If you are thinking of purchasing a pet bird, it’s important to invest some time into creating a house that will keep your bird safe, healthy, and happy. First, we recommend that you do some research on your new pet. Create a shortlist of helpful facts including the size and wingspan of your bird and even weather in its native habitat. By knowing a bit more about your new companion, you’ll be more equipped to make some important decisions about housing.
It can be a good idea to keep your pet bird indoors, for protection from harsh weather extremes, predators, and diseases transmitted from wild birds near your house. Birds can also be kept outdoors, but only if you can take the proper precautions to keep your bird safe and healthy.
Keep reading for some basic housing options you should consider as you prepare a good home for your new pet, and check out this article on basic care for companion bird pets from bird vets, and this article from a vet school! We’ve summarized most of the key points below.
Before you purchase or build a new cage, consider the overall size of the cage and the spacing between bars. If the bird will be in its cage most of the day, you want the cage to be as big as possible, ideally with enough room to climb, jump and fly; a helpful rule of thumb is that the cage should be twice the bird’s wingspan in height, width, and depth. A cage that is very tall but very narrow won’t provide enough space for flight, as your bird does not fly straight up and down. This article has helpful recommendations for minimum dimensions according to bird type (check out section 5.2c for indoor housing!)
The space between the bars of the cage should be small enough that the bird won’t stick its head through. The table below lists some common pet birds and suggestions for bar spacing, provided by the Avian Welfare Coalition (their article has a lot of other great suggestions for housing too, which are summarized within this article)
|Size of Bird||Examples||Bar Spacing|
|Small||Parrotlets, Finches, Lovebirds, Parakeets, Canaries, Cockatiels||No greater than ½ inch|
|Medium||Smaller African Greys, Smaller Amazons, Caiques, Alexandrine and Ringneck Parakeets, Caiques, Smaller Cockatoos, Conures, Jardines, Lories, Pionus, Quakers/Monk Parakeets, Senegals||No greater than ¾ inch|
|Large||Larger African Greys, Larger Amazons, Mini Macaws, Eclectus||¾ inch to 1 inch|
|Extra Large||Larger Cockatoos, Larger Macaws||1 to 1½ inch|
Your cage should be built with material that is
- A) strong enough to resist bending or destruction
- B) non-toxic, as birds can chew on and ingest the material
- C) easy enough to clean, this way it can be cleaned regularly without hassle. Regular cleaning is important for keeping your bird healthy
Stainless steel or powder-coated steel are great options for cages, as they are less likely to rust than regular steel and they also provide good strength, which is especially important for large birds.
What types of material should you be wary of or avoid, if possible?
- Iron or regular steel, which can rust quickly and can be toxic, if eaten
- Wood, which is hard to sanitize
- Galvanized wire (including powder-coated galvanized wire) or electro-plated steel wire both of which can result in zinc poisoning, especially if your bird chews or mouths at it a lot. If you do choose a galvanized wire, the smoother the wire the better, as smooth surfaces are less inviting to chew
- Plastic or vinyl coated steel – these coverings can help prevent rusting, but birds can pick the plastic off and ingest it
- Acrylic bird cages – these cages have plastic walls. While they can keep your house clean by keeping bird debris contained, they can interfere with good ventilation and temperature regulation
Perches provide a place for birds to stand and can also serve as entertainment. The surface should be uneven, but not too rough. Avoid smooth wooden dowel perches, but don’t go for sandpaper covered dowels either. A better option is pesticide-free natural wood branches or sisal rope. Perches should vary in size to help your pet exercise different muscles. When your bird stands on a perch, their foot should encircle no more than 75% of the full perch.
When placing your perches, situate them on opposite sides of the cages to maximize horizontal flight. Remember not to place perches directly above food or water so that droppings won’t fall into them.
Materials for Cage Bottom:
You’ll want to place something underneath your cage to collect droppings and debris. Birds should not be in direct contact with this material, as debris and other germs can damage their feet. Newspaper, plain paper, or wax paper, placed beneath the wire cage bottom, are great options for liners because you can easily examine your pet’s droppings, which can cue you into your pet’s health.
Try to avoid sawdust, corncob, shavings, kitty litter, and sand which can absorb materials. These liners make the bottom of the cage a great place for germs and mold to grow, and they also make it harder for you to assess the health of your bird’s droppings.
Security and Light:
Many birds like a retreat for security, which can come in the form of a towel, a bag, or a nesting box in their cage. Alternatively, you can place your pet’s cage by furniture, plants, or other visual barriers to provide a sense of security. Remember that pet birds are prey animals, and are best housed away from predatory animals (other pets) and away from high-traffic areas. This will keep your pet happy and comfortable.
Most birds naturally sleep at dusk and wake at dawn, so excessive artificial light after sundown can disrupt their natural sleep cycles and make them sleep-deprived. Either keep your bird in a room that isn’t used or cover their cage at dusk.
