Your Bird’s Home

Types of Birdcages

Eclectus in cageChoosing a birdcage is as important for your bird as choosing a home is for your family. Your bird’s housing, like your home, should be safe, comfortable, spacious, and have room for plenty of “amenities,” like perches, food cups, and toys. Here are the various types of cages that you will see available on the market:

  • Stainless Steel The stainless used in most bird cages is called “medical grade” and sometimes “marine grade,” but most often it’s “304” grade — the same type of stainless used for cookware and utensils. This grade of stainless is nontoxic and highly rust-resistant. The beauty of stainless, other than its stunning appearance, is that it is very easy to clean because you don’t have to worry about chipping paint. You can use a putty knife to scrape off dried organic materials.
  • Powder Coated Powder-coated cages are also steel, but not as high a grade as stainless. The paint on a powder-coated cage is sprayed on as a powder, and then baked onto the steel under high temperatures, making it very durable. Most good-quality, powder-coated cages can last many years without the worry of chipping or rust. Also, it would take a very determined bird to actually chip the paint, but it can happen.
  • Wrought Iron Wrought iron cages used to be the fashion years ago for housing larger birds. Today, powder-coated cages have largely replaced them, but wrought-iron cages still come out of Mexico and South America. The problem with wrought iron is that the paint used may be suspect. It could contain toxic materials, and many wrought-iron cages have decorative scrollwork, which isn’t safe.
  • Metal/Plastic Cages for smaller birds are often a combination of a plastic base and metal bars, and they usually break down into smaller parts for easy cleaning. Some are painted with a pliable paint that easily chips. These cages are fine for smaller birds that don’t nibble at the paint, but make sure that the cage is large enough for the bird to get adequate exercise.
  • Ornate Stay away from very ornate, decorative cages that have a lot of scrollwork or bars that taper closed. These can be very dangerous.
  • Wooden Wooden cages have been used for a long time for finches or canaries, and though they’re pretty, they can also retain moisture, parasites and bacteria, and they are difficult to clean. Fancy wooden/acrylic cages that look like furniture are nice, though expensive, and it is important to make sure that a cage like this has adequate ventilation.
  • Acrylic Acrylic cages are pricey, but they offer the advantage of being able to see the bird more clearly, and they keep mess and noise at bay. However, cages made entirely from acrylic don’t allow for much ventilation and don’t have bars for the bird to climb on unless the cage is made in combination with metal or acrylic bars.

Choosing A Properly Sized Birdcage

A bird should always have the largest housing possible. Ideally, a bird should be able to fly within his housing, especially if he isn’t ever allowed out of the cage. Small cages are great to have on hand for traveling or as a sleep cage, but your bird’s home should be as large as your space and budget can afford.

For smaller birds, choose a cage that is longer than it is tall. Birds aren’t helicopters! Small birds, such as budgies, canaries and lovebirds should be fine in a cage that’s at least 36 inches by 24 inches by 24 inches, but larger is better. Finches, though small, actually need quite large housing, so consider an aviary or large flight cage for even the smallest birds. Also, choose a square or rectangular cage with a horizontal landscape (rather than vertical). Many birds like to sleep in a corner of the cage.

It’s not always practical to have a large or even a medium-sized bird in a cage where he can fly. You would need housing the size of an entire room to allow a macaw or an African grey to pick up some flight speed. So, larger birds need a spacious area to climb around in, with the addition of a playstand or hanging rope play areas. Larger birds need a lot of exercise, so don’t scrimp on space.

Choosing A Safe, Well-Designed Birdcage

conure climbing on cageNot all cages are created equal, and not all are created with the bird’s safety in mind, so you should give each cage you consider a safety once-over to make sure that your bird won’t become injured, or worse.

