By Julie Gallagher
Taking into consideration that birds require a lifelong commitment (many live 40-plus years!), potential bird owners should carefully consider where their new pet should live well before bringing it home. Whether you’re contemplating an individual cage or enclosure, mulling over granting free range in a room, or considering a combination of the two, a clean and well-maintained living space can set the stage for the health and happiness of your bird.
How to Choose a Birdcage Size
Entire rooms can be ‘bird-proofed’ and arranged for living quarters, DVM Dr. Patricia Latas said, but for birds that will be housed in cages, she recommends investing in the largest cage one can buy. Potential owners should also consider buying their bird two cages, one for daytime use and another for sleeping that can be kept in a quiet, dark space, she said. If your bird is going to be allowed to have free range of a room all day, it should be caged in a safe, dark place for at least 10 to 12 hours at night.
The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) says that bird cages need to be at least wide enough to accommodate stretched wings, but tall enough for long tailed birds. The bird needs enough room to be able to walk around and flap its wings vigorously without hitting them on anything. Bird toys, food bowls and perches need to be taken into considering for occupying space. A good rule of thumb, said Dr. Latas, is to allow for no fewer than 18 inches by 18 inches of floor space per bird, with medium birds requiring at least 24 inches by 30 inches and large birds needing even more space.
“A bird cage should be longer than they are tall because birds fly from side to side, not up and down,” Dr. Latas said. “Canaries and finches particularly like to fly back and forth from perch to perch. Vertical cages are unstable and can fall over easily.”
Potential bird owners must also plan on their bird spending time outside of its cage. “There should be ample play time outside of the cage, and this may include climbing stands, trees, play gyms, obstacle courses and human interaction,” she said.
Bar spacing can be potentially hazardous and even deadly if bars allow for a bird’s head to become lodged, so owners should pay special attention to a cage’s bars. For small birds, the spacing should be no more than half an inch.
“With larger birds, it is important for the bars to be strong enough so that they cannot bend them with their beaks,” Latas said, adding that bars should not converge, as is the case with domed cages. Avoiding them will help prevent birds from getting a foot or even their neck caught in the narrowing angles. Certain bar materials such as hardware cloth, chicken wire or other galvanized metal should also be avoided since birds may peck at it and ingest it, which can lead to zinc or lead poisoning, Latas said.
Can Birds Live Together?
When deciding on whether or not your bird will should have a companion, Dr. Latas said that potential pet parents should always consult an experienced bird veterinarian for their advice before purchasing multiple birds.
“The answer to this depends entirely on the species, age, living arrangements, background and temperament of the individual bird,” she said. “For example, a large, naturally furnished outdoor aviary may be able to house a number of birds, but small cages and human-bonded birds may not accept a new ‘friend.’ A cage full of birds may seem pleasing but if they are fighting, picking each other’s features or falling ill, there are too many.”
Certain types of birds can even become murderous towards one another, she added.
Where to Place your Birdcage
The AAV recommends placing your bird cage in the area of the home where most of the family activity takes place, but Latas cautions against kitchens, garages and workshops with fumes. Your bird should be where activity in your home takes place but also away from danger, she added. Although a room with a view to the outdoors is preferable, owners should move the cage if they feel that nearby activity is too stressful for their pet and it should be kept away from windows and drafts.
“A bird is stressed if subjected to constant observation,” Dr. Latas said. “In the wild, the common species of companion birds are preyed upon by raptors and other animals and are sensitive to extended periods of a watchful gaze. They may also panic when a hawk flies by, especially if their cage sits directly in front of a window. Large objects like balloons or an overhead lamp above their cage can have the same stressful, frightening effect.”
At night, a bird’s cage should be covered or moved to a dark, quiet room so that they may get the 12 to 14 hours of sleep they require.
Furniture and Accessories for Birds
When it comes to perches, the AAV recommends appropriately sized, clean natural wood branches from pesticide free and non-toxic trees. Your bird’s nails should reach about halfway around the perch and not all the way around, said Latas, who recommends placing a diversity of sizes of wood and rope or concrete perches in the cage.
“The location needs to be comfortable to perch high, fly, climb and maneuver but allow them to be able to get to their food and water dishes,” she said.
Shallow, low bowls that are impermeable and difficult to break, such as ceramic or stainless steel bowls, are recommended for food and water. Owners should ensure that food dishes are placed in a spot away from bird droppings and are cleaned on a daily basis with hot water and dish soap. Toys are also important for the mental health, welfare and well being of companion birds, Latas said. She recommends non-toxic toys and encourages the use of games, books and other enrichment activities.
Cage Cleaning Considerations
Since birds are susceptible to mold and bacteria, cages must be kept in a clean room and cleaned weekly with hot water, dish detergent and good old fashioned elbow grease, Latas said. On the rare occasion that a disinfectant is required, a veterinarian should prescribe an appropriate and safe product, she added.
“Not all disinfectants kill all pathogens and some are very dangerous. Vinegar is not a disinfectant. Bleach is very dangerous for humans, birds and the environment and should never be used without strict instructions from a veterinarian,” she said.
Cage bottoms should be lined with sheets of newspaper, butcher paper or paper towels (not shredded paper) and should be replaced at least daily or more frequently if needed, Latas said.
“Avoid nugget materials like corncob bedding and walnut shells,” she said. “Birds can ingest these, resulting in impaction. Some of these materials are highly toxic and have heavy loads of bacterial and fungal spores and they hinder inspection of droppings, which is important in monitoring daily health.”
If cage grates (which allow droppings and food to fall out of a bird’s reach) are used, the paper should be changed and the grate wiped down daily and the tray should be cleaned weekly, Latas said.