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Suggestions for Setting Up Your Parrot's Living Area
By Sally Blanchard
excerpts from

Most parrots spend a lot of time in the upper part of their cages so there should be a number of things there to keep them occupied. If you put in a boing, have it be more towards the middle of the cage than in a corner.
Things to add to the cage:
1) Food kabobs for fresh fruits or veggies provide foraging opportunities.
2) Swings are great and should be the highest perch in the cage.
3) Side-mounted toys provide added stimulation.
4) Add in upper perches that go from front to back instead of just from side to side to add variety.
5) Toys - Aim to have 4 or 5 toys made from different materials and rotate them out to prevent boredom.
6) Add a fourth bowl to hold foot toys.
7) three bowls - one for seed/pellets mixes, one for wet/warm foods/fruits and veggies and one for water.
8) Cage bottom can be lined with newspaper. Do not use ground walnuts or corn cob litter. These are growing grounds for bacteria when they get wet. Change the paper every day, if possible.

Cage Location Considerations
Cage Materials and Shape
Cage Size
Cage Accessories - Perches and Swings
Cage Accessories - Food and Water Bowls
Sleeping/ Time Out Cage

Cage Location Considerations
Being very social, parrots like to be where the action is. They want to know what is going on and it is important for them to be part of the interaction of the human flock. If you spend most of your time in the living room, that's where the cage should be. If you spend most of your time in the family room, that's where their cage should be. However, if you stay up late watching television, the bird should also have a sleeping cage in another room (more on that later.) It also helps to have a variety of stands and playgyms in other areas where the family spends a lot of time.
1 am not a fan of keeping parrots in a "bird room" unless there are several birds who keep each other company even if they are not in the same cage. I have talked with bird owners who think it makes sense to keep their parrots' cage in another room so they don't have to listen to its screaming. This is faulty logic simply because most gregarious parrots will tend to be louder if they can't see what's going on—they need to be a part of the family flock. Being out of the loop creates a much greater potential for screaming. This can start with the parrot's contact calls and if no one responds to the calls, the parrot may start to scream so he will get the attention he wants. If he lives in the same room where people spend most of their time, the parrot can get his social needs met more easily with ambient attention. Ambient attention is defined as the time spent in the same room where there is occasional calling back and forth. The parrot is in his cage or on his playgym but he is not receiving physical attention. If he calls to the people in the room with a simple sound or a more elaborate, "What are you doing?" he receives a response such as, "I'm reading the paper," or "I'm watching the TV." For most parrots this is a very significant interaction. A response is reassuring and helps keep him secure about his place in the family flock.
Although it is important that people share their living areas with their parrot, the parrot's cage should not be in an area where there is a great deal of chaos. Some parrots may thrive on lots of action while others may be intimidated by being in an area with too much action. Lots of kids coming in and out of the door, dogs barking at a nearby window, people going up and down the stairs, and a loud television or radio are examples of activities that can create too much chaos for a permanent cage location. One parrot that I knew was driven to the brink because his cage was right next to the big screen television. While many parrots love to have their cages next to a window so they can see the outside world, this location also comes with a warning. Too much activity can be intimidating for some parrots. Many people like to have their parrots' cages at a window so the parrots can derive entertainment from watching the outdoor bird feeder. This is a good idea and does give the parrot something to observe while their human friends are away. However, it can be scary for the parrot if a raptor flies down and gets one of the birds at the feeder.
Another consideration has to do with what is above the cage. I have talked with several people who had parrot cages underneath one of their children's rooms. It took us quite some time for us to figure out that their parrots were very disturbed by the activity overhead. With small children it was the bouncing and jumping around and with larger kids it was the boom box vibrating the floor above them. The only thing that made me think of this as a source of problems was the number of Amazons in the
Marina district of San Francisco who began plucking and exhibiting fear behaviors after the earthquake in 1989. Although some do, it is unusual for Amazons to become feather pickers — especially if there is a sudden onset of the feather destructive behavior. Notice that this behavior started after the earthquake but not immediately after the earthquake. While there were many aftershocks, whole blocks in the Marina district were being demolished and reconstructed or repaired. For months afterwards, from early in the morning to early in the evening, there were sounds of jack hammers, heavy trucks and other construction pandemonium. The noise and the construction dust were certainly a problem, but the vibrations caused by the construction sent many of the parrots over the edge.
When I got my first parrot, the pet shop told me to walk around the room with a candle to determine a good cage location. If the flame flickered in an area, this would not be an appropriate location for the cage. I realized how ridiculous this was when I walked around the room with the candle and it flickered everywhere. Did this mean I
could never have a parrot? Of course not, it is not a draft that makes parrots ill — it is a variety of germs. If a parrot is very ill, a significant draft may contribute to his problem. However unless a parrot is next to a window where a he is exposed to a cold draft, a healthy bird should have little problem with breezes blowing through his environment. Drafts are overrated as a cause of bird disease but make sure that the cage is not in direct line with an air conditioner vent, or for that matter, a heater vent. While the cage should be in an area that receives good lighting, it should not be in front of a window that receives intense afternoon sunlight. A comfortable temperature range for parrots is from 55° to 90°. A problem can occur if there are severe temperature swings. Parrots can tolerate temperatures below 55° but they need to adjust to them gradually. If it gets much hotter than 90°, parrots can stay cool with a gentle spray shower. It is interesting to note that when it appears that a parrot is shivering because his chest and belly feathers seem to be quivering, he is probably not cold. These contour feathers are formed on horizontal tracts on the parrot's chest and belly. Quivering them is one way of dripping dry after a bath and also it is a way to exercise and rearrange the feathers.
The area around the cage should not be cluttered with tempting chewables. If a parrot can reach it, a parrot is going to chew it. I have talked with several people who objected to the fact that their parrots chewed on a nearby window frame, chair, bookcase, or a cabinet. This is like putting chocolate in front of a chocaholic ... most parrots cannot resist chewing on an available piece of wood even if it is the frame on your favorite painting. It is best to locate the cage in an area where the destructo-beak can't reach anything valuable.
A permanent cage location in or near the kitchen can also be a problem, especially with a gas stove. Overheated Teflon or any nonstick coating is toxic to birds but so is the smoke or fumes from burning just about anything. Many pots and pans have hard plastic handles that are highly toxic if they are burned.
If you are a smoker, your parrot should NEVER be in an area where people smoke. Cigarette smoke is highly toxic to parrots and physical contact with nicotine on your fingers and clothing is also a problem. It is, therefore, critical to thoroughly wash your hands and even change your clothes before you handle your parrot.

