Make a Safe Environment for Your Pet Bird
A pet bird can be a wonderful companion for years, but new bird owners should be aware that caring for a bird takes much more than simply providing a cage and birdseed. Birds are much more delicate creatures than cats or dogs, so even a seemingly trivial mistake – like boiling water in a non-stick pot – can potentially cost a bird its life. To keep your feathery little friend safe and healthy, you’ll need to create a safe environment both within its cage and within your home.
Part 1 of 5:Providing a Safe Cage
1. Make sure the cage is large enough
Make sure the cage is large enough. It should be at least 1.5 times your bird’s adult wingspan in width, depth, and height, so as to allow your bird to move freely. Bigger is even better. For a list of suggested cage sizes by bird, see bird-cage.com. In general:
The minimum height should be 3 times the length from head to tail of the bird.
There should be at least 2 wing beats between perches.
Your bird should be able to turn around on his perch without his tail feathers hitting the cage.
Even small birds require large cages. Two finches, for instance, require 3-4 square feet of space, so they will have room to fly around.
2. Select a cage with bars the right distance apart to prevent escape or injury
Select a cage with bars the right distance apart to prevent escape or injury. Your bird should not be able to put its head between the bars. Appropriate bar widths are:
Under ½” – For small birds such as finches, canaries, parrotlets, parakeets, and lovebirds
1/2″ to 3/4″ – For medium birds such as cockatiels, conures, lories, and senegals
3/4″ to 1-1/4″ – For large birds such as African greys, Amazons, macaws, and cockatoos
3. Choose a square or rectangular cage
Choose a square or rectangular cage. Adding more corners decreases the flight area and makes the cage less safe.
A long low cage is better than a narrow high one (such as a parrot cage) because it allows the birds to fly and glide.
4. Provide plenty of perches
Provide plenty of perches. Your bird will spend most of its time standing, so having an adequate number of perches is vital to your bird’s health and happiness. For most birds, you will want to provide a natural branch perch and a manmade perch, one near the food and water and another near the toys, as well as a concrete perch elsewhere in the cage. Be sure to avoid plastic perches, which can cause problems if eaten, and sandpaper perches, which can scratch your bird’s feet.
Concrete perch – These solid perches provide a good place for birds to groom. They should be set away from food, water and toys.
Natural branch perch – These are better than wooden dowels because their uneven shape means the bird will put pressure on different parts of its feet each time it perches. Choose branches from orchard wood trees such as apple, plum, pear, but not cherry. Cut the branch to fit the cage, scrub and clean it with detergent, and let it dry in the sun. Next, heat the branch for 45 minutes in a 200°F oven to kill any insects. Allow to cool before placing it in your bird’s cage.
Manmade perch – Untreated cotton rope makes for a good perch, as it is toxin free and can be easily washed.
5. Be sure your bird can’t open the door
Be sure your bird can’t open the door. Your bird will spend countless hours trying to open the door to its cage, so the door had better be escape-proof. If you are worried that your bird might escape, you can use a padlock, clip, or small carabiner to secure the door.
6. Keep your bird well fed and hydrated
Keep your bird well fed and hydrated. Double-check your bird’s seed and water supply daily, especially if a child is in charge of caring for the bird. If using a water bottle, check to be sure that it is unclogged and working properly. Three days without water is enough to kill most birds.
7. Provide a birdbath or mist your bird
Provide a birdbath or mist your bird. Birds need to bathe regularly to keep their feathers and skin healthy. Always use room temperature water, as hot water will strip essential oils from your bird’s feathers. If you put a birdbath in your bird’s cage, make sure to clean it and change the water daily. Alternately, you can mist your bird with a spray bottle once or twice a week. Some birds like to wash in the sink or even in the shower.
8. Make sure toys are safe and changed frequently
Make sure toys are safe and changed frequently. Your bird will chew on its toys, so make sure they are not made from wood treated with toxic chemicals or soft plastic that you bird can swallow. Be sure to rotate toys at least once a week to keep your bird stimulated, as boredom can lead to health problems in your bird.
9. Cover the birdcage at night
Cover the birdcage at night. You can use a cover designed for the cage, though an old sheet or pillowcase also works fine. Covering your bird’s cage keeps out drafts and allows the bird to sleep even when you are up late with the lights on. Birds need at least 10 hours of sleep a night, so providing a dark, quiet area for your bird at night is important to prevent sleep deprivation.
Part 2 of 5:Keeping the Cage and Its Contents Clean and Safe
1. Use newspaper at the bottom of the cage
Use newspaper at the bottom of the cage. Wood shavings and chips are dusty and can irritate your bird’s respiratory system. Use newspaper and be sure to change it daily.
2. Clean the cage and its contents regularly
Clean the cage and its contents regularly. To prevent the spread of germs and disease, you need to make sure your bird’s cage is cleaned and disinfected regularly. This means changing the liner, cleaning the dishes, and rinsing and refilling the birdbath daily for all birds. An additional deep clean is needed weekly for large birds or groups of small birds, and monthly for single smaller birds. For the deep clean:
Clean the cage – Remove the bird and all toys and perches. Clean up all seeds and droppings from the cage and scrub it with hot soapy water, and then spray with a disinfectant. Rinse and let air dry completely before replacing toys and perches.
