Twenty or 25 years ago, there were only a few styles of bird cages available for sale in the United States. Since then, housing options for companion birds have changed in a big way. Exactly how? I talked with veterinarians, retailers and others in the avian community for their thoughts on the topic.
During the last 10 to 15 years, most manufacturers stopped using wrought iron and switched to metals like cold-rolled steel, stainless steel and aluminum. Of these, cages made with cold-rolled steel (known as "powder-coated” due to the powdered paint that is coated on the steel during the manufacturing process) are the most popular.
"The powder-coated cage is the cheapest, holds up fairly well and comes in a multitude of colors,” said Paul Lewis, owner of Birds Unlimited, a birds-only pet store in Rochester, N.Y. Stainless-steel and aluminum cages are more expensive, Lewis added.
An advantage of stainless-steel and aluminum cages is "there is no paint to chip or remove, and no rusting, so these cages should last for the life of the parrot,” said Donna Garrou, owner of BirdStuff, an avian-only store in Orange, Calif. "Depending on the size and destructive behavior of a particular parrot, although these cages are expensive, they may prove to be more economical over the life of the bird.”
In recent years, manufacturers have also been making cages out of acrylic and Plexiglas or Lexan thermoplastic glass.
Both rolled-steel and wire bird cages come in an array of colors: greens, blues, reds, tans, browns, beiges and on and on. The anodizing and powder-coating processes used to color bird cages have only been developed in the last decade. "Today, cage designers tap into consumer color research to choose hues that match or compliment trendy decorating colors,” said Gayle Soucek, a parrot breeder in the Chicago area and author of seven bird-care books.
Soucek believes this trend toward making bird cages "decorator friendly” has the potential advantage of "bringing more pet birds into the family’s main living space, instead of being banished to a back bedroom because of an ugly industrial-looking cage.”
Garrou likes the trend of manufacturers making their cages more horizontally oriented and wider, rather than tall, since "our pet species can’t fly upwards but rather side-to-side. Even unflighted birds do better walking back and forth across the cage.”
"People want more space for their pets to have toys, a variety of perches, multiple dishes for food and treats, and room to spread their wings,” said Julie Burge, DVM, owner of Burge Bird Services, an avian practice and bird rescue in Grandview, Mo. Manufacturers have responded by making cages that provide more space for our pet birds to flap, stretch, play and maneuver around.
Manufacturers have been designing cages that are far easier to clean. "Nowadays, nearly all bird cages have pull-out grates on the bottom of the cage,” Lewis said. "This makes it easy to change the papers, and it keeps the cage looking nice, since the birds can’t chew on the cage papers and make a big mess. Also, the grates keep birds away from their droppings and spilled food, thereby preventing exposure to molds and other disease-causing organisms.”
Gayle Arent, operations manager for Bird Farm Superstore in Poland, Ohio, said one of her favorite improvements has been the out-of-the-cage accessible food and water dishes, which can be removed and filled without having to open the main door of the cage. She said the dishes rotate on a pivot, so "they actually move to the outside of the cage for you to access.”
Other new features that make cages easier to maintain include: larger door openings to allow easy access, improved quality casters and seed guards to prevent hulls from scattering around a cage.
Today we see an ever-increasing variety of perches on the market. "We have learned so much about preventing foot problems by providing a variety of perching surfaces,” Burge said. "Now there are natural woods with various diameters, sandy perches that help wear the nails to the proper length, and rope perches that have more texture for a better grip.”
Within the category of wood branches, there are a myriad of choices. "Initially, 20 years ago, owners could only get Manzanita,” said Greg Burkett, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Durham, N.C., and owner of the avian-specialty store The Birdie Boutique. "When cholla came onto the scene, owners were thrilled. Since then there has been java wood, grapevine wood, Eucalyptus wood, bottle brush, dragonwood, cajeput and others.”
Other materials used for perches include concrete, cast nylon, acrylic, PVC and other plastics, and minerals like pumice. They come in all shapes and sizes, and range from bolt-on perches and corner perches, to swings, hoops and bungees.
According to Mary Ellen Kaminski, merchandising manager for Drs. Foster & Smith, owners like cotton rope and sisal perches because they are bendable and can be reshaped. Pumice perches are also popular because their irregular shapes massage the feet and condition beaks, as well as trim nails.
Burkett especially likes the boing, a spiral rope that emulates natural branch movements. In Arent’s store, thermal perches are in big demand as they are ideal for birds with orthopedic problems, and can also keep birds’ feet warm during the winter months.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a parrot to have a sleep cage, playgym, travel cage and perhaps an outdoor flight for during the daytime, in addition to its regular cage.
"More owners are trying to allow for more freedom for their birds,” said Chris Griffin, DVM, DABVP, an avian veterinarian in Kannaplis, N.C. "The idea of a ‘caged bird’ that spends 99 percent of its life in a cage is less frequently seen today than 10 to 15 years ago.”
Lewis said that a few years ago people thought not moving birds kept them stress-free. "But now we know birds do well with variety in their activities and surroundings,” he said. Travel cages and portable playstands are big sellers in his store.
"Outdoor enclosures allow birds safe access to fresh air and sunshine, and are becoming more common,” Griffin said. This is a growing trend for pet birds and not just breeder birds. There are many kits and plans available to build these outdoor enclosures, as well as commercially made backyard aviaries.
People are dedicating special bird rooms inside their homes to house their birds. With some fairly simple modifications, a spare bedroom, sunroom or even a section of the basement can be transformed into a "bird haven,” according to Julie Murad, founder and president of The Gabriel Foundation, a parrot rescue and sanctuary organization in Denver. You need nontoxic, easy-clean paint for the walls and trim, a central vacuum system, HEPA air filter, a humidifier, a feeding and watering system, in addition to the usual toys, branches and other perches. This is an ideal situation if you’ve got a flock of the same or similar bird species that get along well.
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