There seems to be little discussion on the subject of cages, which is unfortunate. After all, the purchase of a cage is secondary in importance only to the choice of which species of bird to get – and a cage accounts for a large percentage of the start-up costs of bird ownership.
But a variety of obstacles exist for anyone who wishes to purchase a cage, ranging from the extraordinary diversity on the
market, to the plethora of advice offered by pet stores, internet lists, to apparently anyone who had a friend, relative or neighbour who owned a bird!
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to fight our way through all this stuff and come up with some simple guidelines to assist in dealing with the often-confusing world of birdcages. After all, your bird’s cage will be its home for hopefully many years. So the choice should be based on a wide variety of factors, including size, style, composition, cleanliness, safety and cost.
Size (or, Bigger is Better)
In my view, too many cages on the market are unfit for any live animal. For instance, I detest what I call “tube cages”, that are only 30 cm. (12 inches) in diameter, but a meter high. Birds do not fly straight up and down like a helicopter, so for exercise purposes, the dimension that matters is the horizontal space a cage offers, not its height.
I liken these tube cages to someone having to live in a walk-in closet that is three stories high. But people apparently like these cages because the height provides the illusion of size without encroaching on the space for human habitation. (Heaven forbid that humans should have to give up living space, after all!)
The rule of thumb with cage sizes is to purchase the largest cage you can afford. However, if you cannot afford a cage that is large enough to comfortably house the species you want, then you should not get that species of bird. Simple. For instance, if you can barely fit yourself into your tiny flat, then do not consider anything but the smallest species of birds on the market.
It is definitely abusive to force a bird to live in too small a cage.
So what is the right size, you ask? In my opinion, if a bird never comes out of its cage to fly and exercise, it needs a horizontal space of 2-3 times the wingspan in width and depth. For example:
In addition, Parrots with crests or long tails need the necessary height so prevent feathers from touching the roof or floor (or grate) of the cage.
However, this basic arithmetic does not take the activity levels of various species into consideration. For instance, while Parrots like Caiques, Lories and Lorikeets) are considered rather small in size, their extraordinarily high activity levels (rather like a ferret on crack cocaine) will drive them to use every cubic centimetre of their cages, every single day.
Consequently, they need a cage that is much larger than their size would indicate. Finches and canaries are also active birds, so they also need flight space.
As an additional note, the more toys are loaded into a cage, the less space the bird has to live and play. Haven’t we all encountered our dear Great-Aunt Mary’s parlour that is so laden with furniture that we cannot easily move from one place to another, or lift our teacup without knocking something off a table with our elbows? In that vein, make certain a cage is large enough for a bird AND all those toys (and perches and ladders and swings and food and water bowls) that it needs!
When choosing the largest cage possible, one also needs to consider safe bar spacing. It is dangerous for a bird to be able to stick its head through the cage bars, as it can too easily get caught and injured – perhaps fatally.
Due to this possibility, care must be taken when considering putting a smaller bird in a large cage. Safe bar spacing for small birds is about 1 cm. (½ in.); medium sized birds need 2 cm. (about ¾ in.); large species need 2.5 cm. (1 in.)
A Parrot’s beak power is another critical safety issue. Many cages have bars that are unable to stand up to the crushing power of a Parrot’s beak, which can allow it to break welds and bend and/or break the cage bars. This is a disaster in the making.
When assessing a cage for purchase, do not forget to run your hand all around the inside of the cage, feeling for sharp edges, metal spurs or rough places. Sharp edges and spurs can cause injuries, and rough patches make cleaning more difficult.
Cages come in a breathtaking array of styles, and again, the best cage for you and your bird will depend on the species of bird, as well as your own needs. Generally speaking, cages are categorized as open top, playtop, and solid top styles, with pros and cons of each.
Open top cages:
These have tops that open (obviously), providing holders to which you can add a perch. This enables the bird a high vantage point as well as the ability to re-enter the cage for food and water as needed. This style of cage might be a disadvantage for novice owners who are unable to get a Parrot to voluntarily leave the high perch so owners can close the cage for the night.
Like the open top cages, these are popular when there is little room for a Parrot to spread out, and for some birds, they work quite well. However, if owners have not properly trained their Parrots, getting them down off a playtop cage can be a challenge. Some playtop cages allow you to remove the playtop to place elsewhere while Parrots are taught better manners, to be returned to the original position once proper training is in place.
