Birds are highly intelligent animals who require regular exercise and mental stimulation. It’s important to ensure these needs will be met when choosing how to house your pet birds.
Any enclosure should provide a large space relative to the size of the bird, to allow for free movement and flight. Where birds are permanently confined in a cage, they must have regular access to a flight aviary or opportunities to fly in a safe environment (such as indoors).
Birds require sufficient horizontal and vertical space to allow for natural free movement and flight. Please note that birds usually do not fly straight up and down vertically (like a helicopter); therefore, cages that are narrow with a lot of vertical space but not a lot of horizontal space often do not provide adequate or suitable dimensions for pet birds. Owners should consider providing as large a cage as possible given financial considerations and available space . Some guidelines for indoor and outdoor cage dimensions for common pet bird breeds can be found here.
An interesting housing environment will ensure your pet birds don’t become bored when they are confined. Providing a varied diet, movable perches, objects for them to play and interact with, and other types of environmental enrichment will make your bird’s life much more enjoyable. Some enrichment tips can be found here.
Most bird species are highly social, living in groups or at least pairs in the natural environment. Pet birds should be housed in groups or pairs of compatible species or individuals to ensure that their need for social contact is met. Pet birds often consider their human family as part of their social “flock” and appreciate appropriate integration into the family’s daily activities .
- Weather – birds should be protected from extreme hot and cold temperatures and other weather extremes. Any aviary or cage which is exposed to the weather should be constructed so that all birds have space to perch in a place that is sheltered from wind, rain and direct sunlight .
- Ventilation – birds need adequate ventilation but also protection from draughts and fumes. For indoor housing, at least half of the largest side of the cage should consist of a metal grill, netting or mesh rather than being solid . The location of an indoor cage should not allow exposure to fumes from cleaning or paint products, cigarette smoke, cooking gas, air fresheners, scented candles or incense, and self-cleaning ovens ; birds are very sensitive to toxins in the air. For outdoor housing to provide shelter against prevailing winds, a solid material or cladding on the roof and walls should be used and should cover at least one third of the total area, running continuously around three walls. It is recommended that at least three quarters of the area of one wall should be constructed from open-weave mesh .
- Sights and sounds – pet birds need to be protected from loud or sudden noises as they can be easily startled or stressed. Birds are prey animals and should be kept away from the sight and sounds of predatory animal; they should not be kept in permanent caging in a high-traffic area of a household . Because different species of birds have different requirements, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced bird veterinarian or aviculturist for advice on housing to make sure you are providing the best possible environment and care for your birds.
- be clean and hygienic – once a day food and water dishes must be cleaned and disinfected, cage papers changed, cage spot cleaning performed, and food replaced. Newspaper is recommended as a substrate, and as much as possible toys and food bowls should be dishwasher-proof and scratch-proof. Food and water containers should be located where they are least likely to be contaminated with faeces.
- provide a variety of different diameter perches with enough space for all birds. Perches should be rough and made of natural, non-toxic wood to help prevent overgrown toenails. Sandpaper should be avoided as this may lead to footpad abrasions. Perches should be placed apart to encourage flight but not placed directly above other perches or food and drink containers to avoid contamination.
- provide environmental enrichment for mental and physical stimulation.
- provide an adequate number of feed and water stations to meet the requirements of all birds.
- provide sufficient nesting sites with suitable nesting material – if birds are breeding.
- provide bathing water either through a sprinkler or in a container that is appropriate for the species.
- be predator-proof. For aviary housing predators should not be able to gain entry to the aviary. This can be achieved by installing concrete barriers or galvanised steel or mesh (or a similar resistant material), buried to a depth of 300mm.
- be escape-proof.
- be simple structures to enable birds to fly freely with clear lines of flight and allow for easy cleaning.
Care with wire caging
Galvanised wire may be toxic due to the presence of zinc and lead, especially to parrots. The risk of poisoning can be reduced by using wire or cages made of stainless steel rather than galvanised wire or, if galvanised wire must be used, thoroughly brushing the wire, removing loose metal flakes and ‘dags’ of galvanised iron that could be swallowed . New wire should be washed with a mild acidic solution such as vinegar followed by a rinse with water. Weathering the new cage for twelve months also helps reduce the risk. Ideally, leave new wire mesh to weather naturally before using it to construct the cage.
Regardless of these precautions, birds who chew wire need to be regularly monitored for signs of poisoning. The selection of wire gauge size should be based on the birds’ potential ability to chew through the wire, and the wire’s suitability in deterring predators and vermin. The potential to chew through wire depends on species as much as size. 16 gauge (1.6mm) wire is suitable for most medium sized parrots and 17 gauge (1.7mm) is suitable for most small to medium sized parrots and finches. Mesh size depends on the size of the smallest birds. Common sizes are 12mm x 12mm for small birds, and 12mm x 25mm for larger birds. Spacing between bars should not allow your bird to fit their head between the bars.
Creating a stimulating, spacious and safe housing environment for your bird is vital for their welfare. It is important to consider space, environmental enrichment, safety from the outside environment, hygiene, and the material the cage is made from. Proper housing ensures a safe and stimulating environment so that birds can be free from stress and boredom. Finally, allowing as much space as possible and free flying opportunities will give the best chance for birds to engage in their normal behaviours.
 Government of South Australia (2012) South Australian Code of Practice for the husbandry of captive birds (accessed on June 24, 2021).