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Bird Cage Considerations

When it comes to your bird cage, consider these tips to provide the best home for your pet bird.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Every pet bird, no matter the species, needs sufficient space to spread his wings
By Gina  Cioli/Bowtie Studio/Courtesy Andy St. Laurent
Even small birds need the largest cage that can be provided. A cage this small cannot be a permanent home; it serves better as a travel carrier.

I believe that adult parrots need the largest pet bird cage (with safe bar spacing) that we can afford. (Some babies, such as African greys, seem to do better in small cages until they become more adept at climbing and perching.) This means horizontal, not just vertical, space. So-called "tube cages” might look large because of their height, but the space the bird can use is tiny; like a person living in a three-story walk-in closet.

This is not fair to the bird, as birds do not fly straight up and down like helicopters. If you don’t have room for a sufficiently large cage, then you need to get a smaller species of parrot. Note also that extremely active birds need more room, no matter how small they are. For example, lories and caiques typically use every cubic inch of their cages every day, no matter how large the enclosure.

Height Dominance & Parrots
For years parrot behavior people have discussed so-called "height dominance” in parrots. This was a response to the change we often saw in parrots depending on the height of their cage or perch. Indeed, placing cages low can increase stress, as parrots frequently seem vulnerable when caged low. Pet stores often used this to decrease aggression in parrots, because placing cages on the floor encouraged submissive behaviors. The corollary is also true in many birds. Allowing a headstrong psittacine on a high perch seemed to increase aggression.

In a world condensed to sound bites, this concept was translated into the elementary notion that never allowing a parrot above eye level means it will never become aggressive. However, parrots are not simplistic creatures that allow easy answers. In my opinion, allowing parrots above eye level does not create problems, or so-called "dominance.” Instead, it exacerbates problems that already exist; a well-behaved parrot is likely to be compliant whether it is perched high or low. The opposite is also true. An unrestrained parrot’s behavior intensifies if the bird roosts out of the owner’s reach; keeping a bird below eye level neither prevents nor fixes anything. For that, one needs proper training.

Pet Bird Toys
Parrot people know that pet bird toys are crucial for their pet birds, but cage space must be considered. For obvious reasons, cages need to give pet birds lots of room in which to move around. However, even the largest cages provide no exercise if they are so overloaded with toys that the bird cannot turn around. Instead, owners should place a few toys in the cage and rotate them weekly. This keeps a bird’s life more interesting. Not only does it have a changing variety of toys for stimulation, it also has lots of room in which to play.

A bird’s cage should be its sanctuary, and its place for solitary play. Recognizing the ramifications of behavior and caging enables you to maximize this, providing the best environment for your parrot.

Night-Time Frights & Parrots
Whether other pets that might frighten a parrot during the night is an important consideration. When I boarded pet birds in my home years ago, I wanted to be certain my cats didn’t frighten anyone. Therefore, birds unaccustomed to cats (as well as small birds) were always housed in rooms with a door so I could close out my felines. In addition, please don’t let your cat sleep on top of your bird’s cage; I don’t care how sweet it is! How would you like to live with a huge lion stretched out above your head, even if it wasn’t hungry?

I fondly remember years ago when I awoke in the middle of the night to the window-shattering sound of a blue-and-gold macaw in full panic scream. Sam normally "eats cats for lunch,” but when I checked on her, I discovered my kitten had climbed on top of her cage in the dark. Her feet fell through as she was walking across, so she was lying on the top of the cage with her paws dangling down. Sam might not be concerned about cats, but in the threatening blackness, all she knew was that something terrifying was in her cage! She was in full panic mode, hysterically throwing herself around. (I’d never seen her like that before, nor thankfully have I seen it since.)

Another frightening nighttime thing can be car headlights flickering on curtains and walls, so make certain cage placement disallows this. Critters like mice can also panic birds at night, so if night frights occur, consider having an exterminator examine the environment carefully (remember to remove your pets prior to treating the space, if necessary). A friend had night fright problems for years with her two parrots, despite the presence of night lights. This matter was resolved when she got ready to move and found evidence of mice in the walls. Until then, she’d found no sign of rodents in her home.

Many of these issues are easily resolved by the use of a sleep cage placed in a room that is unoccupied by people at night, such as a small boarding cage in a downstairs bath or a guest room in the back of the house. The room does not need to be totally dark or extremely quiet; after all, full moons illuminate the jungle, which is rarely quiet at night. What matters most is that no dangerous predators (like cats) are moving about in the room.

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Reader Comments
great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 9/23/2012 7:34:04 AM
Very complete!
valerie, glen oaks, NY
Posted: 3/2/2011 8:14:16 PM
Excellent article!
joan, franklin square, NY
Posted: 3/2/2011 8:08:39 PM
Excellent article !
Cindy, Coconut Creek, FL
Posted: 3/2/2011 8:06:18 PM
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