Accommodating your pet bird
Adequate housing for a pet bird is not as straightforward as one might initially think, despite pet shops having cages, toys, and other paraphernalia readily available.
This document aims to provide a check list, of sorts, for bird owners to consider when trying to set up a suitable cage for their pet bird.
The cage itself:
- Is it wider than it is tall? This quality is hard to come by in most commercial cages. We need to think of birds more like aeroplanes and less like helicopters; they do not fly straight up and down.
- What is it made of?
- Powder-coated metals are the best option however they must be cleaned before use.
- Galvanised wire is common for outdoor aviaries. Galvanised wire is zinc based, sometimes with a small amount of lead. Zinc and lead are severely toxic to birds if ingested. Outdoor aviaries should be scrubbed thoroughly to minimise the available particles that can be ingested.
- Will the size be adequate for the species of bird? This is highly variable and needs to account for how much time the bird will be spending in the cage. There are set guidelines for minimum standards required under animal welfare regulations. Ultimately, the biggest cage that can be accommodated is best.
- Is the cage spacing appropriate? Too large a width will mean the bird can possibly escape. If it seems narrow enough, but they could possibly get their head through, an alternative should be chosen as they can get their head caught through the bars.
- How does it open? Are the doors able to be safely secured when open to avoid injuring the bird? Does it allow easy access for the person tending to the cage to access all areas?
- Are the droppings able to fall through a grate or can the bird be walking directly in its own droppings? the later poses more of a disease risk.
- Can the back, part of the sides and roof be partially covered to provide safety and security for the bird?
- Has it been adequately cleaned before use?
- All new cages should be thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed with a vinegar and water solution (1 part white vinegar, 2 parts water). This helps to remove residual metal particles or dust that can be ingested and cause toxicity.
- F10 (a veterinary disinfectant) can be used to clean second hand cages or those from pet shops where birds are sold. This is beneficial from a disease control perspective.
- Natural branches from Australian native plants (eucalyptus) are the best option. They should be cleaned (not necessarily scrubbed) as per the cage cleaning directions.
- The bird's claws should reach approximately two third (2/3) around the diameter of the perch.
- Remove all dowel perches (even if they came with the cage). These are not a natural substrate and can cause problems on a birds feet in the longer term.
- Calcium perches are more useful as a source of calcium than for keeping toenails short. If they are to be used, they should not be the highest in the cage, nor should they be used where the bird spends most of its time. These can lead to problems on the bird's feet.
- Avoid rope perches. Parrots, in particular, have a tendency to chew at these. Small bits of fibrous material can build up in the parrot's gastrointestinal tract over time and eventually lead to a life threatening obstruction.
Food and water provision:
- Bowls can be plastic or stainless steel ideally.
- They must be cleaned daily in warm soapy water and rinsed.
- A minimum of three should be provided (water, dry food, fruits and vegetables).
- Stainless steel kabob sticks can be used to hang vegetables and fruit from – adds enrichment through nutrition.
- Is the bird going to spend time playing/chewing/destroying this toy? The aim of toys is to occupy time in the bird's day. Yes, it will make a mess for their owners to clean, however, the benefits of the enrichment it supplies outweighs the mess.
- What are they made of? Safe toys are typically acrylics, stainless steel, recyclable papers and cardboards and natural foliage. With a bit of thought and creativity, toys can be easily constructed from objects we'd normally dispose of (toilet rolls, cereal boxes, etc.).
- Avoid rope and fibres (for the same reason as why we avoid rope perches), metals that are not stainless steel
- Mirrors often have a mercury backing. Mercury is toxic to all living species and, thus, minors should not be used. In addition, any shiny surface such as a minor, can provide inappropriate stimulation for birds that can result in egg laying and other hormone related behaviours, which often become a problem for the owner or the bird.
- Think about if there is anyway your bird could get a foot, wing or head tangled in the toy. If it could, avoid that option.
- Can this be doubled as a foraging toy? That is, can food be safely hidden within it that the bird has to get to, and can it subsequently be cleaned with ease to prevent food spoilage?
- A great resource for toys is www.myparrotshop.com.au where you can order online and it is a local Melbourne based company
Cage positioning, covering and cleaning:
- Bird cages should be positioned away from drafts and high traffic areas. Placing a cage directly in front of a window is not advised, as predators or perceived threats can spook the birds.
- Is the location of the cage suitable for the bird to get adequate sleep? 12 hours a night is recommended.
- What is going to be used to cover the birds cage each night? Can this be easily cleaned?
- Newspaper is the easiest substrate to place in the bottom of a bird's cage. It is easy to change daily and non-toxic. Other substrates (sand, shell grit, fine wood chips) can be used but come with health risks.