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).
The Birds Have Taken Over!
“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 prayer time, or doing lesson plans. In this article, I share my experience organizing indoor spaces to be shared with companion birds in a way that facilitates 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 setup 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.
Below 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.)
Why a Bird Tree Is Important (Get One!)
If you decide to go the "free bird" route, the most important thing is a bird tree. This is an item that 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, though 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 that 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.
My Second Homemade Bird Tree
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 were 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, or 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 manzanita, and I tucked it into a corner of the family room such that a club chair hid the green plastic base from sight, leaving 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 backyard. 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 like other natural branches do. (This keeps a bird’s beak in good trim and gives them an outlet for their natural desire to chew.)
Angus and Selchie slowly became more used to the hardness of the manzanita, and they 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.
Different Setups Provide Opportunities for Foraging
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 I also set loose branches around in different configurations. This is the closest that 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. For a less gadgety approach, wrap some food in a lettuce leaf, and hang that from a branch.
Clean-up: A Daily Routine
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 setup 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 chose one 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.)
Important Cage Features
The Top: 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 they're a lot of fun for birds to climb on, but they 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: These are metal or plastic slats that stick out from the sides of the cage. They 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.
Rope Perches: Below is a photo of 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.
Building a Community With Your Birds
The birds and my family are building a community, letting our lives settle in together, and 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 they 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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What do you need to set up a cage that will meet all your bird's needs and keep him happy? This article details things to consider when choosing perches, food and water bowls, mineral supplements and toys.
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.
Jody on June 21, 2019:
Yes, i enjoyed this link
Kaylee on May 20, 2019:
Wonderful article, reading as much as I can before I get a baby cockatiel this Saturday!! :)
Success Stories Map on September 13, 2018:
Elizabeth Cromwel on September 30, 2017:
Great article, thank you!
graceomalley (author) on December 09, 2016:
I found the cage on ebay, although I think this style is not made anymore. I wish they made more with large doors.
Birdygirl on December 09, 2016:
Thank you for the great article.
Where did you find your cage? I've been looking for a cage with large doors.
Jennifer Bridges from Michigan on May 20, 2012:
Cute 'tiels, and great set up! My little cockatiel is allowed out of his cage when I'm home (and awake of course), but he seems to prefer just hanging out on the top of his cage, on my shoulder, or by the window. That's fine by me - it's easier to keep track of him that way. ;)
graceomalley (author) on April 22, 2012:
Hyphenbird - 20 years old is a ripe old age for a cockatiel! You must have taken great care of him.
Roc6 - Maybe someday I will have a larger parrot - I would love to.
avianvoice - I'm new to pets, and it's a whole new world.
MAEDay - Nice to see you! I'm always happy when others can see just how beautiful my birds are :)
MAEDayOrganizing from Santa Cruz, California on April 20, 2012:
Great story. I think your birds are beautiful. Your friend MAE
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 20, 2012:
Voted awesome! Pets always seem to add to one's quality of life with their silly little antics and trying so hard to please. These are lovely birds, to which I am partial to birds, anyway. Even the ones in the wild do silly things, some of which I have written about. Thanks for a great story!
Rosemary Cole from Cape Town, South Africa on April 20, 2012:
Thanks, great ideas, I have a Senegal Parrot, big things tend to frighten him. He takes a bit of time to get used to things.
Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on April 20, 2012:
This is a great idea. Birds are wonderful companions when allowed to be themselves. My Hyphen (a cockatiel) used to be out all the time but now is confined to his cage most of the time. He is 20 years old and a bit fragile. He still sits on my shoulder or the curtain rod every day for a while. He is a great friend to me.