Nesting Needs

With the right combination of high-quality cages and accessories, retailers can send new bird owners home with all the essentials for a happy, comfortable pet.




With any home purchase, it’s important to consider the foundation first. For birds, that foundation is the cage itself. Retailers should carry well-made cages in a range of sizes to suit a variety of birds and make it clear to new owners that a cheap cage could be problematic and will not last long. A high-quality cage can last for many years, saving the bird owner money in the long run, and providing a safer home for their pet.


Generally, the size of the cage is determined by the bird’s wingspan, as any enclosure should allow a bird to flap its wings freely. Bigger is better, as birds will get more exercise and therefore stay healthier in a larger enclosure. The only exception may be for the large macaw species, as their wingspan can be up to four feet. These large parrots must have access to a large gym area where they can exercise their wings every day. Some cages have play pens built into the top, which is great for smaller parrot species as well.


The larger the parrot species, the stronger the cage bars must be in order to withstand the strength of its strong bill. If the cage bars are not strong enough, a bird could break the bars and escape or be severely hurt. Smaller parrot species like the popular parakeets and cockatiels do not need the same bar strength as larger birds, but they do need narrower spacing between the bars. A bird should not be able to get its head between the bars or it can get stuck, causing injury or even death.


Great cages often have large trays on the bottom to make them easy to clean, and built-in dishes are often placed in the lower parts of the cage to keep more of the mess inside. Some bird homes have cage guards, which help keep the food inside the cage. If an enclosure does not come with a guard, then a cage skirt, usually made of fine-mesh netting with elastic bands built in, can be placed around the bottom part of smaller cages. Birds are very messy pets, so it is important to include cage protectors with the cage set-up to save bird owners time when cleaning.


New cages often include two dishes accessible by small doors above them so the large cage door does not have to be opened. Two fairly large cups are usually enough, but bird owners may need to add more depending on how many birds are kept in the cage and/or the size of the species being kept. It’s usually best to have one food dish per bird in the cage, or large, flat dishes that have lots of surface area. If a customer needs to add more cups, retailers should advise them to hang the cups so the cage guards keep the food inside or place them on the bottom of the cage.


Water and food dishes need to be cleaned and sanitized often. Water dishes should be cleaned at least two to three times a week, while food dishes can be cleaned less often depending on the food used—wet food requires more frequent cleaning. High temperatures in the bird’s environment also mean the cups must be cleaned more often. Retailers should sell any new bird owner a second set of cups so that one set can be placed in the dishwasher for a thorough sanitizing while the other set is in use.


When putting perches in a cage, it is extremely important to avoid placing them above any other perches or the cups to keep fecal matter from ending up in the food or water. Generally, perches should be toward the back of the cage or attached to the back. The highest perches will be the ones used the most, and they need to be located so that the bird’s tail feathers do not rub on the bars or and the bird can flap its wings freely.


At least three different diameters of perches should be used in a bird’s home to keep the feet healthy. Some perches have more than one diameter built into them, and natural wood branches safe for bird use can give many different sized grips. All perches, whether made from wood, rope, cement, plastic or otherwise, need to be scraped or cleaned regularly. Any that are made of a porous material like wood or rope should be replaced every six to eight months to keep any bacteria or other harmful agents from spreading. This is also true for cuttlebones, beak conditioners and toys. Anything made of plastic or metal can be cleaned well and can often be thrown into the dishwasher with the cups to be sanitized.


Beak conditioners and cuttlebones are essential items to include in any bird cage. Most provide calcium, and they all help birds to keep their constantly growing bills trimmed. Perches can help wear the nails down so that clipping them may be unnecessary, or at least cut down on how often they need to be trimmed.


Last but certainly not least, birds need to have at least three types of toys in their cage made out of different materials. Finches, including canaries, like straw and string to play with and chew on. For the intelligent parrot species, there are hundreds of toys available made out of many types of materials and in a variety of designs that help keep boredom at bay. The size of the toy should correspond with the bird’s size. Small toys, or toys with small parts, can be dangerous to large parrots that may pull off pieces like beads and swallow them, causing digestive problems. Large toys sometimes scare smaller birds or can be hard for them to play with, so it is best to stick with those made for that sized pet.


Toys and cuttlebones should be placed above the perches for easy access, although some toys can be hung farther away to make them more difficult to reach and therefore more mentally stimulating to play with for the parrot. Again, avoid placing items beneath the perches, or they will get dirty quickly and will need to be cleaned or replaced more often.


Store birds must be kept in properly arranged cages with all these essentials, so new bird owners have a good example to model their own pets’ cages after. These in-store setups can also spark more repeat sales of products like seed guards, beak conditioners and especially toys by showing these items in use. Selling complete setups with a high-quality cage and accessories at a discount is a great way to be sure bird owners and their new feathered friends are going home with everything they need for a happy and healthy life. PB


Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.


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