How to Set Up a Bird Cage for a Cockatiel, Parakeet, or Parrot

Updated on July 23, 2019
graceomalley profile image

I have two cockatiels, and I enjoyed setting up our house with fun perches, bird trees, and a spacious cage for their enjoyment (and ours).

How to Arrange the Best Cage for Your Bird

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 article, 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.

How close should the cage bars be?

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.

A cage for three cockatiels
A cage for three cockatiels

Perches: Where, What Type, and How Many

A bird is on his feet all the time, even while sleeping. First and most important, provide a variety of widths and contours 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 perches that offer uneven widths and contours.

Use a Pedi-Perch to Help Keep Nails Trimmed

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.

Rope Perches

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 Placement of Perches Inside the Cage

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

How many food bowls will the cage need?

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 choice 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.

Should the food bowl go on the floor or the side of the cage?

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.

Do the food bowls need hoods?

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.

Water bowl or bottle?

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. The water bottles which are supposed to be held to the cage with a loop of wire tend to slip.

My three cockatiels nap on top of their cage
My three cockatiels nap on top of their cage

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.

Toys for Birds

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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • profile image

      Charlotte Simpson 

      2 years ago

      Our cockatiel seems to love her new bigger cage but hasn't figured out how to use the stainless steel bowls. They are deeper and don't have perches. Is she meant to just sit on the rims and stick her head down in to eat?

    • profile image

      philip orr 

      3 years ago

      hi all, ive seen a growing trend of people using old wardrobes as refurbished cages., this is a great framework for a cage and all you need to do is then take out the plywood in the frame and staple fencing wire onto the empty spaces. just thought id put that idea out there for people who don't know how to be a carpenter :P

    • profile image

      P mccue 

      3 years ago

      My cockateil loves branches from my wattle tree or eucalypt or any other Australian bush. (Check first) It has been more successful putting these in her cage than any toy!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you so much for this website me and my family found an injured bird and we set up a cage of our own P.s we are just keeping the bird till it's healed and these tips really helped the bird settle in and relax

      tip: if your just making a bird cage temporarily use measuring cups through wire

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Where can I purchase one of those cages and what size and price are they thanks

    • profile image

      Connor Hill 

      4 years ago

      would you know what site i could purchase this cage from? if you could link me to it that would be great, thanks

    • graceomalley profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      The brand is Prevue. I bought another cage of theirs recently, because we plan to add to our flock, and I've been very happy with the construction of both Prevue cages. They do a good job making the feeding bowls sturdy, which is not always easy to find.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My Cockatiel already has a good sized cage and spends most of her time on her tree perch anyway but I've considered getting her a larger cage eventually (especially if I ever decide to get another Cockatiel) and this one looks perfect. I am trying to find it online but all the larger dome tops are more than 1/2" bar spacing and I can't seem to find this particular one (with the two doors). Do you remember the brand/name of the cage by any chance? Thanks!

    • skh4you profile image

      Sue Hamlin 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Good article! I have a parakeet and cockatiel, and everything you recommend is just right in my book. Great, thorough job.

    • Cat R profile image

      Cat R 

      8 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

      It's not that hard. But then again, mine are 'Redneck'. My measurements aren't perfect and Holmes from the TV show would probably have a heart-attack when he sees my procedures! But the birds appreciate it.

      This started out with Finches. Everybody stuffs them into tiny cages, but if you read up on them you see how much space they need just for basic happiness.

      My cockatiel/parakeet/red rump parakeet cage is ~4'x~4'x~8' high.

    • graceomalley profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Bedbugabscond - Glad this is helpful!

      Cat R - I wish i knew how to make cages - I would make my porch into a cage if i knew how. Maybe someday. Glad you liked the hub.

    • Cat R profile image

      Cat R 

      8 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

      Been told that parakeets and budgies are two different breeds. The budgie is larger and actually comes also in a purple looking color.

      I build my own cages out of wood and fence. Since I tend to overkill when it comes to cage size, I can afford to build a 'giant' cage for a fourth of what a larger cage would cost me.

      I tried different decorations with mine, but especially the parakeets tend to eat a lot of things like fake plants and stuff. So I tried to find them things they love, can't eat and still look good.

      Lots of good information in here! Great article!

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Collins 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing this. My best friends mother had to go to a home and my best friends sister took her birds home. None of us have any idea how to care for it, so this is very useful!

    • graceomalley profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      albela - So sorry to hear about your budgies!

      My birds have a lot of out of cage time - most of the day we leave the cage open, since we both work from home, and we can keep an eye on them. Interestingly, the cage is still their favorite place. They like to perch on top, or return to the inside of the cage for afternoon naptime.

    • albela rahi profile image

      albela rahi 

      8 years ago

      few years back i had budgerigars but they died shortly may be because i couldn't give them a proper space in cage. That's what you must consider first before keeping any parrot or a bird as pets. Like your wide-spaced cage..

      thanks a lot grace.



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