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The History Of Bad Bird Cages

Pretty as they were, back in the day some bird cages were not designed for parrots to realistically live in them.

Chris Davis

Bird cages can still be works of art, but they should be bird-safe and bird-friendly first and foremost.

Housing for companion birds has changed profoundly. Many years ago, bird cages were designed for human convenience, without considering a bird’s needs. Most cages were just large enough to fit a bird, one perch and/or swing, and a food and water dish. Many birds spent their entire lives in those types of surroundings, devoid of much comfort or entertainment.

In time, larger bird cages were manufactured, but many were not practical. For large birds, tubular cages 7 or 8 feet in height and about 18 to 24 inches in diameter were often equipped with one perch in the center and sometimes a swing hanging from a chain affixed to the top of the cage. Often, these cages had one small door in the center or in the base. There was no way to get a stubborn bird out of one once she was inside.

Eventually, cages were designed from a more practical perspective, with accessible doors, and they were more appropriately sized for a variety of species. Even then, there were problems, such as leaded paint or solder, which could be deadly to birds. Some cages were designed with decorative touches in which toenails could become caught or had crevices that could hold dust and grime. There might also have been dangerously sharp metal edges or spurs, and untreated iron that rusted and eventually eroded in areas where moisture gathered.

Since some cages were manufactured by people who knew little of birds, other problems arose. For example, wires of macaw cages were often too fragile for the average large parrot, so people with macaws and large cockatoos became familiar with the sharp "ping” that resulted from a bar being pulled free of its soldered braces, or the "wanga, wanga, wanga” sound of two bars being popped back and forth repeatedly in a powerful beak.

Bad bird cage
Old and antique bird cages were not designed with birds in mind. Don't use them for your bird.

In homes where this had become a major source of a bird’s entertainment, people scolded their macaw or cockatoo whose head was thrust outside the cage up to her shoulders through an area where some of the bars had been removed.

Oftentimes the scolding reinforced the behavior, resulting in an interaction along the lines of, "Frankie, put your head back into your cage right now” and, "Frankie, don’t do that … Frankie, no … Frankie, I’m going to get angry with you ...,” (Frankie had no intention of obeying…that is why I, as an avian behavior consultant, was there in the first place). This was occasionally followed by the sound of a telltale "ping” as another bar broke free.

The result was a smug bird, thrilled with the attention he created and satisfied with a job he considered to be well done. The people’s feelings were, of course, diametrically opposed to his.

Want to learn more about pet bird history?

History Of Pet Bird Cages
Parrot History: Yesterday & Today

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Posted: May 5, 2014, 1:15 p.m. PDT

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