Q: I will be bringing home my first bird, an amazon, in a few weeks and want to get a cage ready for him now. I want it to be perfect. How do I know what perches and toys are right?
Lillian G, Las Vegas, NV
A: Since many parrots spend the majority of their time in their cages while their owners are at work, it really does have to be as close to perfect as we can make it. The two main factors to consider are safety and comfort for your bird.
Choosing the right cage
The cage you select needs to be the appropriate size for your bird. Bigger is always better. The wingspan of the average amazon is about 15 or 16 inches. Your bird needs to be able to fully extend his wings and turn in all directions with inches to spare between him and his toys and perches. This will give him ample space to flap his wings boisterously without injury. The bars spacing should be about 3/4″ – 1″.
If you spare no expense in buying the right cage now, it will last the duration of your bird’s long life. This can be quite an expense, but if you consider the number of years your bird will occupy it, it is a good investment to get a high quality cage.
Stainless steel cages, in my opinion, are the best out there, but there are some fine powder coated cages as well. Avoid cages made in China, as those manufactured there are testing with high percentages of lead and zinc in their powder coating. These substances are highly toxic to birds. Choose a reputable manufacturer that will stand behind their product.
I usually set up my cages with one long main perch that goes from one side of the cage to the other and several smaller perches of varying size and texture. A parrot’s toes should wrap 3/4 of the way around it’s perch when it is the right size.
For your parrot to have good foot health, there needs to be a variety of different shapes and sizes for him to stand on. This allows him to stretch and exercise his feet properly. My favorite perches are those made from natural branches because they characteristically vary in width and shape. Other perches to consider are cement and sandy perches or those made of rope and fiber (comfy perches). Place them at the feeding stations and throughout the cage at different heights.
I also use corner shelves in many of my cages. This gives them the opportunity to stretch their feet out on a flat surface when desired. This is also where one of my cockatoos keeps many of his important treasures like foot toys and chunks of wood.
How many toys…?
Different birds like different toys. Parrots are very tactile and texture seems to play a big role in their likes and dislikes. If you are purchasing from a good breeder, where a bird might have some exposure to a variety of toys, ask what he has shown interest in. Pet stores are not good at providing any toys for their birds and will likely not have a clue what your bird likes. I would recommend investing in a single toy of several types at the beginning.
A shredder, like a raffia pinata, a toy made of wood parts, and a well constructed colorful plastic toy that has a function, such as moving parts, are good places to start. Birds are also very fond of paper products and something simple like a paper plate wound into the cage bars can be a great toy. Take notice of what interests him and go from there.
There is no law that says that you must have the cage for your new bird jam packed with tons of toys and perches. In fact, I think it’s a better idea to have the only the basics when you first bring home a new bird. Too many “things” might unnerve a timid spirit. Your bird will spend his first several days observing his new environment more than actively investigating it anyways. You can add things as time passes and you have a better feel for what your parrot might enjoy as you get to know him and as he begins to feel more at ease and show his personality.
It is important for your parrot to feel secure and happy in his new home. However, a happy bird is an active and mentally challenged bird. While you want him to have all the “creature comforts” that he deserves, remember not to make things too easy for him. Create a cage environment that makes him work a bit to get around. Climbing the bars of the cage to go from one favorite spot to another will give him needed exercise. Amazons can be prone to obesity and the more movement his day requires, the less likely he will be to turn into an overweight perch potato.
Always think safety first in any item that you purchase for your parrot, but especially for inside the cage, where he will often not be supervised.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.