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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

Don't Fence Me In

A discussion about bird cages and some things you might want to consider.

Enrichment is all about improving and enhancing the quality of life for your parrot. Let's talk about the "living quarters."

Imagine for a moment you have been living in an estate ... you can roam about and have the freedom to do pretty much whatever you wanted to. Then imagine having to move from that environment into a small one room apartment in town where you only go out a few hours a day. That would suck wouldn't it?

This is exactly how it is for many parrots. Sure, most parrots in the U.S. are from pet stores or breeders or rescues, and they may not have ever been in anything close to the environment they're supposed to be living in, but their instincts and needs are still that of a wild creature.

Parrots are intelligent, social creatures who actually thrive on the challenges of survival; it's rewarding for them and enriches their existence. They need to search for food and shelter, navigate a complex social structure, and interact with flock mates ... calling others (loudly), courting, and mating are all 'natural' and normal activities for parrots in the wild. So how can we provide as much of the natural challenges to our pet birds?

Well, let me say straight off that I am NOT suggesting you get a mate for and breed your parrot. There are already too many unwanted birds in the U.S. I mention this because it's a natural instinct for a pair to mate and you will have to deal with the natural behaviors that go with a mated pair ... protection from intruders such as YOU.

The 'living quarters' aka cage, house, aviary, apartment, tree, bird room ... whatever you choose call it, is the primary area where your parrot spends most of his/her time. Most people have an enclosure where their bird spends, at least, their sleeping hours. Others may sleep and spend a good portion of the day in their cage depending on the family they live with. Not everyone has the ability to be home all day, so if you work outside the home then your bird spends a good deal of time in their cage. In this situation you will want to choose the best enclosure can afford.

There are many different materials used for cages. Your choice will depend on the bird you have and your budget. If you splurge on anything ... the cage is the thing I would splurge on.

Here is some information on various cage materials...

  • Stainless Steel (SS) - This is the 'top of the line' when it comes to cages. The SS used in most bird cages is the same type used for cookware and utensils. This grade (304) is nontoxic and highly rust-resistant. SS cages are beautiful and easy to clean, and the best part is you don't need to worry about chipping paint. These are almost a must for the larger birds with strong beaks that like to chew.

  • Powder Coated - Powder coated cages are also steel, but the grade is not as high stainless. Powder coating is NOT paint. The process of powder coating is an electrostatically-charged surface is sprayed with powder and baked to a hard finish which is very durable. A well-made powder coated cage will last many years if your bird doesn't actively chew the bars and chip the paint. This type of cage is great for medium and small birds or your large bird if she doesn't chew the bars. These cages are very affordable and you can usually get a very large enclosure for a very reasonable cost.

  • Wrought Iron - Wrought iron cages were used in the past for larger birds but now powder coating has replaced them for the most part. There are still some that come from Mexico or South America but I'd caution against them mostly because the paint used might contain toxic materials. Wrought iron cages are sometimes also ornate with a lot of scroll work and decoration which is not safe and impossible to keep clean.

  • Metal and Plastic Cages - Usually the metal is coated in plastic but not always. These cages are only a possibility for the very smallest of birds who can't snap the bars. The problem with these cages is that they are usually very small so there's no room for exercise, and the metal used is likely zinc; some are painted with a pliable paint that easily chips.

  • Wooden - Wooden cages have been used for a long time for finches or canaries. They can be quite pretty but are also very unsanitary. Wood can hold moisture which leads to mold, bacteria, and parasites. They are difficult to clean and won't stand up to a parrot's beak and desire to chew. Wooden-acrylic cages that look like furniture may look nice but they're usually pricey and may not allow adequate ventilation.

  • Acrylic - Another pricey option that offers the advantage of being able to see the bird more clearly. They keep debris in the enclosure and may dampen the 'noise' of a parrot but, again, they don’t allow for much ventilation and don’t have bars for the bird to climb on. Acrylic enclosure would need a combination or metal or acrylic bars, perches, nets, java trees, or some mechanism for the bird to climb around the enclosure. Make sure there is adequate ventilation.


  1. Whatever medium you choose for your bird's enclosure, stay away from scrollwork, decorative elements or bars that taper closed -- these can be very dangerous by creating pinch points that can result in a caught toe or wing, etc.

  2. If the top of the cage opens, always secure it so that if your bird lands on it, it cannot slam shut on the bird. I always just keep these tops closed. They scare the hell out of me!

  3. Remove the 'dowel' perches that come with the cage. You can use them if you wrap them in vet tape but these type of perches alone are not good for your bird's feet. Be sure to add natural branches of varying diameters to keep feet healthy and strong.​​​​​​​​​​​​

  4. Round cages are reportedly disconcerting for a bird so I would stay away from a round cage because many birds prefer to sleep in the corner of the cage.​​

  5. IF you use the adjustable brackets that hold 2x4s, PLEASE file or plane the sharp corners off the planks. Sharp corners are very bad for them to sit on for extended periods.

Size DOES Matter ... ;) Your bird should always have the largest possible enclosure. In a perfect world your bird could fly IN the enclosure, especially if he is never allowed out of the cage. Small cages are nice for traveling or as a sleep cage, but your bird’s home should be as large as you have room for and can afford. It’s not always possible to have a large or even a medium-sized bird in a cage where she can fly. You would need something the size of an entire room for larger birds to be able to take flight. Ideally they should be able to stretch their wings out in their enclosure at least. Larger birds need space to climb around in, and will also need time out of the cage on a playstand or hanging rope play areas. Medium and large birds need a lot of exercise, so don’t scrimp on space.

For smaller birds, choose a cage that is longer than it is tall. Small birds like budgies, canaries and lovebirds would have plenty of room in a cage that’s 36 inches long, 24 inches tall and 24 inches wide, but bigger is better. Even though they're small, finches actually need quite large housing, so consider an aviary or large flight cage for them to thrive. Also, choose a square or rectangular cage with a horizontal landscape (rather than vertical).

For spacing of the bars on cages the recommendations are:

  • Small Birds: Finch, Canary, Parrotlet, Parakeet, Lovebird: No more than 1/2"

  • Medium Birds: Cockatiel, Conure, Lory, Senegal: 1/2" to no more than 7/8"

  • Large Birds: African Grey, Amazon, Macaw, Cockatoo: 3/4" to no more than 1-3/8"

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