I received a message from a friend asking for help with her Galah/Rosebreasted Cockatoo’s cage setup. In short, she was struggling for inspiration and trying to deal with several problems. She wanted to know what I would do differently? She sent me a photo of the ‘bare bones’ of her cage setup. Which means that she sent me a picture of her cage without its normal arrangement of toys and foliage in order to make it easier for me to see perch placement and the basic layout.
She told me that she uses a foraging tray in the bottom of her cage and rotates her toys. What toys her bird likes one week, he won’t necessarily like the next. The bird is in good health and sees an avian vet for regular checkups. There’s no sign of self-harm or feather mutilating behaviors but she thinks the cage setup can be significantly improved to improve mental stimulation and isn’t waiting for those behaviors to develop before she does it.
Well, that all sounds pretty good to me. Toy rotation, decent vet care – they’re something a lot of birds aren’t lucky enough to have. As for the cage, it’s one of the better quality indoor cages that are available for purchase in Australia. It’s not stainless steel (they’re very hard to find here), but it is powder coated. It’s not the dangerous type of powder coating either. There are a lot of cheap, poor-quality imports available here in Australia and this cage isn’t one of them. It’s one of the largest, decent quality indoor cages available.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that her bird only uses the upper half of his cage and she’d like him to use all of it. He prefers to play with the foraging tray when it’s out of the cage and on the floor in the living room rather than when it’s in his cage. When she gets home from work, she lets him out of the cage for the evening. He becomes hyperactive, “screaming and carrying on” and “always pushing the boundary of his behavior”. It’s like he has slept all day in preparation for going crazy when he finally escapes the cage.
I thought it was an interesting situation because I’m pretty sure a lot of people could relate. Not everyone has the space or the money for a large outdoor aviary. So the reality is, a lot of birds are living in these indoor cages. I’d be willing to bet that the above situation is exactly what many people are experiencing.
The way I look at it, her problem is twofold – one part is cage setup and the other is behavioral. There are things that she can do to make more use of the space in his cage. There’s also some training that I think her galah would benefit from.
In terms of training in this situation, I’d recommend the Total Transformation course. I know her bird has already done basic trick training. I’m thinking some indoor recall flight training would really help her galah burn off some of that excess energy. It’s made a world of difference to my guys, particularly with my male galah Merlin. I used to have similar issues with him. Whenever he got out of his cage, his favourite game was: “Let’s grab and throw every household item on the ground and see if it smashes?” Unfortunately, most things do smash when thrown by a galah. It was more than a relief when flight training helped calm him down.
In terms of cage setup my overall first impression is that everything is very horizontal. These cages traditionally come with two dowel perches and I was relieved to see that they have been replaced with two natural perches. That’s great but the natural perches are in almost the same position that dowel perches are usually placed. I’ve done a previous post on perch angle, which can be found if you click here. I tend to prefer to give my birds a variety of angles to climb on. If I can turn my cage into a tree – I will. If you can, give your bird multiple ways to get somewhere because you will find. Make it so that they don’t always follow the same path across their cage.
My second impression is that the perch width is very uniform. In most of my bare bones setups I have multiple widths of perches, these range from the thickness of my little finger, to the thickness of my arm.
The next thing that I look at is the rope perches. Now I can see what she’s trying to do with these. They are being used to give different angled perches in the cage. The idea is right, but the same thing can be achieved with natural perches. The rope perches need to go because they’re dangerous. Ok, it’s possible the bird doesn’t chew them but there is a big ‘what if’ there. What if one day as a one-off he decides to try chewing them and swallows enough to block his crop? It only takes one chewing session to achieve that.
Vets are now commonly warning against rope perches and toys for this reason. What if he chews it enough to get a claw stuck? Panics? It only takes 10mins and if you’re not there to save them, the results can be fatal. It doesn’t have to be a habit, a personality thing or any of that. Your bird could easily suddenly decide to chew these with no warning just because they’re there. In this case, the upper rope perch is frayed. This bird is already chewing them – they need to go in the bin.
Rope perches do have their place. I use them in travel cages because they’re soft on the feet when the bird is stuck in one place for a long period of time. But I’m there to keep an eye on them and don’t ever leave them unattended in a travel cage with them. The only other time I’d use them is if I’m dealing with a bird that is ill and has foot issues, in other words basically if I need a soft perch. That said though, I tend to prefer to use vet-wrap (a type of bandage used by vets) and hand wrap branches for these sorts of cases. It’s much safer.
With my galahs, I usually like to hang a boing or some sort of swing at the top of their cage as they seem to really enjoy the exercise of hanging upside down and screaming their lungs out. I’m not sure that my neighbours particularly appreciate the value of this though?
The other thing that I do is mix up the bottom of my cage, so that it isn’t just a grill. My last post covered that in more detail. I suspect that one of the reasons that this bird doesn’t like going to the bottom of the cage is because (even after adding foliage) not enough is going on in the bottom half to grab his interest and make the climb down worthwhile.
I have indoor cages that are of a very similar shape and size to my friend’s cage. Admittedly, not all of my indoor cages are setup with a day’s worth of play in mind – many are sleeping cages but I thought it might be useful to do a bit of a comparison.
One thing that I do to make my birds use their whole space is to hang toys off lower branches, so that they have something to do down there. I’ve found that sometimes it is helpful to make it so that a perch does not stretch the whole length of a cage and cuts off in the middle. This allows me to attach a bracket to the perch; I can then hang toys off the bracket.
Aside from this, I’ve found that my birds really like it when I put a platform somewhere in their cage. They tend to carry things up onto it and sit there and play with them. If you’re lucky you can find bird-safe (in my case powder-coated) brackets to hold the shelf in place. I like ornate twisty ones because they allow me to hide things in screwed up rolls of paper in them, or hang things off them.
My eclectus parrot Pepi seems to like to sleep on a thicker perch that I have located in the upper corner of his cage. I think the thick, soft bark is what he likes about it. It’s very easy for him to grip, which is important if he is to feel secure on it at night. Again though, this perch does not stretch from one end of his cage to the other, it’s actually only about 30cm long.
It’s actually nice to strip the cage back to its bare bones in order to do a comparison because if I showed you a pic of how my cage looks with foliage and all its toys – you’d have trouble seeing its structure. At least until after the birds destroy all of the foliage (which at my place tends to only take a day).
The thing with cage setup, as long as you provide some sort of fresh stimulation for your bird everyday and as long as your cage is an adequate size, you can’t really go wrong. The above are some of the things that I do, but as with anything ask me next year and you’ll probably find I’ve come up with other ideas, or ask someone else and they’re doing something completely different. It’s always interesting to compare, as you can always learn something new.
There is a comments field below this post, and I’m quite keen to see what other ideas people have that they have found have worked in their cages. The more input on this – the more we all learn. What works for you?