Clean the perches and toys – Remove droppings with dishwashing detergent. Use sandpaper if necessary to clean dropping off of wooden perches and toys. Wash and rinse by hand or in dishwasher, and then spray with disinfectant. Rinse thoroughly and air dry or oven dry (250° for 10-15 minutes) before returning items to the cage.
Save time by having two sets of toys and perches and even two cages, so that your bird can be comfortable in one while you clean the other.
3. Remember to always use a bird-safe disinfectant
Remember to always use a bird-safe disinfectant. You can buy one at your pet shop, or make your own, following one of these recipes:
Mix 3 cups of hot water, 3 tablespoons of baking soda, and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice in a spray bottle.
Mix 1 cup of distilled vinegar and 1 gallon of water.
4. Clean food and water dishes and keep them away from your bird’s droppings
Clean food and water dishes and keep them away from your bird’s droppings. Your bird’s dishes should be cleaned daily with hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Do not locate them under perches, where they will be contaminated with bird droppings. Be sure food dishes are completely dry before returning them to the cage, as wet food pellets can mold quickly.
Part 3 of 5:Putting Your Bird’s Cage in a Safe Place
1. Do not place your bird’s cage in the kitchen or bathroom
Do not place your bird’s cage in the kitchen or bathroom. The temperature fluctuates too much in kitchens, and cooking can produce fumes toxic to birds. Bathrooms also feature dangerous heat fluctuations, particularly during showers, as well as toxic chemicals from hairsprays and other grooming products.
2. Keep the level of human interaction appropriate to your bird
Keep the level of human interaction appropriate to your bird. For all birds, you’ll want to avoid areas with a lot of traffic and noise, as this can make your bird anxious. Beyond that, you’ll need to select an area that fits your bird. If your bird loves attention, then place it in an area with more activity. Less social birds will be happier in quiet areas of your home.
More social birds: Amazon parrots, lovebirds, lorikeets, conures, African greys, cockatoos, macaws
Medium social birds: budgies, parakeets, cockatiels, pionus, quaker parakeets
Less social birds: finches, canaries, doves
3. Put your bird near walls and away from windows
Put your bird near walls and away from windows. The ideal place to put your bird’s cage is in a corner, but having at least one side of your bird’s cage against a wall will give it a sense of security. Don’t put your bird’s cage in front of a window, as this produces dangerous temperature fluctuations, and dogs, hawks, and storms outside the window can frighten your bird.
4. Place your bird’s cage at your chest level
Place your bird’s cage at your chest level. Birds become anxious when placed too low. Placing them too high can lead to behavior problems, as height is associated with superiority for birds.
5. Avoid heat or air conditioning vents
Avoid heat or air conditioning vents. Birds are sensitive to sudden temperature changes, so keep your home at a constant temperature and be sure your bird’s cage is not in the draft of a heat or air conditioning vent.
6. Keep poisonous plants away from your bird’s cage
Keep poisonous plants away from your bird’s cage. Plants like oleanders, azaleas, poinsettias, philodendron, ivy, African violets, tulips, daffodils, and hydrangeas are all naturally toxic to birds and should be kept far from your bird’s cage. For a complete list of safe and toxic plants, see here.
7. Protect your bird from other pets
Protect your bird from other pets. If you have a cat or dog, be sure that your bird has a very sturdy cage that cannot be toppled. Also be certain that your cat cannot fit its paw through the bars. Even if your bird is safe, you should know that living with a cat can be stressful for birds.
Part 4 of 5:Protecting Your Bird from Airborne Toxins
1. Use care when using non-stick cook and bake-ware
Use care when using non-stick cook and bake-ware. Bird’s lungs are designed to be extremely efficient at absorbing oxygen, which unfortunately means they also quickly absorb toxins. Combined with their small size and high metabolism, this means that only a small amount of toxin can kill a bird. The coating in non-stick cookware contains polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a compound that can be deadly to birds. At normal cooking temperatures (250°F to 450°F), with a vent fan on, PTFE-coated pans are safe. But they can release toxic fumes when:
A PTFE-coated pan boils dry or is heated while empty. Never boil water in a PTFE coated pan.
Used as a drip pan under burners. PTFE releases toxic chemicals starting at 536°F, and drip pans can easily reach 600°F or hotter.
Scratched. Scratched or otherwise damaged non-stick pans can release toxic chemicals at lower temperatures. Throw them out.
2. Be aware of other sources of PTFE
Be aware of other sources of PTFE. PTFE is not just used in cookware, but also in many products that must withstand high temperatures. Consider replacing any of the following, or call the manufacturer to see if the product is safe for use around your bird:
Stain repellants like StainMaster and Scotchguard
Space heaters and heat lamp covers
Non-stick irons and ironing board covers
Non-stick cooking devices like griddles, waffle makers, electric skillets, bread makers, and popcorn poppers
Non-stick slow cookers
Ceramic cooking stoves
3. Watch out for other toxic gases
Watch out for other toxic gases. PTFE coated products are the most common source of toxicity for birds, but far from the only one. The following can prove fatal to your bird:
Carbon monoxide – Invisible, tasteless, and odorless, carbon monoxide is produced by fires, automobile exhaust, and central heating units. Even if you don’t have a bird, you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your home to protect you and your family.