Solid top cages:
Solid top cages can be either flat or rounded (“dome top”). This style of cage does not open, nor does it have a specific play area attached. The dome top cages can present a trial for short (a.k.a. “height challenged”) owners trying to reach birds that hang out in the dome.
A note about decorated cages: in my opinion, birds are lovely creatures and any folderol on a cage (scrollwork, curlicues, etc.) only detracts from that. Besides, many such decorations have been the causes of injuries to birds, as they can get caught on such gewgaws.
The Issue of Height and So-called “Height Dominance”
Some Parrots tend to present more problematic behaviours when they are higher than their owners, though not all do. There are various opinions as to why this happens, but no scientific proof on any side of the issue.
What matters is that proper training (teaching a bird to step on and off the hand or perch) resolves the issue quite nicely. My Macaw Sam is always pleased to come off the top of her dome-style cage, as she knows from experience that she will be rewarded with something she values – such as praise, a good scratch, or a lovely treat.
Incidentally, keeping a bird below eye level does not guarantee only good behaviours, though many people seem to have come to that conclusion. If only life with Parrots were so easy!
Most cages are either powder coated or they are Stainless Steel. Powder coating means the metal is spray painted, and these cages can be quite attractive, as owners can choose colours that coordinate with the environment and the bird itself.
On the down side, sooner or later, the paint on power coated cages will chip. This is not cause for alarm, though, as reputable companies can re-do powder coating at reasonable costs. Certainly less than replacing the cage!
Stainless Steel cages are the crème de la crème, and many are very expensive. On the plus side, these cages can last forever, so the initial outlay is counterbalanced by the lack of replacement costs in the future. I am pleased to have a Stainless Steel cage for my Blue and Yellow Macaw, and it is truly a joy to maintain.
This segues nicely into the next issue – that of easy cleaning. If a cage is easy to clean, you are likely to clean it more often, and this provides a healthier environment for a bird. From my experience, cages with cracks, gaps, ill-fitting parts and decorations tend to collect food and waste materials, making cleanliness next to impossible. Easy cleaning and safety far outweigh issues such as attractiveness, when it comes to caging.
When It Comes to Caging, Cheaper is NOT Necessarily Better
We have all heard the stories, I’m sure. A guy buys his dream bird – a Hyacinth Macaw – and then hasn’t sufficient money left over to buy a proper cage. So he sticks the bird in a dog crate until he can afford better. The Parrot tears the dog crate apart while the owner is at work and destroys the house.
The moral is obvious: Proper caging is crucial and you need to factor the cost of caging into the total cost of getting a Parrot. If you cannot afford a proper cage, then you cannot afford the bird – and this does not even address your not being able to afford proper avian medicine, which is equally important!
If offered a fabulous deal on a new cage, please be careful. There are companies out there that sell cheap knock-off cages containing dangerous metals such as lead and zinc. Remember the problems in the US with baby toys from China!
Please make certain that you are working with a reputable company that backs their products. Horror stories abound about exceptionally cheap cages purchased through sources such as EBay – only to find the money saved was paid to avian veterinarians many times over in a valiant struggle to save the bird’s life from toxic cages.
Remember the saying Let the buyer beware. It is especially true with cages that you get exactly what you pay for.
The Ethics of Caging
A discussion of bird cages needs to address the ethics of caging a bird. Some people consider caging a bird to be an unnatural act that is tantamount to so-called “abuse” (an accusation that is thrown around entirely too often, in my opinion).
The simple reality is that a spacious, well-designed cage is no more “abusive” than a child having its own room. The human habitat is fraught with dangers of which birds (especially Parrots) know nothing about, such as the extraordinary variety of toxic chemicals one can find under the kitchen sink.
Parrots are especially prone to getting into trouble, as the combination of intelligence, curiosity and beak power can be lethal. I often describe Parrots as “an intelligent two-year-old with a can opener attached to its face.” The potential for dangers are limitless!
Just as dogs that are properly crate trained love their crates, a Parrot’s cage should be a happy place that is well-loved by a bird. After all, it is its playroom, its dinner table, and most importantly, its sanctuary when it would rather not be bothered by that large and featherless creature with whom it shares its home.