Guest Author - Melissa McIntyre
The cage your bird or birds live in is one of the most important purchases you will make as a bird owner. Good cages are a bathroom, dining room, bedroom, and playground all in one. Many birds can expect to live at least 75% of their lives in a cage- 50% sleeping, and often an additional 6-10 hours a day waiting for their owners to get home from school, work, or various other outside activities. Some birds never leave their cage at all. It’s thus no surprise that the cage is of great importance to the bird or birds that live in it, but it’s almost equally important to the bird owner. Cages that are difficult to clean, manoeuvre, or are unsightly can quickly become an owner’s nightmare. Considering all this, choosing the right cage is vital to the health and happiness of both bird and person!
Before you go cage shopping, it’s a good idea to decide what you are able to spend on a cage. It is important to remember that an appropriately sized cage of good quality is going to be more expensive than a smaller cage of questionable manufacture. You truly do “get what you pay for” when you purchase a cage. Expect to pay about $100-$200 for a good quality cage for a small bird, $300-$500 for a medium bird, and over $600 for a large bird. You may be able to find good-quality used cages for less through bird clubs, associations, or classified ads. However, used cages should be well disinfected. Like any other important purchase, beware of deals that are too good to be true: they probably are.
The size and shape of the cage you chose is very important. Round cages are never appropriate for any bird; they minimize liveable space and do not offer a corner to retreat to. Birds living in round cages often suffer from chronic low-grade stress, which can affect both their behaviour and their health. All cages should have at least one corner for the bird to retreat to. Birds generally use the top 1/3 to ˝ of the cage; because of this, longer cages offer more flight space than tall cages. Dome-top cages offer more space than flat tops. However, cages with fancy scroll-work should be inspected for any areas a toe or beak could get stuck. Play-top cages can be an excellent choice for parrots, but a second play area should be purchased as well, as having alternate territories can help ease possessiveness. Be aware of the bar spacing- the bars should not be so far apart that the bird could possibly get their head through them, and not so small that a toe or foot might get stuck.
There are many cage materials to choose from. Brass or bass-looking cages, while often inexpensive, should only be used after being tested for the presence of lead, as a large portion of brass is manufactures with enough lead in it to seriously compromise a bird’s health. It’s important to match the material to the strength of the bird. Plastic cages are lighter and often less money than powder coated or stainless steel cages, but generally need replacing every 12 to 18 months. Plastic cages are inappropriate for all but the lightest of chewers, but are acceptable for most finches. Powder coated cages are a good middle-of-the-road choice, but bar-chewers may strip and eat the coating, exposing the difficult-to-clean and possibly zinc-laden metal underneath. All powder coating and/or paint should be guaranteed to be free of lead and zinc. Stainless steel cages are fabulous- difficult to break and easy to disinfect- but come with a significant price tag and are incredibly heavy and difficult to move. These cages are usually reserved for extra-large parrots, such as the large macaws and cockatoos.
There are many choices available when it comes to features. When inspecting a cage, check to see what kind of doors the it has, and what kind of locking mechanisms come with it. Doors should be large and offer easy access to every part of the cage. Locks should be easy for people to manipulate, but difficult for birds. Beware of spring-loaded locks; they often break or snap, rendering the lock useless or worse, exposing the small springs which a bird could possibly swallow. Decide what kind of feeders you want, as well; outside access is preferred by most bird owners. However, be aware that “guillotine” style feeder doors have injured, even killed birds attempting escape. If you have a cage with these kinds of doors, you may way to lock them shut when you are away. Many cages now come with seed guards. While these do help keep the mess down, metal guards can give you a good cut if you stumble into them, and they do give you another thing to clean! Larger metal cages may come with removable seed guards, but most plastic guards are permanent. Some cages come with stands, either built-in or separate, which often have storage space for extra toys, treats or food. Castors or wheels are a very helpful feature for moving large, heavy metal cages.
There are hundreds of possible conformations for a cage. It’s best to decide in advance what you want, and then look for a cage that meets those needs. By choosing the right cage, your bird can be guaranteed years of comfortable, safe housing.