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.
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.