazon named Pepper. She lived in a Hibiscus bush in our front yeard for several years. Every morning she would sit with me while I had my morning coffee in the sun and would like to have a sip of it as well. I came back for a visit to the states one year and she got so upset she flew away. Needless to say, I was sad when I returned and my wife told me what had happened but at least I knew she was free to fly with her own flock again.

CHRIS
Anthony

when I used to let my umbrella cockatoo roam free unsupervised, he would destroy virtually anything, including baseboards, chairs, and light switches.

Anthony
Barbara Lynch

I need to resurface and paint my birds outside cage but I am not sure if I can use Rust-O-lium? Can you recommend one I can use?

Barbara Lynch
Nilda

I have a makaw since he was 6 month old and he is 5 yrs now…i let him out when im there to supervised him. otherwise he love breaking stuff. like his perch, the walls..no…no..i have to watch him. so, i do let him out only when im around….Nilda—-

Nilda
Marilyn

My B&G is 30 years old. He has a very large cage in the atrium which is full of plants and a small waterfall. He comes out with me in the AM to the kitchen on a free standing perch near a sunny window. He likes to have his breakfast there and play awhile, but when he gets tired of that (about 3 hours) he lets me know he wants back to his cage, which is locked. At his age, he likes to take his naps in his private “house”. I have 2 cats that do not pay any attention to him. In fact, in the evenings when we have our cuddle time on the sofa, the cats come and lay next to him. He has escaped from his cage and when he does, he goes to the nearest chair and sits on the back and waits for me to find him.

Marilyn
michael and cookie

Its a bad idea. People like to think that they’re pets are not animals and treat them like people. They are animals and letting your parrot roam around while your home or not itsn’t doing it any favvors. Gives them something to do but is aking for a rush to the vet. A cage isn’t a bad thing. I’ve seen dogs go to their cages to get away from children who wanted to pet it and keep petting it People see a cage as a bad thing, treating their pet like some kind of animal, which is what they are, an animal. We wouldn’t like living in a cage, but really we do only we call it home, samething as a cage and a cage is their home in our home, they don’t know the diffreance. Animals will adapt if they have to but that doesn’t mean they like it. Once I had Cookies cage outside drying after a wash and garbage came by and took it. I had to put Cookie on a t stand for a few days till I got another cage. She kept looking up all the time looking for the rest of her cage. Cage free? I have to give that a big NO. For the parrot than never had a cage, I would do the samething, it will adapt. Its a matter of danger. And for people that do let their parrot roam around, best keep the car with a full tank at all times so you won’t have to stop off and fill up oin your way to the vet.

michael and cookie
rosemary

In our other home, my bfa had free reign- I closed his cage door at night only. He never chewed woodwork, dropped on the carpet, or chewed furniture. We let him be out unsupervised always. Since we moved, however, he requires supervision…our current home is all wood and plaster. Too much parrot temptation. He has many hours of supervised out of cage time…but he has to be watched now, because something changed- maybe the move, maybe all the tempting wood. :D

rosemary
Joy

My Goffin insists on sleeping inside his cage with a black sheet covering it completely. Believe me he lets you know if you left a hole somewhere. And he goes in his cage and watches cartoons if I leave. We left him out once when we went to the neighbors house and ended up getting stuck longer than planned by chatty neighbors. When we got back he had destroyed the curtains. But if he can figure out how to break out himself we come home to him sitting on his cage calling us to see how clever he was but no damage. He has his own rules. But his cage makes him feel secure at those key times and he insists on it.

Joy
Trevor

I love the idea But i love my bird more. Birds may love chocolate but we dont give them choclate to keep them healthy. Just as birds may like to be out of their “cage” but too many things could happen. My bird stays in his cage when im not around, but anytime im home i let him out. Recently. My friend was watching him outside of his cage while i ran an arrend. I didnt want to have to put him up and when i got home. She said your bird started a fire. He had dropped something metal onto a lightbulb in a lamp it busted and i guess caught flame. Luckily my friend took care of it, but had the bird just been cage free and my friend not there, theres a slight chance the bird wouldnt have a cage or even a house, maybe not even his own feathers. A bird room would be very cool i think though. May affect your birds behavior if you ever wanted to travel with him and had to put him in a smaller cage. But i do love the idea of a bird room. Or even a latge outdoor aviary.

Trevor
Derek Turpin

My old friend Smokey was never caged(African Grey ) he never destroyed anything ,sadly passed away . My little one s that are still with me are also never forcibly caged , the cage door is open they go to feed from there but thats about it at night they sleep on my Curtain Rail in the Front room, acage should only be used if you are away for a prolonged time but even then I get someone to sit with mine who are Very inquisitive ! If I do go out which is very rarely I put a DVD of Parrots doing different things on repeat and have come home to see them either sitting in front of tv or playing normally they do chew but only on boxes left for them to chew my Bluey even opens the feed bin and helps his little pal rosie raid the treats (he is always on his stand when I walk in looking very innocent) Birds are like children they know how to use a situation to their benefit and will be mischevious if you do not keep them occupied and interested in their surroundings needless to say I am against clipping and cages !

Derek Turpin

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