Building the Nest
Bird owners should understand that having a comfy home with all the necessary comforts is as important to birds as it is to humans.
Many of us can remember setting up our first place—usually an apartment that hopefully was a bit larger than a postage stamp. Part of the fun was finding all the necessary furniture and accessories we needed to be comfortable in our new home. It is not so different with pet birds.
When setting up a bird cage, it is essential to keep in mind that birds have the same needs we do.
“It is important to transform your bird’s cage to an engaging home,” says Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a bird product distributing company in Norfolk, Va.
The first step is to determine what cage size the bird needs. It should be at least large enough to allow the bird to spread its wings and flap freely to exercise—even with all the accessories needed in the cage.
Note that although very large parrots, like macaws, are usually placed in large cages, the home still may not be spacious enough to allow for its up to four-foot wingspan. Therefore, these birds must have access to playpens everyday where they can freely flap. The cage must also have bars strong enough to withstand the bird’s bite without bending or breaking, and the bars should be closely spaced so the bird’s head cannot fit between them.
Almost all cages are sold with two dishes, and usually a wooden perch or two. The size and number of dishes used in a bird cage will depend on the size and number of birds being kept, as well as the species. Smaller birds, such as finches, parakeets and cockatiels, can use a medium-sized food dish and a medium-sized water dish—approximately three inches across and two inches wide—for every two birds.
Placing food dishes at the bottom can help contain the mess. Considering how messy birds can be, seed guards must also be viewed as a necessary item for the cage, to help make it easier for owners to care for their pets at home.
“When it comes to perches, keep several styles of varying diameters appropriate for the bird’s foot size,” Wyld says. Perches made of rope, wood, plastic and other materials are great as long as the feet can grip the perch easily. Owners should avoid using perches that are too large for the bird’s feet to grip at least halfway around, or so small that the toes are crossing at the bottom. Still, perches in a cage should be different diameters, so there is some variance in grip to keep the feet healthy.
Placement of the perches, swings and ladders is as important as deciding where to put furniture in a room. You would not place the couch or bed in a spot where it blocks a door or access to another area of the room. A perch must be placed so that it is not directly above another perch or dishes, allowing poop to fall directly into the tray. Also, some open spaces must be left for exercising wings. And since birds naturally like to stay on the highest perches in their home—especially when they are ready to roost (sleep)—one of these should be a perch that can perform double-duty and keep the bird’s nails trim.
“Adding a heated Thermo-Perch as the winter chill sets in will be a welcome comfort for your pet bird,” Wyld adds. There is a new sand style that comes in three sizes. Some birds, like small conures, prefer to sleep in a “bedroom,” in the form of a tunnel or hut, so one should be provided when needed.
Beak conditioners and, for smaller birds, cuttlebones are necessary items. Think of them as toothbrushes. Birds’ bills are constantly growing like nails, so they also need to be able to chew items to keep the bill trim. These products should be placed at beak level above a perch for easy access, and they should be replaced when almost used up, usually every six months. Female breeding birds will go through cuttlebone and calcium-infused beak conditioners a lot faster.
Toys can sometimes have beak conditioners built into them, and wood can also help keep the bird’s bill in good shape, although this is not the most important reason to keep toys in the bird’s cage. We all have some sort of entertainment area in our home, whether it is the TV/family room, library or an actual game room—a place we go when we want to keep ourselves amused for a time. A bird needs its own version of an entertainment room. Not only should there be at least three types of appropriately sized toys made of different materials in the bird’s home at all times, but these toys need to be replaced when they are chewed up or changed out often enough to keep the bird’s interest—usually once a month.
Kids like new toys and games, and so do birds—as long as they are introduced with enthusiasm and care. “Show the bird the new toy and talk to the bird in an engaging way while playing with the toy,” says Wyld.
For some birds—particularly those that did not get new toys often while young, and sensitive species such as African Grey parrots—it is also best to leave the toy next to the cage for a few days before placing it in the cage, so the bird will not be fearful of it. When choosing a toy, Wyld says to “keep in mind the individual bird’s special wants and needs to chew, shred, swing-on, preen and play.”
Place toys where birds can play with them easily, usually above and at the end of a perch against the cage bars. Some birds also enjoy toys that are hung so that the pet has to dangle itself to get to it. Like perches, make sure there are not too many toys taking up too much open space in the cage, but that there are enough toys replaced and changed out sufficiently to keep the bird mentally engaged and active. The holidays give bird owners a good excuse to buy new toys for their pets.
Setting up a bird’s home is not difficult, but new bird customers, and even sometimes experienced bird owners, need to understand that a cage must be set up in a way that keeps the pet bird comfortable and secure. Selling complete, properly set-up bird cages in the store not only ensures that it includes everything the bird needs to be healthy, but it makes it easier for the customer—especially during the holidays, when customers are considering getting a new pet bird for themselves, or their families or friends.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.