Excerpt from chapter two of “Preparing for My First Cockatiel” by Laurel A. Rockefeller
A cage is your bird’s bedroom. It is her shelter, her territory, the space that belongs just to her. It is where she goes to eat, to sleep, and to retreat from danger and it is not intended to be where she stays all the time. As a matter of fact, if she stays there all the time, her health suffers.
Caging your bird all the time is like confining a child to her room all the time and never letting her leave. When this happens to humans, children become bored and physically unhealthy; they are not running around, playing, and socializing.
The very reason why prison is punishment for doing bad things like killing people is because prison confines a person to a very small place with very little to do and few opportunities to exercise. It is why parents send children to their rooms for a few minutes or a few hours.
All living creatures need freedom to move around, explore, do productive things, and socialize. As important as this is for human beings, it is even more important for companion (pet) birds and especially for Parrots – including your new Cockatiel.
Conventional wisdom says buy as large a cage as possible. I do not know about you, but that is not very helpful. There are literally thousands of bird cages out there ranging from small travel cages costing from $25/£20 all the way up to full sized aviaries costing over $2000/£1500 or more. That is a huge range and unless you know what you are looking for, making a good choice can be extremely difficult.
What should you look for in a primary cage that is your Cockatiel’s bedroom? As you might expect, quality and safety comes first. You need a cage that your bird can live in for a long period of time without accident, injury, or health problems developing from your bird moving around in it, playing in it, eating, drinking, flying, and sleeping in it. You want a cage that will hold up to all that life has to offer.
A quality primary cage should be made of either stainless steel or steel with a heavy powder coating applied to it. These cages cost more but are built to last for decades. For Cockatiels, aluminium cages are also a safe, though slightly less durable, option.
Beware of cheaper powder coated cages as these tend to be made of inferior galvanized steel with a light powder coating that tends to chip off from cleaning and from your bird’s natural climbing and chewing of the cage bars.
Electroplated steel cages are also hazardous when used long term; these dominate the market as they are cheap and typically flimsy – fine for a hospital cage where your bird is in it for a few days of quarantine during an illness – but potentially deadly when used as your primary cage.
Besides price, the easiest way to tell a quality cage from a potentially dangerous one is the thickness of the cage bars. The King’s Cage (model ELTPC) that I bought in 2005 and have used continuously since for both my Cockatiels has 3 mm thick bars.
By contrast, the electroplated bars of my hospital cage and my primary travel cage have 1.5 mm thick bars – half as thick. Since both my hospital cage and my main travel cage are portable and designed for short term use, this is fine; my birds barely climb in either one in the short periods they are in there.
Always look for lead and zinc free. And remember that when it comes to your primary cage, you typically get what you pay for.
Bar Spacing and Cage Size
Purchased for $600 at a New Jersey pet store in September 2005 and has held up well after almost 14 years of continuous use. Love this cage? The 2019 version of it is MODEL SLTPC by King’s Cages.
Now that we know what your primary cage should be made of and have narrowed down the cheap stuff that could be dangerous for our Cockatiels from the durable, quality cages we know are always safe, we need to find the right size and bar spacing for Cockatiels. As mentioned before, conventional wisdom says to buy the largest cage possible. Why? Because Cockatiels are very active birds who need lots of exercise.
The best exercise is flight. Cockatiels are birds. They are literally born to fly. A Cockatiel that flies every day and gets plenty of exercise is a healthy bird. Exercise keeps her heart strong and her muscles strong. Cockatiels who fly everyday are much less likely to become ill and much more likely to recover from illnesses instead of die from them.
The optimal size cage for your Cockatiel is one large enough for her to fly short distances in, unhindered by the clutter of her food and water dishes, toys, and perches. This means keeping perches, food dishes, and toys towards the outside perimeter of the cage and leaving an open space in the middle for flying. Ideally your bird should be able to fly both across the cage horizontally and diagonally from one end of the cage to the opposite end, floor to highest perch.
When my Arwen is stressed or simply wants out of her cage, she notoriously loves to dive from her highest perch down to the floor on the far side of the cage (a distance of about three feet), then climb up a little, then fly horizontal to the other end, and finally climb the rest of the way to the top perch before repeating the process all over again.
In a properly sized cage, your bird can do exactly that.
At five feet ten inches tall (interior maximum height is 58 inches), 28 inches deep, and 42 inches wide, my cage is a solid choice for Cockatiels. There are larger cages and smaller ones. Which is best for you depends on your family composition and opportunities for out of cage time.
In 2005 when I bought this cage, I was a busy professional working in Manhattan and living in New Jersey. My schedule only allowed me to let the birds out about two hours per day on those days I worked. A good rule is that the more time your bird is in her cage, the more important it is for her to be able to fly at least short distances inside her cage.
If you expect to need to leave your Cockatiel in her cage for more than six hours per day, be sure she has another bird to keep her company – either another Cockatiel or another species of bird living in a separate cage located in visual range from your Cockatiel.
Cockatiels who are able to spend more than six hours per day every day out of their cage are able to live in smaller primary cages. Because perches, food dishes, and toys take up more space than you think, never house a Cockatiel in a cage whose inside dimensions are less than 25 inches wide, 22 inches deep, and 32 inches tall and never more than two adult Cockatiels in a cage that small.
Regardless of what size of cage you choose, the bars of your Cockatiel cage should always be between 5/8ths of an inch and 3/4th of an inch or from 13-19 millimetres apart. Narrower and you risk your bird’s toes or leg band getting caught; wider and it becomes difficult to climb.
Quality primary bird cages for your Cockatiel are not cheap, but investing in your bird’s health and well-being from the onset more than pays for itself later. With avian veterinarians more scarce than those for dogs and cats and with avian veterinary care costing many times more than what a trip to the vet costs for a dog or cat, investing in a proper cage at the beginning of your life with Cockatiels makes perfect sense with a payoff that lasts a lifetime!
You can buy the book on Amazon here.
Find out more about Laurel’s work on her website here.