How To Set Up A Bird Cage For A Cockatiel, Parakeet or Parrot
So you’ve decided to add a bird to your household! Before bringing home your little feathered friend, know what he needs, and have things all set up. He will settle into his new home more securely if he quickly discovers all his needs are provided. Then the two of you can focus on the fun part: enjoying a new friendship.
A quick word about the cage: the subject of selecting the best cage from all the possibilities out there deserves its own hub, but I’ll just say a few words. The most important feature of a cage is appropriate bar spacing for the size of your bird. Parakeets (also called budgies) and cockatiels need ½ inch bar spacing, a small parrot like a conure or a Timneh African Grey needs ¾ inch spacing, and large parrots like an Amazon, Congo African Grey or Macaw need 1 inch spacing. This is a matter of safety, as a bird can get his head stuck in bars that are too far apart for his size, or even escape all together. Giving your bird time outside his cage is a very good thing, but you don’t want him loose without supervision, getting tangled in curtain cords, lost under the couch, or even squeezing through a hole in the screen.
When setting up your bird’s space, consider what would keep him healthy and happy in the wild, then do some adjusting to provide that in your home.
Perches: where, what and how many
A bird is on his feet all the time, even while sleeping. First and most important, provide a variety of widths to perch on inside the cage. This gets taken care of automatically in the wild, since trees always provide branches of many sizes. A bird’s feet need the exercise of adjusting to different widths regularly to keep the joints flexible, or serious foot problems can develop. The plain dowel perches usually included with the price of a cage are unfortunately the worst sort. Much better are the perches at right, which offer uneven widths and contours.
Another issue is nail trimming. Birds in the wild wear their nails down with lots of climbing and landing on rough surfaces. Indoor birds need more help to keep nails under control, and a pedi perch is ideal. Those pictured combine a rough surface to wear down nails and variable widths to stretch foot joints. The small size is perfect for cockatiels and parakeets, and the medium will work for mid sized to large parrots. The large size is - well, very large. Only the largest macaws would need a large. Pedi perches attach securely to the side of a cage, and don’t take up too much space. Keep in mind that a pedi perch may not completely eliminate the need for occasional nail trims, but it will help.
One more type of perch should get some mention. Rope perches come in several widths and lengths, and have the excellent property of being flexible. They have a wire core, and can be bent into any configuration: straight across the cage, a right angle, or zigzag.
The cage should hold enough perches that each bird has a comfortable resting spot, but not so many that the space feels crowded. Remember that birds tend to prefer a high spot, because this feels safer. If a bird comes into a new cage with several levels of perches available, he will usually gravitate to the highest, and ignore the others. Unfortunately, he ends up getting less use out of his living space. A good way to get a new bird comfortable using more of the cage is to initially set up the cage with perches no higher than mid level. Then, after giving him a few weeks to settle in and decide on favorite spots, add a high perch. Since all of mid level perches are now familiar and feel safe he won’t abandon his old spots, and he will now have an extra perch.
Food and water bowls
A cage should have at least as many food bowls as birds, and preferably one extra. An extra bowl means each bird always has a coice of places to eat, and everyone feels more secure when they have choices. Birds’ metabolism runs high, and they should consistently have access to food during waking hours. They feel most vulnerable on the cage floor (the ground is where predators lurk), so attaching food bowls to the sides of the cage is better than placing them on the floor. Many food bowls are made with hoods to minimize mess and waste, but the problem is some birds are afraid to put their heads into a hooded food dish. From the perspective of a small creature always on the alert for dangers, this sort of bowl doesn’t seem safe.
For water there are two choices: an open bowl or a water bottle. An open bowl of water can collect food, dust or debris, while a water bottle runs the risk of getting blocked up. The best idea is to have both available at all times. When buying a water bottle, make sure to get one that clamps securely to the cage side, like the bottle pictured at right. The water bottles which are supposed to be held to the cage with a loop of wire tend to slip.
A cuttlebone and mineral block
Both a cuttlebone and a mineral block supply your bird with needed nutrients, and a chance to exercise his chewing instinct. A bird’s beak is always growing, and an outlet for chewing helps wear it down. These items are quite inexpensive, and having both benefits your bird.
To choose great toys think about what birds like to do in the wild. Parrots have a strong instinct to chew, especially females, who need to chew through wood during nesting. Toys which give an opportunity for some good chewing and shredding are always popular. Birds also like preening, both their own feathers and each others. Toys with lots of loose strands appeal to the preening instinct.
One toy birds always like is a bell. Something about the sound the bell makes, and the opportunity to grab the clapper, is endlessly appealing. Many birds also like to wear a bell as a hat. What this has to do with life in the wild is unclear.
Companion birds are tiny, fragile creatures compared to humans. But with an environment where he learns he has everything he needs, and safety and survival are nothing to worry about, a bird's playful side comes out. You will find out just how smart and how fun birds can be.
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