  • Welds The welds on the cage should be smooth and polished, not rough, and they should be sturdy. Some cages have “punch through” construction where the bars are punched though thicker pieces of metal. These types of cages are great for birds that are rough on their cages, because it’s much easier to break welded bars than it is to break punched-though bars.
  • Cage Bar Spacing Make sure that the spacing between bars is suitable for your bird’s size. The bird should not be able to place his head between the cage bars, as this can lead to serious injury or suffocation if his head becomes stuck between the bars.
  • Feeding Areas Ideally, feeding and watering areas are in the top third of the housing area, no lower than the middle of the cage. If the cage you like has feeding areas at the bottom, you will have to purchase new bowls or feeders to place higher up in the cage.
  • Doors Doors should either open from the side (like your front door), slide back and forth (like a sliding glass door), or lower down like a drawbridge. Avoid “guillotine” style doors – a smart bird can raise and lower this type of door and get his head caught, or even escape.
  • Locks Larger birds should have locking doors, and the locks should be escape proof.
  • Sharp Areas Check the entire cage, especially the inside areas, for sharp places where the bird could get hurt.
  • Sturdiness Is the cage sturdy in general? A flimsy cage is a danger for your bird and a waste of money for you.

Birdcage Accessories: Perches

Your bird is on his feet 24 hours a day; after all, most birds don’t rest in a prone position (though there are some birds that scare their owners by sleeping upside-down!). A bird’s foot heath is critical to his over-all health because a bird relies so much on his feet. One of the most important aspects to foot health is keeping perches clean. Dirty perches can lead to foot infections. Another critical aspect is perch diameter and material. Your pet bird should have a variety of perches; just like you having a variety of shoes. If you wear the same pair of shoes every day, you are more likely to suffer some foot issues. It’s the same for your bird. Here are some good choices in perches:

  • Wooden There are quite a few types of perches beyond the smooth wooden dowel. You can try manzanita, cow wood, cholla, and many other varieties of hard woods. Also, if you have fresh citrus trees nearby, you can use clean branches, but make sure they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.
  • Plastic Plastic isn’t the best material for bird perches, but including one textured plastic perch in the cage is fine.
  • Concrete or Sand “Pedicure” perches are often a favorite in a cage full of perches. Birds seem to like to sleep on these types of textured perches, so put one in a high spot in your bird’s cage. Make sure to clean these perches often.
  • Rope Rope perches are okay for birds that don’t shred them and create strings; loose strings pose a strangulation hazard, and they can also wind around a foot or toe, causing the bird to panic. Also, make sure that your bird isn’t ingesting any of the fibers, because this can be deadly.
  • Orthopedic These perches are oddly shaped so that the bird uses all of his foot muscles on one perch.

Birdcage Accessories: Toys

lovebird on perch by toyToys are as important for pet birds as they are for kids. A wild parrot is constantly active, but a captive parrot doesn’t have quite as much to do as his wild counterparts. This can lead a companion bird to find new things to do, like pluck his feathers, destroy his cage or scream like a maniac for seemingly no reason. But there is a reason for these things — the bird is bored. Rather than let your bird discover his own ways of entertaining himself, offer him a variety of toys that he can use to get out some of his avian energy. Here are a few of the types of toys available that most parrots find entertaining:

  • Puzzle/Foraging Puzzle and foraging toys are popular these days. These types of bird toys make your bird “work for food.” Most include places where you can include food or nuts and your bird has to figure out how to remove the goodies. This gives your bird a bit of a psychological and physical challenge, which is great for his mental health.
  • Wooden Wooden toys are wonderful for parrots that like to chew and destroy. Make sure that all colored wood is dyed with nontoxic coloring, and replace wooden toys when they become worn.
  • Rope Rope toys should be made from soft cotton rope. In the past, some rope toys have posed a strangulation hazard, but they are being made better these days. Watch your bird to make sure he is not ingesting the rope fibers; if so, remove the toy. Trim long strands as they appear.
  • Plastic Plastic toys are fine for smaller birds that can’t break them. Larger birds need harder plastic. Some toy manufacturers are working with bulletproof plastics, which is great for larger, destructive parrots, like macaws, cockatoos and Amazon parrots. Acrylic toys are nice too because they don’t break easily.
  • Huts Some birds love huts and tents, but these should be used only with supervision. Birds can ingest the fabric or create holes which turn into a strangulation hazard.
  • Plush Toys Plush toys for birds have been around for the past few years. These are very cute, but there is a risk that the bird will preen or destroy the toy and ingest some of the fibers, which can be very dangerous.
  • Preening Toys Preening toys are often made of feathers or shredded rope. These are great toys for single birds and pet birds that have feather plucking or chewing issues.
  • Foot Toys These are toys that aren’t attached to the cage; instead, they are usually toys small enough for a parrot to hold them in one foot, or for a smaller bird to roll around.

