I have heard it said that bird cages are evil. Look at the stunning parrot, a prisoner, when he should fly free.
First, I like to remind these people that they are looking at (hopefully) captive-bred animals that have never been wild, and would therefore swiftly die if released there.
Second, when people utter this sentiment, I am swift to point out how happy the birds are in their cages. Mind you, if you approach the door with any apparent intent of opening it (or offering food/attention) they will rush to the front perches in excitement.
If I am working in the room, however, they are happy to play and forage and self-entertain (that’s assuming that they’re not out with me). My flock are not so dependent on me as to demand every moment of my attention – and yet they still value our time together.
All of our birds spend a great deal of time out with us, and that’s where cages stop being prisons and become instead sanctuaries, where a pet can retreat if it feels tired, nervous, overwhelmed, or just in need of a quiet snack. If a bird spent all day there, every day, sure, I think cages would be bad. That goes for every animal.
I also feel it’s important to note that not all cages are good. For instance, round cages are not suitable for any creature. Similarly, a too-small cage is just as bad. Unhappy parrots will scream, bite, or pluck, so unless your bird objects to the extra space, bigger is better.
When we first bought Charlie and Pip, our canaries, we, too fell prey to the false, old-fashioned image of songbirds singing happily from a round, pretty cage. The pet shop owner assured us that the one they came in was suitable for the pair.
However, looking at it once we got home, we realised our mistake and managed to get two bigger cages relatively cheaply.
A quick guide to choosing a new cage: common sense should be your first guide. If it looks too small and you have doubts, or if your bird can’t spread his wings out comfortably, he won’t be happy. Avians of all kinds like corners, as these help them feel safe, so buying a square or rectangular cage is ideal. Longer is usually better than tall, too, as it encourages flight.
A few more things should factor into your decision:
- Material. Stainless steel is expensive, but will last the longest, and is safest. Although powder-coated metal is okay, it can rust or flake.
- Practicality. Does it have wheels? Space? How large is the door?
- Bar spacing. Bigger cages often have wider bar spacing – and birds can wedge their skulls through these, possibly breaking their own necks when they try and escape. It is possible to find large cages with small bar spacing.
- Construction. Don’t doubt your bird’s ability to unscrew screws and open doors. Check the way it’s put together, and the way the door closes. Also have a look for sharp edges and general sturdiness.
- Grates. These metal grids keep birds off the bottom of the cage, where all their waste falls. Even if you’re very on top of bird chores, a grate is still a good idea.
- Secondhand? A great way to save money, but make sure you sanitise everything and air it well, first.
- Access. Finally, how are the food and water bowls accessible? Ones that you can get at from the outside can be a lifesaver.
I think it’s important to remind people that the cage plays an important role in safety, too. Obviously, our companions have to be left on their own at some point. Even if you own an outdoor aviary (and that is absolutely ideal, but not often possible), your bird will probably still have to spend time indoors without you.
Then, in a human world, the cage becomes a refuge from wires, chemicals, and everything else dangerous to a pet bird.
That’s where some would make the argument, ‘Well, that’s why birds aren’t suitable pets. They’re not meant to live in houses.’
And I say yes, but these animals already exist. You can’t make them go away just because you find it sad that they have cages. If you want to make a difference, adopt or re-home a parrot and build aviaries, so that they can live in something closer to wild living.
If your objection is solely to the cage – and so often it seems to be – then please, know that I do my best to give my flock good lives in spite of captivity… and so do other owners. Aviary living is absolutely ideal – the best accommodation for any parrot – but not possible for most owners. So rather than see a bird homeless, I would always rather have it placed in a home… with a cage.
That’s all there is to it.