May 2000 Magazine
With so many cages available on the market today how do you choose the right one? That is the question I asked everyone from veterinarians to manufacturers, breeders, distributors, retailers, bird owners and anyone else who might have an educated opinion. I received many different opinions, all valuable, but the most important issue that all mentioned was safety. Some liked special features, colors, etc. However, the one item that was first and foremost in everyone's mind is safety.
Safety is not something that can be limited to one item on a cage, it involves the whole cage - the paint, casters, dishes, feeding areas, perches, grills, trays, bar spacing and the locking devices. I will attempt to cover some helpful hints to keep in mind while you are out shopping for a home for your special friend.
Hint #1 - GO TO THE SOURCE!!!!
Speak to the manufacturers about their cages versus other cages on the market. Keep in mind that they are trying to sell a cage and will emphasize their good points. However, I did find that most of them simply try to explain their features and why they are important to your bird. Make notes, and compare price versus quality. Use what you learn from one manufacturer to ask similar questions of another manufacturer. The manufacturers themselves can be your most reliable source for getting the correct information to us the consumers. Simply ask "Why should I buy your cage over your competitors?".
Be sure to ask the manufacturers about their paint or powdercoating. Ask if the cages are non-toxic. Lead and zinc have become a very widespread subject of concern. Birds do require some lead and zinc to be healthy, but above certain levels these elements are toxic. Ask the manufacturer to explain what tests he uses on his cages. Stainless steel cages don't need paint and last very well. However, they are also much more expensive.
Everyone from vets to breeders have different opinions about what causes heavy metal poisoning. One thing I did find out was that lead and zinc are found in many different sources. Pennies, water, wall paint, food, vitamins, treatments for carpets and furniture - just to name few - all contain these elements. One thing is for sure, we are surrounded by it everyday. In this confusion, it is necessary to ask about the materials used to manufacture the cages. However, simply stated, cages from responsible companies are rarely to blame for toxicity. When a bird becomes ill, a complete analysis is necessary (testing almost everything the bird has been in contact with) to determine the true cause. No one wants to lose an animal due to this. So again, ask the question to make an educated decision.
Hint #2 - CHECK OUT THE WELDS!!!!
Many companies' cages are constructed by placing the bars into holes drilled in the main frame. This is a less expensive and faster way to manufacture. The painting process fills the holes superficially with paint. When the cage is shipped from the plant to its final destination or if it receives stress, the paint can separate from the holes. Once the cage gets wet, the water sits inside the tubular steel and the cage can begin to rust. I've learned that welding the bars to the main frame is really the best way to go. The cage is stronger and rusting is not a concern because there is no place for water to sit and rust the cage from the inside out.
Hint #3 - UP ON WHEELS!!!!
The cage itself must be sturdy; this starts from the bottom up. The wheels (casters) are very important. Checks to see what type of casters are on your cage or cage stand. Plastic wheels seem to break a bit more easily than ball bearing casters. This of course depends on the size and weight of the cage itself. However, keep in mind you will be moving the cage for cleaning etc....
Hint #4 - FEED ME!!!!
The dishes used in cages are very important. Certain materials such as plastic and ceramic can absorb food product. These materials are very difficult to sanitize properly. In addition, birds can chew plastic and ceramic can break. Metal dishes are best. Also, make sure to use stainless steel dishes. Some are simply metal. This too can be a problem. They can rust very easily or the metal may contain zinc or lead. Stainless steel cups can be sanitized quickly and easily and unless run over or beaten with a blunt object they will not break. Sanitation is a very important part of the nutrition process for our feathered friends. Remember, veterinarians use stainless steel instruments.
Hint #5 - KEEP OUT!!!
Just like you and I, sometimes our beloved pet does not want to be bothered, even with something as important as feeding time. Maybe you have a breeding mom or you have gone out of town and someone else is caring for your bird or your bird is just not in a good mood or wants to sleep. At such times, if a hand goes into the cage, it might not come out without a good nip. I recommend cages with outside access to the cups. Be sure the accesses are easy to open and close, the cups are secure and not easy to dump, and that the doors are difficult for your bird to open or have a locking mechanism. This is very important with larger birds.
Hint #6 - SIT ON IT!!!!