Birdcage Accessories: Cups

lovebirds by food dishes in cageSome larger pet bird cages come with stainless-steel or locking cups, which are fine for everyday use, but if your bird cage came with only a couple of plastic dishes, you will want to invest in something a little sturdier. Plastic gets scratched easily, and bacteria can grow in the crevices. Also, these types of cups aren’t as large as your bird may require. Instead, choose stainless-steel cups, and purchase two sets so that you can disinfect one set while the other is in use. It’s fine to use ceramic or plastic, as long as you inspect the cups weekly for chips or scratches, and replace them as they become worn.

To disinfect your bird’s food cups, make a solution of 90% water and 10% bleach, and soak the cups in it for about 10 minutes. Use a sponge to wipe the cup inside and out, and then dry it, or let it air dry. If you have the types of bird food cups that can go into the dishwasher, that’s a great cleaning method as well, as long as the dishwasher is placed on the hottest setting.

If your pet bird  likes to dump food from the cups or scratch all the food out of them, try locking or hooded cups. For wet foods, use a separate stainless-steel cup; some of the fruits you may serve have a high-acid content and can degrade a cup made from another material.

Birdcage Accessories: Lighting

African grey in cageIf you live in the north or your bird doesn’t receive any natural sunshine, you will need to offer artificial lighting. Lighting isn’t a luxury; your bird needs the proper lighting for his overall well-being.

All parrots, with the exception of Amazon parrots and the large blue macaws (such as the hyacinth macaw), have a uropygial gland (your-row-PIG-e-ul) at the base of their tail feathers that secrets oil used for preening. This oil waterproofs the bird, but it also provides the bird with much needed Vitamin D3 — but it does so in a very strange way! The bird uses his beak to spread the oil throughout the feathers, and when sunlight (or full-spectrum artificial light) hits the feathers, the chemistry of the oil changes into a usable form of D3. As the bird preens, he ingests this oil, and becomes nourished. So, if your bird doesn’t have direct contact to full-spectrum lighting, he can become vitamin deficient, which can lead to a variety of illnesses.

Your bird needs lighting for another reason as well. Birds are “photosensitive,” meaning that their inner biological clocks are attuned to how much light they receive a day. When the sunlight becomes longer in the spring, many birds go into breeding mode, and then stop when the light becomes shorter in the fall (the exception may be species native to regions along the equator). So, if your pet bird is laying too many eggs or becomes “hormonal” and aggressive in the spring, you can adjust the breeding behavior by simply cutting back an hour or two on the amount of light your bird gets daily.

Your local pet retailer or online store will have bulbs and lamps labeled for birds. If you can’t find them, most full-spectrum reptile bulbs will work, too. Just be sure that the bird receives the light directly, not through glass or plastic. Ideally, the pet bird lighting should come from above.

Birdcage Accessories: Bird Cage Covers

Covering the cage at night isn’t necessary, but it is regularly done for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the bird’s owner wants to sleep a little later in the morning, but the bird is up at dawn. Perhaps the room where the bird lives is drafty at night, or the bird is calmer when covered in the evening. Covering the bird cage becomes a nighttime ritual for the bird, and he will expect the cover at a certain time every evening, so it’s a good idea to make the decision to cover or not, and stick with it rather than covering the cage every now and then. But don’t worry if you’ve had your bird for a while and then decide to cover it at night. You can start any time, just be consistent.

You can purchase a cage cover that fits your bird’s cage snugly, or simply use a dark sheet or blanket. Be careful if you use a loose cover; birds can easily chew holes through the sheet, which can create a strangulation hazard.

