Introducing a new cage and the importance of the cage set-up
In a previous blog, “Parrots and Cages?” I discussed how a Parrot may view his cage and how their opinion may differ from our own interpretation. In particular, I discussed the importance of a Parrot’s cage becoming a safe space to relax, nap or simply switch off from the world.
Many Parrots become irritated when disturbed inside their cages, either we stick our hands inside or come close to the bars, to solicit their attention. Parrots feel safe within a familiar environment and many do not cope easily with change - the addition of new toys or perches or even a new cage.
Each additional thing added needs to be carefully managed and monitored, so that we do not cause undue stress and anxiety.
Sparky is a 12-year-old, DNA tested male Timneh Grey Parrot, who was rehomed to me 7 years ago. In order to help him settle into my home, he was initially housed in his original cage - which was adequately sized and in good order.
This had been placed in the corner of my sitting room, so that he could feel safer, as there were only two approaches to his cage. The cage could be moved to the window for him to look out, if he wished to. Once Sparky was settled in the house and began to trust me, he was introduced to a new cage; his original cage is still used to take him outside for some daylight during the summer.
Although this new cage was larger than his original, in my opinion it did not encourage enough physical movement within the cage, as the feeding and water bowls were beside each other. Of concern, when he was upon the highest perch, he was still below my eye level (and I am a small woman).
Parrots feel safer when they have a height advantage, and Sparky could be reactive towards other, taller family members who approached his cage.
Either I raised his cage, or I invested in another!
The decision was made to invest in another cage; and one was chosen - the Toronto Corner Cage, with a total height of 200cm and width of 123cm, this is one of the bigger cages that Northern Parrot offer for sale.
Being a corner design, this would utilise the available space and be able to be wheeled in front of the window when necessary.
Even the most relaxed Parrot may become concerned when presented with a new cage and careful introduction is needed. As the cage was too big to go through the doorway once fully assembled, it had to be put together in the sitting room and with Sparky in view of this.
To help alleviate any anxiety caused by construction, he had some of his favourite treats available. Luckily, he seemed non-fussed by this and sat and watched the process. If he had been unduly stressed, then he would have been taken from the room for the duration.
With the cage assembled, it was sat on one side of the room and furnished with an assortment of new perches and toys - in view of the other cage, so that Sparky could observe it from afar. After a few days, the cage was brought closer to Sparky’s cage.
When there were no obvious signs of Sparky being concerned by the presence of this new cage, I placed the new cage with the door open, in front of the old cage’s opened door, allowing Sparky to choose to investigate this new space or not.
As this had to be his decision to make, I did not attempt to bribe him by putting favoured treats inside the food bowls of the new cage. This would take as long as it took and I was prepared to continue to feed him in his old cage.
Sparky sat in his old cage for several hours, before deciding to investigate the new space. Once inside the new cage, I left the cages where they were, so that he could return to his old cage if he chose to, as this was a familiar safe space for him. Gradually, he explored the new cage and when he was relaxed and perching, I removed the old cage and closed the door.
Furnishing the new cage: Remember that the cage is the Parrot’s home, within which they may spend various amounts of their time; although it is always better for any Parrot to have the opportunity to vacate their cage for as much time as possible.
Sleeping area: this should be the highest perch, that may be approached on one or two sides only.
Living area: provide a perch, lower than the sleeping area perch that gives the Parrot the best view out of the window or beyond the room where they live, so that they can easily observe their surroundings.
Dining area: most cages sold, have two areas for food and water and generally these will be at opposite sides of the cage. I prefer to have a food bowl separate to the water bowl for hygiene reasons; furthermore, Sparky has a habit of dipping his food in water, turning the water into a nasty soup. Having the food and water on opposite sides of the cage also encourages movement from one side to the other.
For comfort, place a perch to the side of each food/water station.
Use different sized perches made from different substances throughout the cage and avoid the dowling perches that are usually provided by cage manufacturers. These tend to run from one side to the other of a cage, inhibiting movement, compromising hygiene and physical health as Parrots’ feet are designed to navigate different circumferences of tree branches.
Toys: It is not beneficial to any Parrot for you to cram in as many toys as you can into this limited space as this will prevent movement around the cage. Instead have a stock of toys and rotate these periodically, removing any that may be frayed.
Some Parrots are shredders, they enjoy shredding cardboard or paper; whilst others are chewers and enjoy wooden blocks or leather straps. Discover what your Parrot prefers and provide suitable toys.
Inside the cage, place a toy beside the non-food/water perches, that way when your Parrot is perching, they can also amuse themselves.
It has now been a month since the new cage became Sparky’s safe space. By observing him and his use of the cage, I will be able to tweak the layout accordingly so that he has the best use of the space.
When Sparky is roosting during the night, he uses the perch closest to the corner, which is also the highest.
During the day, he splits his time, when not eating or drinking, between the perch closest to the window (to shout at the crows outside) or on another perch on the opposite side of the cage.
Sparky is more active and engaged in this new cage. Previously, shredding toys could lie untouched for weeks and months; his new toys are destroyed, and replacements being worked on. He uses all of the perches in his cage and moving between them is a benefit to his physical and mental health.
Even though his cage door is opened during the day and he may choose to come out, more often than not, he chooses to go back inside to roost/nap or shred his toys.
Remarkably, he is no longer reactive to other family members who approach his cage!
There is no doubt that providing Sparky with a larger cage with a more thoughtful layout has improved his quality of life.
“My Parrot is terrified of new things and takes weeks and months to get used to change”.
Go slowly! If possible, remove your Parrot from the room, while you construct the new cage, and once assembled leave it as far away from the Parrot as you can. Don’t be in a rush to bring it closer. Bring it closer in increments, and only when you observe your Parrot being at ease by its proximity.
If your Parrot becomes worried, move it back to where he is no longer worried.
With furnishings, for those very anxious Parrots, don’t be in a rush to put new perches and toys inside the new cage, instead, use some of the ones that you know that your Parrot is already familiar with.
“I read that I should put his favourite treats inside the new cage, to encourage him to go inside”.
As we want this new cage to be your Parrots’ safe space, it is vital that we don’t lure or bribe him to go inside when he is not confident to do so. Don’t confuse him wanting that titbit with him being comfortable with the new cage, as it is likely that this new cage will feature for many years in his life. We want him to always view it as his happy place.
“I read that once introduced and he is inside the new cage that I should lock him in for days/weeks- to get used to it”
If we did this, then all we would be doing is making the new cage a prison to him, instead of a safe space. It is important to continue with your Parrot’s usual routine with the same non-cage-time as before. He may choose to come out or not, but is important that he is given a choice.
For your perfect Parrot cage please click here.
Elaine Henley P.G.Dip CABC
Animal Behaviour Clinic
Full member Association of Pet Behaviour Counselors (APBC)
Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist (ABTC)
Certified Parrot Behaviour Consultant (IAABC)
Telephone: 01294 833764 or 07789112347
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