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The most important item needed before your bird is brought home is a cage. Remember, even birds that come out of the cage to socialize spend a large part of the day in their cage. Providing the right bird cage, perches, dishes, and other cage accessories will help your bird have a happy, healthy environment.

Bar spacing: Bigger is better as long as the spacing between the bars is narrow enough to prevent injury if the bird tries to escape. The bird's head should not be able to fit between the bars.

Bird Size    Examples     Recommended Bar Spacing     Recommended Perch Diameter 

Small          finch                      No more than 1/2"                                3/8" to 3/4"
Medium       cockatiel           1/2" to no more than 3/4"                        5/8" to 1-1/4"

Large          african grey        3/4" to no more than 1-1/4"                        1" to 2"

Cage Size: For medium to large size birds, the cage living area (does not include space between floor grate and tray floor) should be a minimum of 1-1/2 times your bird’s adult wingspan in width, depth, and height. This allows comfortable movement and may reduce the risk of feather damage. For smaller birds, a cage should provide the room needed for flying. Budgies like to move around and should have a cage that is tall and wide. Canaries and finches like to fly and should have a cage that is wide and long to allow for flight. Cockatiels need a cage that is big enough so the crest on the head and the long tail fit without being crushed. The size recommended at most pet stores is going to be the minimum size for that species of bird. Your bird will be happier with a larger, more spacious cage.

Cage Door: The door needs to be large enough to comfortably put your hand through, remove the bird, and replace the bird. The latch on the door needs to be escape-proof as the bird is going to have a lot of time to find a way to open it. Some owners place a clip or a padlock on the door of their escape artist's cage.

Cage Shape: Stick with square or rectangular cages as these are easier to clean and safer for the pet. As the number of corners in the cage increases, the flight area is decreased and the connecting edges decrease safety.

Cage Material: Metal is usually the best material as it stands up to the abuse birds give it and is easy to clean and disinfect.

Cage Bottom: A sliding bottom tray is commonly seen in bird cages. This should be easy to remove, clean, and replace with no gaps that the bird can escape through, either while the tray is removed for cleaning or while the tray is in place. Newspapers are commonly used to line the tray and should be changed daily. Do not use wood shavings or chips as they are dustier and can irritate your bird's airways.

Cage Location: Place the cage so the bird perches at about your chest level. Lower than that (especially if placed on the ground) and the bird will be anxious and feel vulnerable. Do not place it higher than your chest level as 'higher' means 'superior' to birds. In the wild, the more dominant birds perch on higher branches. Keep the bird in a sunny, draft-free area. If the bird is more social, keep her in an area of human activity. If the bird is less social, she may be happier in a quieter area of the house.

Cage Accessories: Several furnishings are needed for the cage. These include perches, dishes, grooming supplies, nest box (depending upon species), cage cover, and toys. Make sure that when the accessories are all in the cage that the bird still has plenty of room to fly and move about without colliding with obstacles. Remember that many cage accessories will need to be replaced periodically due to chewing, constant cleaning, and regular wear and tear.

Birds spend the majority of their time standing on their feet, so good perches are essential. Just as you prefer a comfortable pair of shoes, birds need comfortable perches. Birds also use perches to rub their beaks on to remove pieces of food. An ideal perch is easily cleaned, comfortable to the bird, and of the proper material and diameter to prevent foot problems. Perches may be stationary or swinging. All cage items, including perches, should be selected knowing that birds like to chew, shred, and destroy things, and therefore items will often need to be replaced. It is often recommended that each cage have a concrete perch, a natural branch perch, and a man-made perch.


The most common perches are made out of wood such as dowels and natural branches. In addition to being good perches, natural branches also make good chew "toys" for birds. Wooden dowels are generally too smooth, and do not provide good traction. Perches made from fiber such as sisal, untreated cotton rope, clothesline, and cloth are also used. A cloth perch may be made by rolling up a long piece of cloth or by padding a perch made out of other material, such as a dowel. Flat-bottomed hutches can also be made or purchased. Plastic, acrylic, and PVC pipe have the advantage of being easily cleaned. Ideally, they should have an uneven surface so they are less slippery. Be sure they are made from a nontoxic material. If you find your bird easily chews off pieces of the plastic or PVC, avoid using those materials and find another type of perch. Cement and mineral perches are also available. These perches have the advantage of helping to keep the beak and toenails from becoming overgrown. They may cause irritation if the bird uses them too much, so perches made from other materials should also be available. Sandpaper should not be used on perches as it can irritate the bird's feet.