If your pet bird has night frights and thrashes around in the cage at night when the cage covered, consider that Birdie might be afraid of the dark. You don’t have to cover the cage in its entirety. Using a nightlight in a dark room can often help with night frights. However, night frights can occur when the bird sees something moving in the darkness;this bird might benefit from a cover.

Birdcage Accessories: Seed Guards & Bloomers

There’s no debate — pet birds are messy. Many bird cages come with a seed skirt, which does a good job of catching debris. If your bird cage didn’t come with one, you may be able to find one sold separately, or you can use a cage bloomer, though these don’t work quite as well. Here are a few tips that seasoned bird owners use to keep their floors clean:

  • Put a plastic chair mat under the bird cage; you can get one at any office supply store.
  • Put a shag rug under the cage. This should hold and collect all the debris, but you’ll have to wash it every few days.
  • Keep a broom and dustpan near the cage or, better yet, keep a handheld electric vacuum charged and ready to use.
  • If your pet bird likes to toss everything out of his food cup, try a cup that’s attached to the end of a perch that extends into the middle of the bird cage. This way, the food falls inside the cage, not out of it.
  • Upgrade to a bird cage with a solid door to the feeding cups.
  • Try hooded cups, though make sure that your bird is eating from them – some birds are reluctant to eat or drink from a hooded cup. If this is the case, try a cup with a clear hood.

Setting Up The Bird Cage

Amazon parrot in cageThe way a bird cage is set up in a photo or in the pet shop probably isn’t the way you should set up the cage, so don’t use that as a definitive guide. Here’s a checklist for your cage setup:

  • If you have to build your bird’s cage, make sure that all parts are put together carefully and that the cage is sturdy.
  • Place perches in the cage; a pedicure perch should be placed highest in the cage, then a wooden perch in the middle of the cage, and an orthopedic or uneven-shaped wooden perch leading to the food and water cups. If the bird cage is larger, you can add more perches. Do not place perches over each other, or they will become soiled with bird droppings.
  • Place cups inside the bird cage at mid-level or higher. Do not place any perches over the cups!
  • Add enough of toys so that your bird has plenty to do, but don’t overcrowd the cage. Keep bird toys away from your bird’s food and water cups. Try to place bird toys where your bird can reach them from a perch.
  • Put newspaper or bird cage liner in the cage’s tray, and make sure that the grate is properly installed.
  • Install seed skirts (if you have them).
  • Fill the cups with bird food and water.
  • Stand back and look at the cage and all of its elements. Does it look like your bird can get to the food and water dishes easily? Is there enough room for your pet bird to move around?
  • Add your bird, and watch as he gets used to the cage. If Birdie eats and drinks and plays with the toys, then you’ve succeeded!

Birdcage Placement

Where you place the bird cage is critical to your pet bird’s overall health and well being, especially his mental health. Pet birds can become very bored and lonely if they’re not in the right spot in the home. Most companion birds like to be in the center of family life. Here’s your bird cage placement checklist:

  • A family room or television room is a great place to have the cage. Any place where there’s a lot of traffic, but not swiftly moving traffic, like a hallway, is ideal.
  • A corner of the room is best. Pet birds like the security of the walls and prefer not to be out in the open where they feel unprotected. If you can’t find a corner, then having the back of the cage against the wall is fine.
  • Make sure the cage location isn’t drafty.
  • Don’t put the bird cage directly against a window. There are plenty of things outside that can scare a pet bird.
  • Keeping a bird on a porch isn’t a good idea, unless he is very protected. Pet birds housed outdoors are often targets for thieves and vulnerable to predators, such as birds of prey, raccoons and cats. .
  • Keep the cage as high off of the floor as possible. Small birds can be especially insecure close to the ground. Birds in general prefer a high place so they have a “bird’s eye view” of their surroundings.

Aviaries

lory in aviaryAn aviary is a large cage where pet birds can fly. Usually, aviaries are planted and are “natural” looking, perhaps with running water. An aviary is wonderful housing option for birds. You don’t need a lot of space to have an aviary. A corner of a patio or a spot next to the house in the backyard will do. Unless you’re handy, you’ll probably need a carpenter to build the aviary, though there are some commercially prepared walk-in aviaries for sale.

