Q: Are we supposed to cover our bird’s cage at night?
-Pam G., Birmingham, AL
A: To cover, or not to, is an individual choice. I know many bird owners and they all have their preference and their own reasons for them. For instance, Jamie and Dave do not cover their birds at night, opting for the more natural “sunrise to sunset” daily schedule for them. Since their birds spend a great deal of the year in outdoor aviaries, that is the most logical course of action for them.
My birds are indoor dwellers and I choose to cover them at night. This decision started out being based on my schedule years back which had me up later at night than many people. Uncovered birds have the tendency to rise with the sun – something I looked to avoid when I was younger.
Even as my schedule has changed as I have gotten older and found an appreciation for the early morning hours, I continue to cover my birds. I feel that they sleep more securely in the privacy of their covered cage. That is doubly true of my cockatiels who suffer from occasional night frights. They don’t like things that go bump in the night and the cage cover tucks them safely away from such things.
However, for those who choose to cover at night, it is important to be aware that doing so can cause respiratory problems if not done correctly. Even for such a simple action as covering a bird cage, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Birds are dusty creatures and they need availability to fresh air all night. (This is particularly true of the macaw species which are prone to respiratory issues.)
DO use single layer, light-weight, breathable fabric. I usually use a fabric that is a cotton blend like broadcloth or just bed sheets. I have always found that my birds sleep as well under light colored fabric as they do under dark colors.
DO only cover 3 sides of the large cages or take extra measures to provide for ventilation when covering all sides. (see covering tips below)
DO pull the cage out from the wall at night about 6 inches. This allows for extra air flow.
Do keep the cage cover clean and dust free.
DO NOT expect your cage to cover to eliminate the sound of conversation or the TV. Birds require a minimum of 8 hours or undisturbed sleep each night. If your bird lives in the main area of your house, read THIS ARTICLE for suggestions on what you can do to guarantee your bird a good night’s sleep.
DO NOT cover your bird as punishment or to stop them from screaming. This practice does not correct behavior problems. It might make life temporarily easier for YOU, but it makes life worse for your bird. Punishment does not work on birds. Please read THIS ARTICLE.
DO NOT leave your bird covered so that you can avoid interacting with him. Your bird’s cage cover should ONLY be used during sleeping hours. A cage cover is not a light switch that turns your relationship with your bird off and on at your convenience.
No matter which season it is or what the climate is like where you live, the best cage covers are made from cotton or a cotton blend. I generally use every day cotton blend bed sheets on my smaller cages (don’t waste your money on expensive ones that have a high thread count). I go to the fabric store to get longer lengths of material to customize to the big cages.
For large cages:
Covering a large every night can be a real pain so I have devised a way to keep the cover mostly in place during the day – but tucked out of the way so all sides are still open.
- Measure the cage from the floor on side, over the top and down to the floor on the other side. For ventilation purposes, you don’t want the fabric draping on the floor, but there will be some shrinkage when you wash the cover, so this initial measurement works out perfectly.
- Buy some clamps at the hardware store (they are inexpensive) – I use 2 per cage, 3 perhaps for dome tops. I peel the soft plastic grips from tips because if I don’t, my birds will.
- Spread the long piece of fabric you had cut to size over top and evenly down the sides. I use a bed sheet to cover the front.
- Clamp both pieces of material together on both sides of the front of the cage. Pull the edges of the front panel around the sides of the cage to fully cover the front. Now the only open side of the cage is in back.
- To uncover the cage, flip the front panel over the top and off to one side. Push those panels together to the back of the cage and do the same with the other side panel. Only the top will remain covered during the day and it makes covering the cage at night a very simple procedure.
For the smaller cages:
I drop a bed sheet over the top. However, this covers all sides and blocks air flow. I use 2 or 3 clamps, like the ones used above to “tent” the fabric away from the sides to allow air in from underneath (as demonstrated below).
Always consider safety!
Finally, when making your decision as to whether to cover or not, always take into account that cage covers are made up of fabric which is made up of individual threads. Some birds like to play with fabric and break it down and pull it apart. This leaves fibers that can entwine themselves around body parts. There are also birds who ingest these fibers which can become impacted in their digestive system.
This is a situation where you need to know YOUR bird and his likelihood of getting into trouble with a cage cover. Only 1 of my 5 birds shows this level of interest in his cage cover and he will tear a spy hole in any area of the cover where he feels he needs to peer out from. But he doesn’t fray the fabric in a dangerous way and he has never shown himself to be one to eat non-food items. I still choose to keep him covered at night.
As I mentioned before, it is an individual choice to cover, or not. But you should enter into everything you do knowing the possibilities – both good and bad, so you can make an informed decision on your bird’s behalf.Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.