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Setting up your birds cage

Birds Vet / Avian Vet Melbourne

Please see our new website at http://www.birdvetmelbourne.com/

Having a solid backing and some solid roof and wall provides a feeling of safety and security and improves quality of life for a pet bird.(Picture - Avian Vet Dr Phil)
Also note Layout of toys and type of perches in this lucky Budgie's cage.The toys and perches seen in this cage are available to purchase from our  Melbourne Bird Veterinary Hospital. (Pic Melbourne bird vet clinic)  


(this article was written by Nikki Arkinstall from Bird Boarding . Nikki worked at our clinic before setting up her boarding service)

Cages provide routine, safety and hygiene for companion parrots. While it is not natural for birds to be housed in a cage it is also not natural for birds to be free roaming in a living environment such as the family home. The family home is full of dangers like open toilet lids, hot stove tops, ceiling fans, gaps created by furniture, poisonous substances like chocolate (a couple of pieces of a king size bar can kill a bird that weighs a kilogram!), avocado, toothpaste, coffee, potted plants and lead found in everyday household items.

Your parrot should have a cage to go to when you are not able to provide supervision. A good cage setup provides your parrot with their very own bedroom. A place they can do what they like in, go to sleep in feeling safe and retreat to when they want to get away from it all.

In this article we will cover what sort of cage to provide, where to put it, perches and other furnishings and cage cleaning and maintenance.

The Appropriate Cage for birds

Size


You should acquire the biggest cage your budget will allow and your space will accommodate. The RSPCA has set guide lines for all caged animals; the animal must be able to stretch (thus consideration of the wing span of your bird is required) and not touch the sides of the cage, feeders, perches, toys or other birds.

There should be enough room for 3 feeders, at least 2 perches and adequate enrichment items such as toys and foliage.

If you can visualise space enough for 2 bird’s wing spans, then your cage may be suitable for 2 birds in the future. Birds are flock animals and are more likely to be content and remain well balanced through puberty when kept with avian companions. This is something you should keep in mind even if you only have one bird to start with.

Shape of bird cage

Avoid round cages as there are no corners to retreat to and most animals, including humans, find this quite psychologically disturbing. Because birds move horizontally (not vertically) width is more important than height and you’ll find rectangular cages are the easiest shape for creating good layouts.

Bars

Bar spacing should be appropriate for the species. Large spacing invites accidents and risks escape. The bird should not be able to get even close to squeezing its head between the bars. The thickness of the wire must be strong enough to resist bending or dismantling by the bird. For birds galah size and up you should seriously consider powder coated steel or a stainless steel cage. A combination of vertical bars at the front/ back for easy viewing and horizontal bars on the sides for climbing and perch fitting often works best.

Ladders can be used on vertical sides to aid climbing.

Portability of your cage

You want to be able to take your bird outside at least occasionally and in many cases you’ll want to move the cage to a different room for the sleeping period. Quality wheels and the ability to fit the cage through doors simplify things in these situations.

Before use beware of lead and Zinc!

Non-coated galvanised cages should be washed with a 1:2 part vinegar water solution or oxidised (left outdoors to be weathered for a few months); the newer the zinc the more dangerous it is. All new cages should be rubbed over to check for any sharp edges and missing paint and hosed with high water pressure to remove any metal filings that may remain from their construction or feather dander (which can transmit bird disease) that could still be present from the retailer’s live stock.

Bird Cage Placement

Stimulation

In most cases the living room is the obvious room to place the cage as this is the most frequented room by the family which will help keep the bird well socialised and entertained. If selecting the kitchen, be aware that Teflon coated pans can quickly kill a bird with its fumes if over heated, gas leaks from old fridges are fatal, and there could well be other dangers so be careful!

Security - cage placement

The cage must back onto at least 1 solid wall or have a backing as above in the picture. ; birds are prey animals and having to constantly “watch theirback” will be stressful. Windows (and the wild birds outside) can provide valuable entertainment throughoutthe day but they can also provide sight of predators. Providing foliage at one point between the cage andthe window to break visual contact will help relieve stress in such situations. Never leave your bird outside in a cage that can be knocked over or gotten under by cats, dogs, foxes or other birds and bring the cage in after dark to keep its occupant’s protected. Don’t forget birds like being up high where they feel safe from predation.

Sleep

Birds usually rest (often mistaken for napping – unlike cats, dogs and humans, birds need to be alert duringdaylight hours) after feeding around the middle of the day; this be achieved with light and background noise. However most parrots originate in equatorial regions where it is dark for 10 – 12 hours a night; depriving them of a sleep period shorter than this is cruel. Some people get around the problem of the living room being used well into the night by its human occupants by having two cages – a big one for the day and a smaller one located in a quiet room like the laundry for night. If you are to make use of a night cage it is important to remember that routine is paramount – animals thrive on it and suffer without it. Covers are not required if the cage is placed away from disturbance after dark. If you are covering the cage at night to protect your bird against cold drafts or to help block out light and noise please also remember that some ventilation is important!

Perches

Plastic or Doweling Perches

Throw them away (you can cut them up and turn them into toys!); they are frequently too skinny and their uniformity can actually be quite irritating to a bird’s feet.