Cage Materials and Shape
Parrot cages are made from many different materials. If you get an older parrot and he comes with an old galvanized wire cage, chrome cage, wrought iron cage or one where the powder-coat is deteriorating or scraped off exposing the metal underneath, I highly advise replacing the cage. Many of these old cages are made with materials that can be toxic to chewing parrots. Don't try to save money by painting the cage unless you are sure that the metal underneath is safe and that the painting or power coating is done by a person who understands what is and is not toxic to parrots. Some paints are considered safe for children's furniture but that does necessarily mean they are safe for parrot cages.
Today's quality cages are made from several materials; stainless steel, powder coated iron rods, powder coated wire, acrylic, and various combinations of these materials. Some high priced cages are enclosed in fancy wooden cabinets. The quality and durability of a cage should be judged by the manufacturer rather than just the material. I have seen cages of all materials that I would not put my parrots in. A quality stainless steel cage is usually expensive but will usually last longer than a powder coated cage. I have serious problems with many of the acrylic cages on the market today because most don't take the parrots needs into consideration. They lack both proper ventilation and exercise opportunities. At least one manufacturer's advertisement promoted the fact that the mess is contained within the cage. This makes little sense to buy a cage because the manufacturers boasts that it will keep the mess in the cage. While it may be messier for parrot detritus to go all over the surrounding floor, it is certainly healthier for the bird if the mess is not contained in his cage. For me to recommend an acrylic cage it has to be built with optimal ventilation and exercise potential. Parrot Island in Minnesota builds a quality acrylic cage that does consider the parrot and also provides convenience for the caregiver.
I prefer a rectangle for a variety of reasons. For years, I have read that some parrots such as Amazons and Greys should not be in round cages. I am not sure of all the reason this is true but I do know that it is not easy to hang multiple toys in a round cage. Parrots kept in round cages usually have rattier looking feathers than parrots kept in rectangular cages. Round cages are also much more difficult to set up and few manufacturers even make them anymore.
Cage bar spacing should be 3/4" or smaller for small to medium parrots but the larger birds are fine with 1" bar spacing. For a safe outdoor aviary, I would recommend bar spacing no wider than 1/2". Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the difference between vertical bars and horizontal bars. I think both are fine but cages with vertical bars and a few horizontal bars are easier to set up. I do not recommend using enclosures with crisscross horizontal and vertical wire. Many parrots housed in these wire cages have ratty looking tails and wings.