Safety and Air Quality:
Birds evolved in their natural habitat to do well in a variety of weather. Their feathers do a good job of protecting them from changing conditions; therefore, fresh air from an open window isn’t bad as long as the air coming isn’t much hotter or much colder from the bird’s regular environment Sudden changes in temperature can be bad, especially if your bird is sick and is less able to control and maintain their body heat. It’s best to keep your bird away from AC unit outflow vents or furnace vents where they are exposed to sudden, severe temperature changes. Birds from subtropical areas will enjoy some humidity from time-to-time. You can provide some humidity by misting your bird with fresh water.
Good ventilation is important, so if the weather is too extreme to keep a window open, consider using a HEPA filter to clean the air in the room where the bird is housed, especially if you have a dusty bird like an African Grey parrot. These birds naturally produce dusty debris that can become harmful to them if it builds up.
Birds have sensitive lungs, even more sensitive than ours, so things that are harmless to us can be dangerous for your bird. Teflon and other non-stick cooking surfaces emit chemicals that are extremely toxic for your bird. Know that even some light-bulbs have a Teflon coating, so keep your cage away from overheated non-stick cookware and even lamps. Pesticides, paints, rug cleaners, air fresheners, incense, scented candles, and hair sprays, are also bad for your bird. To be safe, keep your bird away from anything that emits fumes or smoke. Birds can benefit from supervised in-house flight, but should never fly without precautions taken since many household items, such as hot pans, fly traps, open doors, windows, and mirrors, can be particularly dangerous for your animal.
Should I house my bird outside?
Always consult with a veterinarian or aviculturist regarding whether or not outdoor housing is safe for your specific bird, given the climate where you live. You should also consider zoning regulations in your county and municipality. Some areas may have laws about noise, space from neighbors’ houses, and you may even need a permit to keep your pet outside. If you decide on an outdoor aviary, it’s best to use a double-door system to prevent escapes! Again, see this article (section 5.2d)
Also, be sure to consider the following 3 “S’s”
- Shelter: Your bird should be able to perch or roost in a place that is sheltered from wind, rain and direct sun, at all times. Feeders should also be away from the “elements”. You can provide protection by using solid construction or cladding the walls or roof. In this case, there should be an area of three continuous solid walls to provide good protection against wind. At least ¾ of one wall should be made of open weave mesh for appropriate ventilation
- Safety: Your bird should be well protected from predators, such as clever, hungry raccoons and hawks, as well as scavengers. Your pet bird should also be safe from wild birds, who can pass on diseases.
- Use two layers of wire, with different-sized holes
- You can use metal sheets to cover wiring to about 3 feet, which can help prevent predators from climbing up
- Trim branches from overhanging trees
- Separation: You should keep your bird away from any chickens or other poultry you have outside! Your pet bird can carry diseases without showing any symptoms, and pass them on to your poultry! Be sure to practice good biosecurity before and after handling your pet bird.
There are options for flooring for outdoor aviaries. You can have a soft ground aviary with layers of gravel, sand, and volcanic rock covered by larger pebbles (not small enough to be ingested) or gravel. You should have wire mesh with very small holes underneath all of the layers, to prevent predators from digging their way in or birds from digging their way out.
Alternatively, you could have a cement floor, which provides a smooth, easy to clean surface that is impermeable to predators and structurally sound. Be sure to fill in cracks regularly as they can become breeding grounds for bacteria and germs. Concrete floors are dry, and won’t harbor as many parasites.
Another quick tip:
Always remember that if you are bringing home a new bird and you have birds at home already, it’s important to keep your new bird separate from the others for a period of time. During this quarantine period, birds should have a separate air supply, separate equipment, and separate feeding and watering bowls. You should also follow good hygiene and biosecurity before and after handling the bird while it is in quarantine. Check out this article on biosecurity; it refers to backyard poultry flocks but offers advice that is good for any bird keeper!
Association of Avian Veterinarians. Basic Care for Companion Birds. Published online 2019. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.aav.org/resource/resmgr/pdf_2019/AAV_Basic-Care-for-Companion.pdf
Fern Van Sant, DVM. What’s That Cage Made Of? For The Birds, DVM. Published April 16, 2010. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.forthebirdsdvm.com/blogs/news/1586482-whats-that-cage-made-of
Hagen Agricultural Research Institute. Designing An Outdoor Parrot Flight or Aviary. Hagen Agricultural Research Institute. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://hari.ca/avian-care/housing-environments/designing-outdoor-parrot-flight-aviary/
Monica Engebretson. Housing for Birds. Accessed June 16, 2020. http://www.avianwelfare.org/shelters/pdf/NBD_shelters_housing_birds.pdf
Saralyn Sharp, RVT, VTS. General Husbandry of Caged Birds. Purdue University.:11.
Victoria State Government. Code of Practice for the Housing of Caged Birds. Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. Published May 11, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/domestic-animals-act/codes-of-practice/code-of-practice-for-the-housing-of-caged-birds