Birds are highly intelligent animals that 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.
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.
Most bird species are highly social, living in either 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.
- 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 are able 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. 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.
- Noise – pet birds need to be protected from loud or sudden noises as they can be easily startled or stressed. Because different species of birds have different requirements, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced aviculturist or bird veterinarian for advice on housing to make sure you are providing the best possible environment and care for your birds.
Housing should also:
- be clean and hygienic
- 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 toe nails. 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 used for 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
Due to the presence of zinc and lead, galvanised wire may be toxic, especially to parrots. The risk of poisoning can be reduced by 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, wire chewing birds 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 25 mm for larger birds.