Cage Size
When I first purchased my Double-yellow Head Paco, people thought nothing of keeping parrots in an 18" square cage. Eventually when more cages became available, the cages became larger — about 24" by 24" by 48" high. To this day this size cage is still referred to as an Amazon cage. For years I have recommended that people buy up in size. For example, people with a Conure should buy an Amazon size cage, Amazons and Greys should be in a Cockatoo size cage and most cockatoos should be in what is commonly called a macaw cage. Of course, the large macaws should be in the largest cage available. Most parrot cage manufacturers build cages with the size of the parrot in mind and rarely take into consideration the energy level of the bird. Even the smaller parrots have high energy and need a larger cage. Putting parrots in cages that are too small does not allow enough room for exercise or all of the necessary accoutrements.

Cage Accessories - Perches and Swings
Most people don't think about their parrots' feet that much but we have to realize that they spend 24 hours a day on them. Wild parrots get to rest their feet when they fly and even when they are perching, they have an incredible assortment of sizes,
shapes and textures for their feet to grip. Parrots should have several perches of different materials and diameters. Sitting on the same material, texture and size perch day after day can cause foot problems. Luckily perches of all kinds are now available. Natural wood perches preferable to dowels but perches made of manzanita can be too smooth for a parrot to rest on securely. Sanding the perch to make it less slick will give it a better surface for perching. Rope and sisal perches are usually quite comfortable for parrots but keep loose strings trimmed and always make sure that the perch has not deteriorated enough for the parrot to get his toes caught in the material. PVC perches are fine for one of the perches in the cage but it should be textured. I pity the poor parrot who has nothing to sit on but PVC. Some people still use nothing but PVC perches in their parrots' cages because they are so easy to clean. I am not a big fan of what are called nail trimming perches because some of them are too rough on the foot. If you choose to use one of these perches make sure that it is not too sharp. Grasp the perch tightly and then pull it through your hand. It leaves scratches or deep impressions in your hand, it is too sharp for your parrot's foot. A cement perch or one of another material that is intended to keep the nails trimmed should not be used as the highest perch or the one your parrot sits on most of the time. Unfortunately sandpaper perches are still around but they are totally inappropriate for bird perches. Several companies manufacture metal, wood, or PVC platforms for cages. Many parrots like these platforms for sleeping, playing and eating and they are particularly helpful for handicapped parrots. Swings also come in many materials and shapes; conventional with two sides and a perch, a round fabric ring, or even a round ring hung to sit horizontally. Most active parrots absolutely love swings. In the cage, parrots are more likely to use a swing if it is the highest perch. Stainless steel, rubber and high impact plastic rings also provide lots of swinging and hanging fun and exercise. With any rubber products, care should be taken that the parrot is not ingesting this I material. If the product begins to deteriorate, it should be removed from the parrot's access. Boinggs that are cotton rope or sisal tightly coiled on metal spirals are a very popular type of swing. Some swings could actually be considered toys because they have all sorts of goodies on the sides.