Cleaning and maintenance

Plastic, rubber tubing, acrylic, and PVC are readily cleaned; they can be washed in disinfectant, rinsed well, and allowed to dry thoroughly before they are placed back in the cage. A good disinfectant is a 1:32 dilution of household bleach (½ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water). Avoid scented disinfectants and those containing pine oils. Dowels can be cleaned with perch scrapers; if heavily soiled, they too can be disinfected, rinsed, and dried. Rope, clothesline, and cloth can be washed, or simply replaced. Monitor such a perch closely for any fraying or loose ends, so the bird does not eat any of the strings or get threads wrapped around his toes. Natural branches and cement perches can be more difficult to clean since they have more crevices. Wire brushes can be used to clean soiled areas, and then the perch can be disinfected as described above, or boiled in water and then thoroughly dried. To avoid possible foot problems, any perch should be completely dry before being placed back in the cage.

Preparing natural branches:

If using natural branches, they should be from non-poisonous plants and areas which have NOT been sprayed or treated with insecticides or herbicides. Good sources of natural branches include most fruit and nut trees, ash, elm, dogwood, and magnolia. Grapevines can also be tried. To avoid introducing insects or diseases from wild birds into the cage, the branches should be cleaned with a disinfectant, rinsed, and dried in the sun; boiled in water; or placed in an oven at 250º for 10-20 minutes (watch closely) depending upon the diameter of the perch.


As a general rule, a bird's foot should wrap itself around about 2/3 of the perch. The perch should never be so small that the bird's front toes meet or overlap the back toe(s). The chart above provides some guidelines as to proper diameters for various sizes of birds. Birds will do best if the perches are of unequal diameter along their width, as could be found with natural branches, and some plastic branches. If all perches are the same diameter, the bird will always be placing pressure on the same areas on the foot. This can cause thinning of the scales, redness, and possibly infection of the bottom of the foot. Having perches of various sizes and materials within the cage will also help prevent foot problems.


Perches should be placed in front of food and water dishes, so the dishes can be easily reached by the bird. To avoid droppings contaminating the food or water, AVOID placing perches over the dishes. Perches should be placed so the bird's tail will not touch the side of the cage when sitting on the perch. Place perches at various levels within the cage, but avoid using too many perches, which could prevent the bird from flying (especially a smaller bird such as a canary or finch).


Dishes need to be appropriately sized for the bird. The food and water dishes need to be easy to remove and clean since this needs to be done on a daily basis. Those made out of stainless steel, crockery, or high-impact plastic are able to withstand the washing and disinfecting necessary to maintain the health of the bird. Water may be given in a dish or in a water bottle such as the type guinea pigs use. Make sure the bird knows how to use the bottle and that it is easy to remove, wash, and refill. Use a bottle brush for cleaning it. Locate food and water dishes where they will not be contaminated with droppings. Having an extra set of dishes makes cleaning easier.

Grooming supplies

Grooming supplies include nail clippers, a sharp pair of scissors, a spray bottle for misting, and a bird bath. An ordinary plant mister and plastic dish for the bird's bath are fine but should not be used for anything else to prevent contamination.

Nest boxes

For smaller birds, such as finches, nest boxes should be supplied for a place to hide. These boxes can be attached toward the top of the cage and should be easy to remove and clean.

Cage covers

Cage covers are used to signal to the bird that it is bedtime and he should be quiet. A cover made to fit the cage can be purchased. An old sheet or pillowcase will also work to cover the cage at night. A cage cover should not be used as punishment or for extended periods of time outside of sleeping hours. For larger birds that are used to handling, many people prefer to have a separate cage in a quiet room for nighttime use. Providing a quiet, dark area for sleeping is very important since sleep deprivation can result in health and behavior problems.