Natural gas – If you use gas for heat or cooking, a leak in the line or an unlit pilot light can result in high levels of natural gas that can prove fatal for birds (and deadly for people). Check your pilots regularly, and position your bird’s cage far from sources of natural gas like fireplaces or heaters.
Overheated cooking surfaces. Don’t heat oil or butter on high, as this can produce dangerous fumes. And take your bird out of the house if using the “self clean” mode on your oven.
Hair sprays, perfumes, spray-on cooking oil. Basically, anything that sprays, particularly aerosols, can release chemicals that are dangerous to your bird. Move your bird to a separate, well-ventilated room before using these products.
Pesticides like bug bombs or insect sprays.
Organic solvents found in nail polish remover, gasoline, glue, paint, or mothballs.
4. Avoid household cleaners containing ammonia
Avoid household cleaners containing ammonia. Ammonia is found in many household cleaners, particularly glass cleaners, and can cause respiratory difficulty in birds. When combined with bleach in cleaning products, it produces chloramine gas, which is highly toxic. Try using these cleaners instead:
Dishwashing soap and water
White vinegar and water (1 cup vinegar per 2 gallons of water)
Steam from a handheld steamer
Laundry detergent for fabrics (but don’t use fabric softener on fabrics your bird will touch)
Grapefruit seed extract (about 35 drops ber 32oz. of water), makes for an effective disinfectant
Baking soda (1/4 cup per gallon of water)
5. Be careful when using candles or air fresheners
Be careful when using candles or air fresheners. Your bird should be taken outside or to another, well-ventilated room when using plug-in or spray air fresheners, as they contain essential oils that are toxic to birds. Many scented candles are also dangerous, as they contain essential oils and often have zinc alloy wicks. If you are going to burn candles, make sure they are 100% beeswax with all cotton wicks.
6. Do not smoke around your bird
Do not smoke around your bird. Exposure to second hand smoke has been shown to cause respiratory and circulatory problems in birds, as well as eye and skin problems. If you are going to smoke, do so outside to protect your bird.
7. Choose new furniture and household products with care
Choose new furniture and household products with care. Most particleboard, plywood, and drywall use formaldehyde in the glue that holds them together. The glue that holds down carpets can also contain formaldehyde. New construction, new carpeting, and many types of furniture need time to “off-gas” before they cease releasing formaldehyde, so do not place your bird in a newly constructed room, a newly-carpeted room, or in a room with new furniture built with particle board or plywood.
Part 5 of 5:Protecting Your Bird when Outside the Cage
1. Allow your bird some time outside of their cage every day
Allow your bird some time outside of their cage every day. It is important to your bird’s health that it has some time each day to fly outside its cage. You must be sure to create a safe environment for it to do so.
2. Do not leave your bird alone with your other pets
Do not leave your bird alone with your other pets. Even cats that have grown up around birds will often try to kill them if given the chance. Many types of dogs will also do their best to kill birds. To be on the safe side, you should not let your bird out when other pets are in the room. If you do, make sure you are there as well to keep your bird safe.
3. Keep toxic houseplants out of the room
Keep toxic houseplants out of the room. Birds love to chew on things, so make sure you remove all toxic plants before letting your bird out of its cage. For a list of toxic plants, see here.
4. Put away dangerous human food
Put away dangerous human food. If it’s out, your bird will probably give it a try, and many human foods are toxic to birds, including:
Seeds from apples
Pits from stone fruits (apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums)
5. Do not leave out open water
Do not leave out open water. Birds can drown in a glass of water, uncovered aquarium, or open toilet. If you are not going to keep a careful eye on your bird the entire time it is out of its cage, you’ll need to be sure to remove all access to open water to prevent drowning.
6. Hide your wires and antiques
Hide your wires and antiques. Again, birds like to chew on anything they can get their beaks on. Hide electrical cords and wires to avoid electrocution, and put away antiques, which may be coated with heavy-metal based paints that can cause led-poisoning.
7. Keep an eye on doors, windows, and cabinets
Keep an eye on doors, windows, and cabinets. First off, you’ll want to make sure doors and windows to the outside are closed to keep your pet from flying away. Secondly, you’ll need to always make sure your bird is not on the hinge area or the top of a door or cupboard you are closing, or you could accidentally crush the legs of your pet.
8. Keep the strings for blinds behind the blinds
Keep the strings for blinds behind the blinds. Birds can get their heads tangled in the strings and strangle themselves.
9. Turn off all fans
Turn off all fans. Standing fans and ceiling fans can both cause serious injury or death to your bird. Always check to be sure they are off before letting your bird out of its cage.
10. Cover or put decals on windows and mirrors
Cover or put decals on windows and mirrors. Your bird does not understand glass. It may injure itself by flying into a mirror or closed window. To prevent this, you can put decals on them so your bird knows they are solid, or simply lower the shades or cover your mirrors.