The ingenuity of parrot people never ceases to amaze me. So many have observed their parrots carefully and come up with an incredible variety of stimulating toys and play objects to enrich our parrots lives. Toys are now made from almost every conceivable material; wood, acrylic, stainless steel, hard nylon, PVC, cotton and sisal rope, fabric, bells, vegetable tanned leather, high impact plastic, beads, rings, 100% cotton socks, coconut shells, rubber, paper, cardboard, natural branches, corn husks, dried palm leaves and other organic materials, and all sorts of other imaginative materials. Toys also come in endless shapes, sizes, colors, and combinations of materials. There are hanging toys, toys that attach in one way or another to the cage, rotating toys, cuddle toys, puzzle toys, chew 'em up toys, bouncing toys, cluster toys, little man toys, preening toys, noisy toys, interactive toys, and foot toys. Parrots love just about all of them. They are equal opportunity destroyers of toys — and it is important to realize that is one of the main reasons we buy toys for our avian companions. The manipulation and destruction of play objects is essential for the emotional and physical health of companion parrots. Curious parrots will often go to a new toy immediately to work it over. For some parrots, a stainless steel bolt on a chain is as cool a toy as an elaborate $50 contraption. Parrots don't always need fancy toys; they just need a lot of them.
If you have a super destructive parrot, in addition to several toys made for parrots, you might want to provide something less expensive for your parrots to destroy. Small clean branches from unsprayed safe trees (citrus is good) are a great way to keep your parrot busy in his cage. Even wadded white paper or an a plain paper adding machine roll can be very entertaining. If you choose to make your own bird toys, it is important to use only materials that have proven to be safe. Many household items that you may be tempted to use for toys may be dangerous for your bird. These include costume jewelry, clothespins with springs (do they still make these?), squeaky soft rubber toys, metal or plastic kitchen items, painted or varnished wood, plastic bottles that have not been washed thoroughly — the list could go on and on. Some things that are commonly given to parrots may create problems if they are ingested. Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls have glues and food packages have colored ink. Watch your parrot carefully to make sure that he is not actually consuming something that could cause problems. There are several Companion Parrot Quarterly advertisers who sell very inexpensive safe paper cardboard rolls for chewing fun for parrots.
One of the easiest chew toys for parrots is made from strips of clean untreated pine. I used to have someone cut these for me and I sold them in bundles. 1 couldn't make enough of them to make all of my customers happy. For my medium sized parrots, 1 use strips that are 1" by 1" by 12" long. I attach a eye screw to one end and hang the trip from the cage with a quick-link. The parrots love the motion of it when they try to grab the stick and the love to chew it all up. I just replace the sticks when they are all chewed up.
Many parrots play hard and the key is to make sure that you provide your parrot with a variety of safe toys. Some materials may be safe for supervised play but may be dangerous in the cage. Any long string whether it is rope or a leather strip should be knotted or trimmed or it could become a hangman's noose. Toys made of rope or rubber should be examined on a regular basis. Parrots have been injured seriously by getting caught up in rope perches and toys. Make sure that your bird's toenails are trimmed so they don't get caught in loose rope and always keep the rope trimmed as it begins to fray. Rubber toys should be removed when they start to disintegrate or the moment parrot starts to chew on them instead of just ripping them apart. Inspect toys for any possibility of your parrot getting his toes, beak or head caught. While most of the bird toys made today are safe for the parrots they are made for, caregivers need to carefully observe their parrots to know what might not be safe for their birds. The cage should be fun but it also should be bird-proofed to make sure there are no dangers, hidden or otherwise, for your parrots.

