Rosemary Low tells us about why perches are so important and advice on perching.
Perches are so important to Parrots – and yet frequently and even routinely neglected. Whenever I hear of someone building a new range of aviaries to add to their existing complex, I wonder if they have considered how they can regularly provide new perches for these aviaries.
Even with a small number of cages or aviaries this can be a problem.
The way to deal with it is not to go to the hardware store and buy many lengths of dowel. That is lazy – and expensive!
I believe that dowel should be a last resort as branches that can be gnawed are always preferable to machine-cut wood. Dowel is the same diameter throughout, offering minimum foot exercise, and dowel can be slippery. It is also easy to gnaw through – and just boring for the birds.
Let’s be honest! Providing suitable perches is hard work and time-consuming. This time is seldom factored into the care needed to properly maintain a collection of birds or even just a couple in the house.
Here is a common query that I receive. “As someone who is fairly new to birdkeeping, please advise me from which trees I can cut branches for perches for my Parakeets.”
The two most favoured woods for perching are willow and apple. However, you can also use branches from ash, beech, hazel and sycamore. Hawthorn is suitable. However some types have very sharp thorns which you might want to snip off with secateurs before use. This is because the thorns might be a hazard to birds wearing rings.
Branches for gnawing
How do we judge which branches are suitable for gnawing? That is an easy question to answer: palatability. Offer Parrots an unknown species of tree branch and they might not even touch it. They seem to know instinctively which branches are suitable.
Recently I needed to remove some branches from an ornamental flowering cherry tree. About 50 varieties are available in the UK, including the popular Prunus sargentii, with its mass of pink blossoms.
I’m not sure of the identification of my tree but when I placed its branches in my aviaries, none of my birds even tried at gnaw it. This is unusual because normally they receive only branches, such as apple and willow, from which they immediately strip the bark.
The speed with which they do this is surprising. I sense they really need the nutrients just below the surface. Some species just bite off pieces. Others can remove long strips of bark with great dexterity, as though it is a normal activity.
If you’re pruning a willow tree, the advice is to choose a tall, upright stem at the top of the tree as a central leader, and remove competing stems. Remove branches that grow up instead of out. A narrow crotch angle between the branch and the trunk makes it likely that the branch will break as the tree grows and the branch becomes heavy.
I would encourage Parrot owners to experiment with different tree species, because of my belief that Parrots instinctively avoid unsuitable ones. When I offered my birds branches of jasmine and flowering currant (Ribes) for the blossom, I discovered that they like to gnaw the bark of these shrubs, so it would also be safe to use them as perching.
I think we can experiment more widely than the trees usually suggested because, in my experience, Parakeets will not even try to gnaw some types which suggests to me that they might be unpalatable.
I have two very fast-growing fig trees in my garden which provide excellent cover for the wild birds. Occasionally I use the straighter branches for perching but my birds never gnaw them. They have a sticky sap and quite a sweet odour when cut. I am not sure if the birds can smell this or if they instinctively avoid biting them.
So how does one increase the availability of suitable perching. Here are some suggestions:
As soon as you start to keep birds, plant willow trees. They are quick-growing and the branches are favourites of all Parrots.
Cut a suitable branch from an established tree and grow a tree from it! Yes, it really will root if you do it correctly.
Contact a tree surgeon and ask him to deliver branches of apple and willow trees as soon as they are cut. This is recycling at its best!
A question I have been asked often is: must I wash the branches before offering them? When experts reply to this question in bird magazines, the answer’s always “yes!” I think this advice might deter people from using natural perching.
I confess that if it has rained a lot before I cut the branches, I do not bother. However, if there are any signs of wild bird dropping on bark or leaves, I clean these off. It is often said that Parrots can pick up parasites from tree branches. While this is possible, I suspect it is rare. Also, if the weather has been dry and the branches look dirty or dusty, I wash or hose them clean.
By the way, you don’t need to fix all perches to the wire mesh at both ends because birds really enjoy some springy perches that are not tightly fixed. They also like vertical perches that you fix from the roof so that they hang down and provide a lot of entertainment. Wild birds of all perching species can often be seen on vertical branches.
For all the perches Northern Parrots has please click here