Like anything else in the real estate world, bird cages don’t come cheap. Prices range from $35 to $100 for the smallest cages up to $200 to $300 for one suitable for a large bird, such as a parrot or a macaw. For a custom-designed, solid brass top-of-the-line house, costs can soar to $3,000, and from there into the stratosphere. But, whatever your budget, there are certain standards a safe, comfortable cage must meet. Here are some buyer’s guidelines.
Bigger is not only better – it’s best. Obviously, large birds, such as parrots and macaws, need more room than smaller canaries and finches, but they all need space to stretch.
One rule of thumb: The cage should be two to three times the bird’s wingspan and three times its length, from head to tail. The cage should be large enough for the bird to open and flap his wings from several places within the cage.
Other factors determine the most comfortable house for your bird. For example, since canaries like to hop from perch to perch, they need a wider cage to make them comfortable. Long-tailed birds, like macaws, need room to stretch their wings, so they need a taller space.
One caveat: No matter how appealing an antique cage may be, stick with a new one from a reputable manufacturer. Old cages – and some imported ones – may have traces of lead or zinc or other metals that can be toxic to birds.
When a House is a Playground
Cages should have plenty of places to attach toys – mirrors (particularly for single birds), bells, swings, ladders – that will keep your bird entertained. To keep your bird from getting bored, replace the toys with new ones every two weeks or so.
Add at least two perches. Most birds require a concrete perch to maintain the health and integrity of the beak. These are available from quality bird suppliers.
Perches made from untreated branches from bird-friendly trees, such as willow or hazelnut, are also good. Bumpy, uneven branches help the bird exercise his feet and help keep his nails trimmed. Check to see that the perches are properly placed: Can the bird reach his feeding area? Can he get to his toys?
Feeding dishes should be securely fastened to areas with outside access so you can fill them up without opening the cage. Because porcelain and plastic are hard to clean and easy to break, stainless-steel dishes are best.
Make It Sturdy
Strength matters. Be sure the wire bars can withstand the wear and tear your bird will put on them. Large birds, such as macaws or cockatoos, need very strong cages. An all-metal one is better than wire or plastic – because of their powerful beaks.
Bar spacing is important, too. Spaces shouldn’t be so wide that the bird can slip through or get a head or foot caught. Some cages have bars that narrow at the top; make sure the grid doesn’t allow a beak to get wedged into a small space.
Doors should swing open or drop down. Doors that lift up can trap a bird’s head or tail or toes. Check for sharp edges that can snag a feather or a foot. Run your fingers around the edges of the cage before you buy. Security is another concern. Because birds are so intelligent, they can figure out how to release a safety catch or lift a latch. Make sure the cage is lockable.
Keep It Clean
Choose a cage that’s easy to clean, with surfaces you can wipe down and drawers, trays and grids you can remove. Although cages for adult birds should have a grate at the bottom (so your pet isn’t walking around in his own waste), baby birds lose their balance easily and can hurt themselves on a grate. For birds under 6 months, line the bottom of the cage with paper towels or newspapers.
Put the cage in a room where your bird will have plenty of interaction with the family. Place it near a window, so your bird will get natural light, but keep it out of the way of sudden drafts, including the direct path of the air-conditioner. Don’t, however, put it in the kitchen (fumes from overheated non-stick pots and pans can be deadly), or right next to the TV (where sudden, loud noises can startle your bird).