Cage Accessories - Food and Water Bowls
Food and water bowls are an essential part of any parrot's cage. There are three bowls in each of my parrots' cages. One is for water; one is for dry foods and one is for wet foods. Food bowls come in a variety of materials; high impact plastic, ceramic, and stainless steel are all safe for feeding but I would caution not to use any of the old galvanized metal bowls because of the potential of heavy metal toxicity. Parrots should always have access to clean filtered water. Amazons, like many parrots, enjoy the culinary pastime of soup making and, unfortunately, some parrots occasionally seem to confuse their water dish with a toilet. Consequently the water bowl will need to be filled at least once a day. Hooded bowls are available for messy birds. Some caregivers prefer to use water bottles. A caution about water bottles; while they don't get as messy as quickly, the bottle still needs to be cleaned and the water needs to be changed at least every day.
My parrot's bowls are located in areas that are easily accessible from a nearby perch
Another cage essential is a stainless steel skewer. Several companies make these specifically for parrots and they provide enrichment for eating and playing. I have organic produce delivered to my home every Monday, so my parrots always get their skewers then although they usually get one later in the week also. The produce we stack on the skewer can include a vast variety of healthy foods sliced and chunked to fit on the skewer; corn wrapped in collard greens, kale, bok choy, a chunk of carrot, a cherry tomato, broccoli, a pea pod. green beans, an orange slice, a chunk of mango or papaya, a slice of banana, a brussels sprout, slices of deep orange sweet potato, squash, or whatever I have that they like to eat. Of course, a lot of it ends up on the bottom of the cage but they certainly have fun with it all and enough of it gets into them to provide excellent nutrition.
How about a toy box? Happy companion parrots usually have a lot of stuff and not all of it hangs from the ceiling of their cage. Use a fourth bowl in the cage for their foot toys, nuts, or other nonfood goodies. Parrot Island in Minneapolis makes the most wonderful acrylic parrot toy boxes with non-removable drawers. One hangs on the side of the case and the other can be used on the cage top or the cage bottom. Parrots can open the drawers and take out the fun stuff you put in them.
.Now you see why I think parrot cages should be big with lots of room for all of their accoutrements. Cages that are too small don't have the room for all of the things that a parrot should have to keep his life enriched. We are lucky that there are so many quality parrot products on the market now. The days of parrots living in a 18" square cage with a wood dowel perch and a chain with a rawhide dog toy should be a thing of the past!

Sleeping/ Time Out Cage
In some situations a second cage is very-useful. If a parrot's cage is where the action is but the action keeps going until late at night, a sleeping cage will help guarantee that the parrot will get enough sleep. Just like humans, parrots need at least eight hour of sleep each night for optimal health. They can't sleep if they are in the same room with the late night movie blaring on the big screen television. Since parrots are prey animals, they are quite wary and if there is a lot going on, they will not be able to sleep. A parrot may have his head tucked back into his wing, but it is his nature to stay on guard. The minute anything different happens, a parrot will open his eye to see what is going on. Putting the parrot into a smaller, comfortable cage in a dark quiet area of the house will insure that the parrot can sleep while the activity goes on in the living room. A sturdy cage in the right location can also be a more secure night time cage if you live in earthquake country.
There are other uses for a second cage in a quieter area of the house. Sometimes parrots and people need a little time out from each other. While I am absolutely opposed to keeping any parrot in a back room for long periods of time without attention, having another cage can be helpful for specific times. Living in a large metropolitan area, I have heard this story more than once. One of my clients has a Yellow-nape who is very vocally enthusiastic when she and her husband come home from work. The woman works part time near her home and is home in the afternoon. When she got home she would always greet the parrot and give him some attention. Her husband has a commute in traffic for at least an hour and a half every evening and he comes home irritable and exhausted. The last thing he wanted to deal with when he walked in the door is a yelling parrot. He was becoming very impatient with the Yellow-nape yelling when he got home. He wanted peace and quiet for at least an hour. Although he was very fond of the parrot, he couldn't take the noise. The woman called me for advice because her husband said they needed to find a new home for the Amazon. The relationship was saved when they bought a smaller cage and put it in the guest room in the back of the house. About a half an hour before her husband got home, she took the Yellow-nape into the room with the sleeping cage. She gave him a some special attention and then fed him his dinner. The bird was busy and any noise was not right in the same room. Once the husband relaxed, he brought the Amazon back into the living room for some one-on-one time. The parrot kept his home and it only cost an hour of time-out in the second cage five days a week. Sometimes parrots may need a little time-out from what is going on in the living area of the house. I've had people complain that if they have company over, their parrots scream the whole time. Just like little kids, parrots can stay up to meet the company but then they have to go to their time-out cages. The second cage is also handy if new furniture is being delivered or if something else is going on in the living area that could appear threatening to the parrot.

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