Toys should be plentiful and alternated. Toys are what will occupy the bird through the largest part of the day while the owners are gone. Small birds like small, lightweight toys, and tiny mirrors. Larger birds like to manipulate toys with their beak, tongue, and feet. Birds will chew their toys so choose items made from nontoxic wood or hardened plastic. Check the toys daily for damage. Rotating the toys every several days to a week will help keep the bird interested in the toys. A bored bird is at high risk for behavioral and health problems. Finding toys that are favorites will entail trial and error. Try a wide variety as long as they are safe. Locate the toys where they are easily accessible to the bird, e.g., at the end of perches. Foraging toys require birds to work for their food, giving much-needed mental stimulation, and providing a way of feeding that more closely resembles what the bird would do in the wild.


All items should be able to be cleaned in hot soapy water or put through the dishwasher set on the hot water cycle. Disinfecting can be done by mixing one-half cup bleach to one gallon of water. Clean and disinfect items away from the bird, rinse thoroughly, and air-dry completely before returning the item to the cage. Do not use scented cleaners as they can be harmful to the bird's respiratory membranes.

Owners should research each of their species to identify the specific needs for housing, feeding, and socialization. The above is a good starting point toward providing your bird with the necessities for a good life.

One of the keys to keeping your bird healthy is regular cleaning of your bird's cage, play stands, and accessories. Once you work out a routine, you will find that daily and weekly cage cleaning can be done quickly and efficiently. You will also have the satisfaction of knowing your bird will be happier and healthier. As you clean a bird's cage, watch for signs of disease or injury

As you clean, it is important to look for any signs that your bird may not be feeling well. Also, watch for hazardous conditions in the cage, and remove or correct them.

Observe: Has the normal amount of food been eaten?Is there any regurgitated material in or on the cage?Are the droppings normal in appearance and number?Are there feathers present? Do they look normal?Do any of the toys appear frayed and need to be replaced?Are the bars and welded portions of the cage in good repair?


• Selecting the proper disinfectant for bird cages must be done carefully. The disinfectant must be strong enough to kill disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and fungi, yet not cause harm to the bird. Birds are extremely sensitive to toxic fumes, so care must be taken to move the bird to another room while using most disinfectants.
  • Although there are many disinfectants on the market, the best, most readily available disinfectant for cleaning a cage is household bleach. Use bleach at a dilution of approximately 1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.

Reminder: It is important to remove seeds, droppings, etc., before using the disinfectant, since the presence of organic material will prevent it from working properly. So clean any soiled areas with a hot solution of dishwashing liquid, and rinse well before applying any disinfectant.

Apply the disinfectant and allow it to have contact with the material for 5-10 minutes. Rinse the items thoroughly with clean water, especially any wooden items. For your safety and comfort, use the bleach solution in an area that is adequately ventilated. Rubber gloves and safety goggles are also recommended. Allow the cage and all items to dry thoroughly before reassembling and placing the bird back into the cage.


The liner of the cage should be replaced daily. Newspaper (black and white ink only, since some colored ink may be toxic) and other paper liners are a good choice since they are easily replaced and allow for good observation of the droppings. For smaller birds, some people place several layers of liner in the cage, so they only have to remove the top one. If you follow this procedure, make sure the remaining liners are clean and water or droppings have not soaked through.


Food and water dishes should be washed in hot, soapy water, and dried thoroughly. Do not clean the dishes in areas where food is prepared. To provide more cleaning power, some people wash them in the dishwasher or use a disinfectant. Be sure no trace of soap or disinfectant remains on the dishes. The food dishes need to be absolutely dry before adding food, since damp seed or pellets can quickly mold. To avoid waste, fill the dishes with only the amount the bird will eat until the dishes are cleaned again. A good alternative is to have two or more sets of dishes, so while one set is being cleaned, the other set can be used in the cage.


If you have a birdbath in the cage, it should be removed, washed in hot soapy water and/or disinfectant, rinsed very well, and refilled with fresh water. Any accumulations of droppings on perches or toys should be removed.