Choose a spot that’s not going to get direct sunlight all day. Morning light is better than afternoon light because it is cooler in the mornings. Your aviary should have a solid roof and one solid side to protect the birds from the weather. Aviaries in colder climates often have an enclosed heated area for the birds to retreat to.

The aviary walls should be double-wired — one layer of wire over another, with a space in-between. This will prevent predators from getting to your birds. The aviary should also have a safety entry; you enter a door into a small space, close that door, and then enter the door to the aviary. This prevents the birds from flying away. Aviary doors should be padlocked at all times to prevent theft (unless you have a really big dog!).

Air Filters

Birds have “feather dust,” which is created by the powder-down feathers that grow close to the bird’s skin. Feather dust helps to keep the bird clean and also waterproofs the feathers. But, some people are allergic to this dust. All parrots have feather dust, but the dustiest birds are cockatoos, cockatiels, African greys and Amazon parrots. If you don’t take measures to cut down on the dust and remove it from the air, you will notice fine white particles over everything in the bird’s room. This dust isn’t healthy to breathe even if you’re not allergic to it, so it’s a great idea to try to remove some of it from the air. Also, dried fecal matter can become airborne, too, which isn’t healthy to breathe, neither for you nor your birds.

HEPA filters are great for removing feather dust from the air, and they’re widely available. Place one or two of these filters in the bird’s room, and you’ll see a noticeable improvement. Don’t use “ionic” filters because these create negative ions that can actually stress the bird’s respiratory system. You can also use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to clean near the bird’s cage.

Bathing your bird regularly can help cut down on feather dust as well. Mist your bird, or  take him into the shower on a shower perch that uses suction cups to stick to the shower wall.

The Bedtime Bird Cage

Some bird owners choose to have their pet bird sleep in a smaller cage at night. Perhaps the room where the bird’s regular cage is housed has too much nighttime activity, gets too much light in the morning, or the owner doesn’t want to be woken up at the crack of dawn. Placing another cage in a back room might be warmer and cozier for the bird.

Your bird’s bedtime cage doesn’t have to be spacious, nor does it have to be filled with toys (just a few), but it does need food and water dishes. Never use your bird’s nighttime cage as “punishment” if he is too loud or bites you; this cage should be a place where your pet bird likes to go to get a good night’s sleep.

Use the same criteria that you used for your bird’s daytime cage on the nighttime cage. It should be sturdy, and the bar spacing should be appropriate for your bird. Place it in a safe, dark corner where the bird will be comfortable. Use a nightlight in the room if the bird has night frights, or if the room is simply too dark. Also, using a white noise machine on low volume isn’t a bad idea if your household is noisy after dark.

The Carrier

Every bird in your home needs his own travel carrier that’s appropriate for his size, and is durable enough to withstand even a persistent bird’s attempts at destruction. Don’t think that you can get away with having one carrier for a houseful of birds; if you ever need to evacuate or take more than one bird to the vet, you will need a carrier for each bird.

A hard-sided, airline approved carrier is best for long-distance travel, or for a pet bird that’s nervous about traveling. Bird-specific carriers usually open at the top. Or, you can choose a clear acrylic or plastic carrier for the gregarious bird that likes to see everything that’s going on. Small birds can use a “critter keeper” type carrier; just make sure that the top is well secured before leaving the house. Soft-sided carriers are okay for short trips or for docile birds that aren’t going to chew out of it.

For short trips, it’s not necessary to have a perch in the carrier, but for longer trips it’s a good idea. Place shredded newspaper at the bottom of the carrier (or bird-safe bedding), and place a rolled wash cloth or hand towel on one end. This will help the bird grip onto something if the carrier is moving a lot. Put some of the bird’s favorite food in a small dish in the carrier, and use either a small amount of water in a small dish, or a water bottle (if your bird knows how to use it). Whatever the case, your bird should always have fresh water available.

