Organizing Your Home for Parrots, Parakeets, or Cockatiels: Bird Trees and Other Ideas
“The birds have taken over your house!” exclaimed a recent visitor. Well, sort of. I’ve arranged one end of the family room with lots of places to perch and their cage, but my desk and my favorite wing chair live there, too. I like to be with my cockatiels Angus and Selchie while I’m reading, writing, having prayertime, or doing lesson plans. In this article, I share my experience organizing indoor space to be shared with companion birds, in a way to facilitate interaction between the human and avian occupants of the home.
As an overall approach to managing indoor birds, I try to give them opportunities to follow their natural instincts to fly, climb, forage, explore, rest, and feel secure. If they can do most or all of the things their instincts tell them to do, they will be more content and happier companions.
My birds' stuff
Angus and Selchie’s set up includes two bird trees, a nice big cage, and a walking bridge. They are allowed to be out of their cage whenever an adult is home to supervise. This is a lot of the time, as my husband works from home, and I teach and write from home. I do have one student who is bird phobic as a result of an encounter with an aggressive seagull when she was very young, and so Angus and Selchie go in their cage during that class. Here is a shot showing the cage, the bridge and one of the trees. (Usually I put a layer of newspaper under the places Angus and Selchie frequent, but I removed the newspaper for this picture because it was visually confusing.)
A bird tree
If you decide to go the ‘free bird’ route, the most important thing is a bird tree. This is an item which gives your bird(s) multiple places to perch, climb and land during the day, serving the function a real tree would in the wild. It also keeps your birds in one area, where you can keep an eye on them. Make the tree a place where the birds just naturally want to hang out, and you won’t spend time chasing them off the kitchen table or the shelf with your good china. Many products on the market fit the bill, and you can see just a few on the side bar. As you can see, you can pay a pretty penny for a bird tree or stand of a decent size. I made two of my own for a total cost of $1. Here is a closer shot of the first one:
This tree is nice and light, which is important for me as I can’t lift or move much weight. It was given to me by a friend when I asked if I could have some of the branches which had blown down on his property. The tree has an interesting base: it was a vine that was growing in tall trees, and when a windstorm brought down some branches the vine twined around them fell as well. My friend spotted a bit of vine that had grown in a circle, and trimmed it so it would stand. Voila! I had a durable and lightweight bird tree, about 35’’ in height. When making your own bird tree be sure to use wood that has never been treated with pesticides, and does not have insect infestation.
So I got lucky with the vine. Then another friend heard I was looking for branches. (My garage filled with branches as I worked all this out, some I pestered my family into dragging home, some donated by friends.) This friend works as caretaker of a large estate in the mountains, and she brought me a piece of manzanita over five feet tall. Manzanita, I must say, is lovely. The bird tree I made with it looks like a piece of art. It doesn’t look like a pet product, it looks like something from an upscale home embellishments store. To make the manzanita branch stand upright I considered a few options: a large flower pot with quick-crete, a sawed-in-half wooden barrel with quick-crete, a flat board and nails. Then, my local K-Mart put the Christmas leftovers on fire sale, and I brought home a Christmas tree stand for $1. The stand secured my manzinita, and I tucked it into a corner of the family room such that a club chair hid the green plastic base from sight, and left just the elegant, many pointed manzanita branches visible.
I thought Angus and Selchie would love the manzanita tree, especially since it would give them a nice view into the back yard. But I discovered another property of manzanita: it is hard as iron. A manzanita tree or perch will last forever, but standing on something that hard is just not as comfy for your bird as standing on softer wood. Also, the manzanita, being solid as an oak door, doesn’t give the opportunity to bite and chew at little loose bits, the way other natural branches do. (This keeps a bird’s beak in good trim, and gives an outlet for the natural desire to chew.) Angus and Selchie slowly became more used to the hardness of the manzanita, and perch on it a bit more these days. I hung a couple of bird swings from it, and they like to watch the backyard while rocking themselves a bit.
The bird bridge and other fun branches
Although Angus and Selchie can fly, they like to walk and climb. They really like the large branch we set up each morning as a bridge between their cage and the table with their tree. A little while after I uncover the cage, they do the sideways shuffle along their bridge, heading for breakfast. They always have food and water available in the cage, but they seem to prefer to do most of their eating outside the cage. I use a few different bowls, and move them around from day to day, and set loose branches around in different configurations. This is the closest birds in the home come to foraging for food, and they seem to like it. Sometimes I drop some pellets or some seed in different places on the table top for them to find. This appeals to cockatiels, who in their native Austrailan grassland are ground feeders. A parrot like an African Grey, who would do most of its foraging in trees, might enjoy discovering food in different places in its bird tree. You can buy hanging foraging toys for just this purpose, and a few are shown in the sidebar. For a less gadgety approach, wrap some food in a lettuce leaf, and hang that from a branch.
Each evening of course, everything gets cleaned up, the newspaper for the day is rolled up and thrown away, the bridge is put away for the night, and I run a light vacuum I keep next to the cage. All told, I think I spend about 15 minutes a day on bird set up and clean up. Once you are in a routine, it goes quicker than you might think.
A bird's cage is his castle
I looked at bird cages for a long time before selecting one. Cages come in a variety of styles, colors and prices. I choose on the expensive side. I was looking at this as an investment, and something that would add a lot to my quality of life at home. I spend most of my time in the house these days, as the result of health problems. (I’ve written other hubs about that.) One major element in a cage is the top: play top cages offer an additional play area for the birds that doesn’t require sacrificing human space. Cages with an arched top (like the one I chose) are like a jungle gym, and a lot of fun for birds to climb on, but can’t provide a play yard like a flat top. I like the way an arched cage looks, but that may be personal taste. Seed guards (metal or plastic slats that stick out from the sides of the cage) help keep messiness under control, but they also take up a lot more space. With the seed guards my cage is 27" deep, and without the guards it measures only 18" deep.
Here is Angus and Selchie's cage all set up for them with plenty of rope perches and food bowls. Since so many branches are available to perch and chew, I installed rope perches inside the cage - they are sturdy yet bendable, and you can shape them into whatever configuration you want.
The birds and my family are building a community, letting our lives settle in together, sharing our space and time. The house feels more full and more cheerful, with these little residents going about their feathered business. If a nice beam of sunlight is hitting their table, Angus and Selchie drop everything to enjoy it. They know how to be affectionate, but aren't above dishing out a good scolding. They go to bed nice and early, and wake at the crack of dawn, ready for the new day. All in all, they are quite civilized.
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