In the excitement of getting their new pet bird, many owners forget about the importance of their new avian friend’s accommodation. Selecting the right cage and making sure that it is safe is one of the most important aspects of pet bird ownership.
Ideally, cages should be made of powder-coated or stainless steel – these give a long-lasting and durable finish. Avoid cages made of wrought iron and painted finishes, which may be toxic, especially if your bird likes to chew on cage material. Similarly, beware of lead and zinc content in older or painted cages. Zinc is also found in galvanised wire, which should be avoided, and be careful also of zinc in components like hinges and latches.
Despite their aesthetic appeal, it is best to avoid cages with fancy scroll work or intricate designs as these features can easily trap your bird’s head, wings, feet or beak. Opt for a welded cage and make sure all welds are smooth, with no sharp edges. Avoid a punched or drilled cage, where the vertical bars are not welded at all the horizontal connection points – this leads to water getting inside the hollow support bars and over time, the cage may begin to rust from the inside out.
The cage door must be sturdily made and fitted with a bird-proof latch so that it is escape-proof. This seriously affects the bird’s safety as if it escapes when the owners are absent, it may accidentally injure itself or be killed. Especially with parrot species, don’t underestimate your bird’s cleverness and strength in trying to escape!
Correct bar spacing is crucial to bird safety: make sure that the space between the bars is narrow enough that your bird cannot get his head, wings, feet or beak wedged between the bars as, coupled with panic, this can be fatal. For large birds, the actual thickness of the cage bars is also important as if they are too thin, they can be easily bent and create a dangerous gap. Also make sure that there are no converging bars – to be safe, all bars should be parallel.
For birds that like to climb (eg. parrots), the bars should have a horizontal orientation to provide ascension grips but for others that don’t use their beaks to climb (eg. finches, canaries, doves), the orientation of the bars is less important.
Firstly, perches should be appropriately sized for your bird’s feet and grip but it is best to provide several perches of varying diameters to prevent foot problems. Most perches are made of wood but if your bird is likely to chew and ingest wood from the perches, make sure the woods are not toxic. For example, do not use apricot, cherry, peach, prune, plum or nectarine, which all belong to the Prunus species. They contain cyanogenic glycosides which release cyanide if ingested. Make sure there is always a perch near each food and water dish and also at different heights in the cage.
In addition to the mechanical components, cleaning can be crucial to bird safety. Cages which are difficult to clean result in owner procrastination, which then leads to increased risk of bacterial and fungal contamination and then serious disease. In any case, changing paper / bedding once or twice a day is essential so make sure the cage allows you easy access to do this, without risk of the bird escaping. In addition, food and water dishes should be able to be easily removed and replaced without having to open the main door of the cage. After cleaning, always ensure that you have rinsed the cage thoroughly to remove all traces of disinfectant before returning your pet bird to the cage.
The cage should be placed in a warm, bright spot, out of the way of drafts, but in an area of the house where the bird can be involved with family activities and benefit from socialisation. Do not put the cage in the kitchen as cooking fumes can be dangerous to the bird and avoid also spots with strong, direct sunlight.