The Play Stand

Some cages come with play-top gyms, but you may want to have a play stand in another room (or several rooms) or next to the bird cage. Some bird stands are very simple, with just a perch and two cups on either end, with a debris catcher beneath it. But it’s a lot more fun for the bird to have something more complex, something he can climb around on, with places to hang bird toys. Play stands also come with orthopedic perches that are healthy for the bird’s feet.

Only leave your parrot on a play stand when you can supervise him, or if he is the type of bird that is unlikely to leave the stand (this is on an individual-by-individual basis). Of course, a loud noise or other disturbance can scare the bird, and he might fly off of the stand, so use your best judgment. Always provide the bird with food and water on the play stand and don’t skimp on the toys!

Cleaning Your Bird’s Cage

budgie parakeet in cageCleaning your bird’s cage is a daunting chore if you wait too long to clean it. Servicing the cage infrequently leads to a crusty, nasty cage! There are a few simple things you can do every day (and every week) to make bird cage cleaning a breeze.

  1. Change the paper every day or every other day. If you wait too long, there will be too much debris at the bottom of the bird cage, and moisture can cause fungus to grow, which is very dangerous for birds. If you have more than one cage, clean just one cage a day until all of them are clean, and then start over; rotate paper changes.
  2. Clean and disinfect coop cups every day for each bird cage.
  3. Clean one perch a day by removing it, washing it in hot, soapy water, and drying it thoroughly. If you do this, your bird’s perches will always be clean!
  4. Inspect all bird toys every day for wear and tear, and clean them when they are soiled.
  5. Remove, scrape, and wash the cage grate once a week.
  6. Clean the cage skirts once a week.
  7. Wipe down one side of the bird cage every day.
  8. Once a month (or more frequently if you have time) take the cage outside, and hose it down or pressure clean it. Make sure to dry it thoroughly before you put your bird back into it.

Don’t use chemical cleaning solutions to clean your bird’s cage. Instead, use baking powder as an abrasive scrubber if you need it, and use a 9-parts water to 1-part bleach solution to disinfect the bird cage and its parts. Don’t forget to rinse the cage thoroughly.

Keep Pests Out Of Your Bird’s Cage

There are a few pests that plague birds and pet bird owners. Some are just annoying, and some can be deadly for birds. Here’s a rundown:

  1. Mites There are several types of mites that occur on or around companion birds. One common mite is the “scaly face mite,” which causes a crusty, scaly appearance on the face and legs, usually in budgies and canaries. These mites are dealt with using medication obtained from your avian vet. “Red mites” occur mainly in outdoor aviaries and unclean cages, and they feed on the bird at night, causing restlessness and itching, and then the mites hide during the day, so they aren’t easy to spot. They can be eliminated over time by using a safe insecticide (get recommendations from your avian vet) and by keeping the bird’s area very clean. Airs-ac mites are found usually in canaries and some finches, and live in the bird’s respiratory system. If the mite population is very high, it will prevent the bird from breathing. If you hear a clicking noise when your bird breathes and you notice him coughing a lot, he might have air-sac mites. Infection from these mites requires immediate veterinary attention.
  2. Fruit Flies These pesky little flies don’t harm anything, they are just annoying, and they can multiply into dizzying flocks if you don’t take measures to get rid of them. First, eliminate fruit and sweet vegetables from your bird’s diet until you see the last of the flies. Second, fill up a long-necked bottle, like a wine bottle, with about an inch of orange juice. The flies will go in and drown because they can’t get out.
  3. Seed Moths Again, these pests aren’t harmful, just annoying. They feed on your bird’s seed and make it “webby,” a good indication that you have them. They lay their eggs in the seed and then the larvae grows in it; these are the little “worms” you may see in your seed. Then, the larvae turn into moths, which can take over your whole home! There’s an easy way to get rid of them; freeze all of your bird seed for at least a couple of days. This kills the larvae. Place all  bird seed in seal-tight containers so that the adult moths can’t get into it. Keep your bird’s cage very clean, and remove seed at night. There are hormone traps made to catch these moths, but those don’t work as well as a vacuum cleaner.