Q: Yesterday I was in a parrot shop and the owner suggested that there are actually preferable ways to layout a birds cage. Is this true?
– Michelle Rae & Cheeky
A: There are definitely preferred ways to set up your bird’s cage and there are many considerations to take into account. The most important aspects of your bird’s inside-the-cage environment are safety, security, opportunities for physical activity and the provision of engaging mental stimulation for periods of confinement. A cage should never be set up to suit the aesthetic wants of the owner. It must provide for your bird’s needs factoring in the following:
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STIMULATION:
I find one of the hardest things to communicate to a soft-hearted bird owner is that, as much as we want to make life the ultimate in comfort and ease for our companion parrots, it is not a good idea.
I have asked many people to go outside and witness the activity levels of the wild birds in their yards. Birds are seldom still. They are hopping and climbing from branch to branch even when it seems without purpose. Whether they are flying, playing or foraging, they are in perpetual motion. We have to provide for and encourage this same level of activity for our birds inside (and out of) their cages.
For this reason, if you have a parrot that has a favorite perching spot and rarely ventures to the other side of the cage, you will want to put his food and entertainment in a spot where he must climb or fly to it. If the built in feeding stations in the cage don’t allow for this, get dishes from the pet store that attach to the cage bars and allow placement where it will most benefit your bird. Any trainer will assure you that birds enjoy working for their meals.
Try to remember, also, that there doesn’t need to be a perch near every destination spot in his cage. I try to place some favored toys in areas that are difficult to get to with the idea of increasing the physical challenge. Once there, your bird will need to grasp of the bars in order to play with the toy, all the while stretching and reaching. Your bird will not think you are mean and inconsiderate if you do this. In fact, this challenge will be a source of mental stimulation for your bird as well as helping to keep him physically fit. Convenience breeds laziness.
If you have a handicapped or geriatric bird, cage perching can be placed in a way that encourages activity at a different level. A friend who takes handicapped birds into her rescue builds padded ramps and other clever devices that keep the birds moving and striving towards some goal.
Toys and perches should be placed keeping in mind your bird’s wingspan. Caged birds often flap their wings vigorously inside their cages as a form of exercise and to expend excess energy. Some smaller birds will fly from location to location in their cages. There should be spaciousness inside the cage allowing this activity without there being a concern for injury.
Bird cages, in general, are not well designed. Most cages are taller than they are wide, and since birds typically prefer higher perching, there is a great deal of wasted space toward the bottom.Try to utilize this space by bringing preferred toys and foods to lower levels. Climbing is great exercise.
I hope it goes without saying that EVERYTHING that goes into your bird’s cage should be investigated from a safety standpoint. If it looks like it might pose a danger, it does.
The cage is your bird’s home. Unfortunately, it is wide open on all sides, providing little privacy and virtually no hiding places for a prey animal. Think about that. A creature that has the innate understanding that he is considered lunch by another creature will have the tendency to be in high alert mode always. Some birds take this more seriously than others. For those in my flock that might overreact to the goings on in the house, I provide a place for them to retreat to when they feel stressed. This can be in a covered corner of the cage or behind a large toy. It’s up to you to understand your particular bird’s needs in that area.
The locking mechanism on my quaker’s feeder doors no longer work. In order to avoid an escape, I have chained them shut (which has actually opened up some cool toy hanging possibilities). Quakers are notoriously known for their cage territorialism, especially during the spring and fall. This means that I run the risk of being nipped when I reach into the cage, even when delivering the yummiest treats. I have placed a food bowl on the inside of the door so that I can open the door and put the bowl in the ring from outside the cage. This has saved us both a lot of aggravation.
With that same idea in mind, people that have trouble retrieving their birds from the cage might consider putting a perch on the door. The bird can be targeted to the perch and the door opened, so that the step up will actually take place outside of the cage.
Finally, common sense will tell you not to place a perch above anything you do not want to be soiled, such as food and water dishes or toys that cannot be washed, such as shredders.
You can always tell where your bird’s favorite settling spots are. They will always right above the biggest piles of poop. Try to lure your bird away from these places with fun activities and food. Make sure the path to these things requires climbing or flight. Humans are not the only species to get lazy and overweight! Your bird will be much healthier as his activities increase and his time will be better occupied.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.