Natural Perches (See our selection at Bird Vet Melbourne)

Perches should ideally be native Australian wood of varying diameters. As it is so very easy and cheap to provide this it is almost criminal if you don’t. If you don’t have a garden or you don’t like knocking on your neighbour’s door to ask to use theirs, go to a park. After a storm or even just a windy day take some pruners, or in the case of large parrots, pruners AND a hand saw, a tape measure (honestly you’ll be surprised how easy it is to overestimate the length you need or even the length of your car) and go crazy on all the branches that have come down. Whilst you want to prune excess twigs, bark and foliage from your branches, leave some for environmental enrichment and to exercise the beak and feet. Do most of the cutting once you have the branches home and you’re fitting them in the cage. Be aware that park wardens and street cleaners tidy up dropped branches reasonably quickly, so you don’t want to wait too long! Avoid branches from busy roads because of pollution and inspect all branches for wild bird droppings - which should be cut off. You can keep extra foliage in a bucket of water and refresh the cage with it over a few weeks.

Therapeutic

Concrete bolt on perches such as the Sweet Feet & Beak Safety Perches can be quite helpful for keeping your bird’s nails trim but you must purchase the correct size and place them the right way up! When used correctly the abrasive surface on the sides will make contact with the nails and the tender skin will grip the smooth part. It is not recommended to use sand paper covers on perches as these do not keep nails very trim but may predispose pododermatitis (bumblefoot), especially with birds that are deficient in vitamin A. Conditioning perches are not normally suitable for sleeping perches.

Other Perches

Short bolt-on or rope perches usually make the best additional perches – they work well for feeding areas, cage doors and other odd spots without cluttering the cage.

Placement

Optimise space by running perches parallel to each other and placing toys along the edges of the cage. The most common mistakes in cage clutter are swings placed in the centre of the cage and the overlapping of perches which risks wing fracture and feather breakage during night frights etc (this is common with cockatiels). Small birds can often fly in their cage whilst large birds can’t, thus the size of your bird compared with the size of its cage should influence how many perches you fit and where you put them. Allow enough room between the perch and the cage floor and sides for the tail feathers not to rub and be damaged. If housing more than one bird provide enough perches that they can each have their own if they want to.

The Sleeping Perch

Birds will often choose to sleep on a perch against a solid wall that is placed high in the cage. Some species such as conures, quakers and lorikeets enjoy residing in commercially made material tents such as the Happy Hut. Other birds such as the budgie love nothing more then to snuggle up to their favourite cotton toy (or each other).

Food & Water

Ensure that feeders and drinkers are not positioned under perches to prevent faecal contamination. Hooded containers, if inappropriately sized, can make feeding difficult and wont do much to curb the mess. Whilst convenient, water dispensers restrict the option of bathing (don’t discourage bathing!) and are difficult to clean. Placing the water bowl at the opposite end of the cage from the food bowl will ensure that the bird gets some exercise between drinking and eating and will help deter food dunking.

Provide one food bowl for each housed bird; this will assist in keeping the peace amongst birds challenging each other for dominance. Encouraging foraging behaviour in your parrot is highly recommended for its mental health. Ideally you want to be presenting as much as the daily food as possible using foraging devices

Toys

Have a toy box for your bird toys, and select some of them for the cage each week. When placing toys be creative but avoid cluttering the cage which can inhibit flight or cause injury. Place toys that are difficult to clean away from where they eat and defecate. When changing the toys over inspect for new damage and dangers and either fix, clean or throw them out as required. Do not use gal-wire or bread ties to suspend toys, they are highly toxic! Safe alternatives are plastic cable ties or stainless steel quick links.

Litter Tray

Grates are great! They prevent the bird from having access to their faeces which can cause bacterial infections in caged birds. Matte newspaper makes an excellent (the ink is soy based) substrate as it allows the owner to monitor the bird’s stools on a regular bases. Blood on the floor or abnormal droppings can alert you to signs of potential illness. For this reason cat litter, wood shavings, sand, shell grit and shell grit mats (placed on the soiled floor for the bird to consume? – YUK!) are not recommended. Be aware that fledged healthy birds should not spend extended periods on the floor of the cage, if your pet is reluctant to perch consult your avian veterinary clinic without delay.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Inspect and replace the paper lining the cage tray daily. Most bird disease will cease to exist in a wet environment, therefore it is good practice to thoroughly wet down the whole cage weekly. Use a non-tissue toxic veterinary grade disinfectant such as F10 or Avi Care and warm water (most bacteria will die in temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius) to do so. Non-toxic oil such as vegetable oil can be use to lubricate metal caster wheels to keep them in working order.

Conclusion

Parrots are not easy-maintenance pets. The frequent tasks of changing paper linings, cleaning food cups and toys, refreshing the natural perches, providing fresh foliage and frequent bathing opportunities, wetting down the cage, preparing a balanced and stimulating diet each day, not to mention the time spent interacting and training your parrot can be time consuming to say the least. But these duties are obligatory and should not be skimped on! With practice, and observation of your bird over the days after a set up, you can set up a cage so that the space is nice to look at, inviting and stimulating to your bird as well as kind on the tail and wing feathers and relatively easy to keep clean. Your goal is to encourage frequent exploring of the space with your bird utilising different perches. You should be able to observe your bird ripping bark, twigs and leaves off the fresh foliage, playing with toys and moving around to feed and drink. At the same time you want to avoid huge piles of poo piling up on the branches or toys below, and your bird’s feather’s getting damaged from constant rubbing against cage bars. It can be quite a challenge, especially in limited space, but it is ever so satisfying and aesthetically pleasing when you get it right.

Pinky & Yellowbell; Sacred Heart Mission residents enjoying their new cage and

furnishings, Courtesy www.birdboarding.com