Surrounding area

Sweep or vacuum (a small hand-held vacuum is handy) the floor to remove seeds, hulls, feathers, and other debris. A cage apron can help collect this material, and can be removed and emptied daily. If the area is carpeted, a plastic carpet liner or a mat designed for use under an office chair, is a good idea since it can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Weekly/monthly cage cleaning

How often you need to do a major cleanup of the cage and contents somewhat depends on the type and number of birds you have, size of cage, how much time your bird spends in it, etc. Generally, the cages of larger birds, and lories and lorikeets need to be cleaned thoroughly on a weekly basis. For some smaller birds, monthly cleaning may be sufficient.

Birds beaks normally wear down evenly. If the beak is not wearing evenly, an avian veterinarian should be contacted to examine the bird and determine the reason. The uneven beak should be trimmed to prevent problems with eating or preening.

Overgrown nails will make perching difficult for a bird as well as increase the chance of catching a nail on carpet or sweaters. A good rule of thumb is that the nails are too long if the toe is elevated off the ground when the feet are placed on a flat surface. Even short nails may need to be blunted to remove sharp points.

There are two techniques for trimming nails. The first uses human nail clippers or dog nail clippers depending on the bird's size. Having a supply of styptic powder on hand will be helpful in case a nail is clipped too close and bleeds. With the bird restrained, trim the tip off the nail. More can always be removed, so start with small amounts with each clip. Some owners will trim only 1-2 nails a day and take a week to trim them all. This works well, as you are done before the bird realizes you trimmed his nails.

The second technique uses a rotary grinding device like a Dremel tool to grind the tip off the nail. It cauterizes as it shortens. A second person is needed to provide the restraint.

Having the nails trimmed by a veterinarian or bird groomer will give you an idea how short the nails should be kept. After the initial trim, you can continue to keep them that short with an every-other-week or every-month trim.

Clipping wings is necessary for all of the more social birds that are allowed out of the cage. Birds such as canaries and other finches that stay in the cage do not need their wings clipped. Birds have been known to fly into windows, into pots of boiling water or other food, into ceiling fans, etc. We need to take the responsibility to protect them and this responsibility includes clipping wings.

Watch your veterinarian or bird groomer trim the wings the first time. A proper trim allows the bird to exercise its muscles and to coast to a landing if needed. It should prevent the bird from attaining additional altitude. Clipping wings is not without risk. If done incorrectly the bird will not have control of his flight and could injure himself. In addition, if a blood feather is accidentally cut, first aid procedures would need to be used to properly remove it and stop the bleeding.

If the bird does manage to escape to the outside world and fly off, immediately put his cage out in the yard with the door open and a big bowl of his favorite food in and on it. Hopefully, within a day or two, your feathered friend will decide the cage is not so bad after all. Let people know you lost your bird. Put up fliers, call veterinary clinics and humane societies, and put an ad in the paper. Do not give up hope. Some birds are found and caught weeks after the escape. Keep up-to-date photos of the bird. Take pictures from both sides, front, and back. Write down the ID information whether it is from a leg band or a microchip. Having this information will help prove ownership if the need arises.

Most birds like to get wet and bathing often encourages normal preening behavior. Because our homes are kept at a constant temperature through central heat and air conditioning, the air in the house is dry compared to the bird's natural environment. Some birds prefer to be misted while others like bathing. A squirt bottle can be set on mist (not spray) and aimed up and over the bird so the water falls onto the bird like mist or rain. For birds that like bathing, a dish with an inch of water in it can be placed in the bottom of the cage. Remove it after the birds have bathed. For birds that prefer showers, place a perch in the shower and supervise them. Keep constant track of the temperature of the water, so the bird does not become too cold or possibly burned if the water temperature suddenly changes.

Some birds like daily wet-downs while others do fine on a weekly basis. Take your bird's lead in the matter. If the bird is not feeling well, skip the bath or misting until he is feeling better to avoid chilling or stressing him. Some birds enjoy being "blow-dried," while others become fearful of the noise. If your bird likes being dried with a hair dryer, always use the low heat setting, do not let the dryer get too close to the bird, and constantly move the dryer so the heat is not focused on one area of the body for more than a second. Birds have suffered severe burns through the inappropriate use of hair dryers. Use extreme caution.

If you have any questions regarding proper bird housing and care please call 516-621-4010.

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