Suggestions for Setting Up Your Parrot's Living Area
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.