Perches can come in many different sizes. In the wild, birds rest on tree branches of many different sizes and at many different angles. Let's try not to forget this. It is important to place different sized perches in the cage. Those with varying widths, bumps and angles like tree branches are best. It helps prevent the bird's feet from becoming arthritic. Birds pick different sizes to stand on just like we pick different shoes, so their feet and muscles do not become stiff. Most manufacturers have basic perches in the cages. It is really up to us to create a complete environment for them.
That however is not the only important part of the perches. Also make sure they are properly placed in the cage. Look at the placement inside the cage. Can the bird reach the feeding area from a perch? If not, the bird will sit on or in its dish to eat or drink. Don't place a perch where fecal droppings may fall on a perch below or into the feeding bowls which could contaminate the food. And place at least one perch high up in the cage.
Hint #7 - GRILLS AND TRAYS!!!!
Well this was a subject that got a bit touchy. Again, safety is the concern. Make sure the bars on the grill are close enough together for your bird to walk on, yet far enough apart for items such as food, droppings, etc. to fall through. It must fit around all four sides of the cage well. You also want to make sure that there is enough distance between the grill and the tray. The little pooper-scoopers may try to get at the bottom tray for decaying food product or the paper product that is protecting the tray. The tray itself is hard enough to get to for cleaning. Again, ask if they slide out. If so, the problem of cleaning the grill and tray are taken care of. Just slide them out and wash them down.
Hint #8 - LOCK ME UP!!!
In my cage search I found so many cages locks my head was spinning. They swing up, push in, pull down, use a key, pull up and out or swing out. Needless to say, I saw everything but one that sings and dances. Keep in mind the front door lock is very important not just for your safety but for your bird's safety as well. Ask the manufacturers about their locks. Ask how they work. Let them explain it. If the food doors have locks, ask about them as well. Make sure your little Houdini can't just watch you do it and bingo - your end table became lunch while you were away. Ask the question!!!
Hint #9 - BAR NONE???
Bar spacing is extremely important for your bird's safety as well. Again, people had different opinions on this subject. Birds come in all different sizes. If the bars are too close together your bird could get stuck. If they are too far apart your baby could escape or get his head or body stuck in the bars as well. Also, for our larger feathered friends, if the spacing is too close together, they could get their beaks wrapped around and snap the welds.
Ask a reliable source what bar spacing is recommended for your type of bird. Then ask the manufacturers if they measure the bar spacing from the middle of the bar to the middle of the bar. Do they measure the space between the bars only or do they measure from the beginning of the bar to the beginning of the next bar? This will help you figure out which cage size to buy from that manufacturer. Also, keep in mind that you do want to show your bird off, yet make sure that the cage is completely safe. Ask, Ask, Ask.
Hint #10 - SIZING IT UP!!!
Make sure your bird has plenty of room to move around and exercise while in its home. Check for proper wing span room as well as tail feather room. They should be able to easily open and flap their wings for exercise from a few places within the cage. They must have enough room to move around as freely as possible and get exercise. For birds with long tails, be sure that the tail will not constantly be extending outside of the cage. Also consider having at least two sides of the cage with vertical bars, so that the tail can easily ride up and down without destroying the tail feathers. Space is a concern in most homes; most of us would love to have a rainforest in our back yards. However, since this is a bit unrealistic, the more room the better.
Also consider your height when purchasing a cage. Can you easily reach the top to retrieve your bird from it? Is it so high that the bird can feel dominant over you?
Hint #11 - PLAYTIME
A bored bird can become very destructive. Birds chew a lot. It helps keep the beak in condition and is also a natural nesting instinct. Most birds will chew on anything - paint, walls, furniture, jewelry. You name it, they will chew it. Toys, and a lot of them, are great. Get inside your cage. Find out if toys can be easily hung. If there aren't any loops inside the cage for hanging toys, make sure the bars are strong enough to hold toys, swings, manzanita, etc.. Again, your end table could be lunch.
Hint #12 - DESIGN QUALITY!!!
Depending on your preferences many different cage designs are available - round, flat, pointy, perch tops, removable tops, tops that open, tops that fold out. Take your bird's personality into account when making your choice. Make sure that the quality of the cage extends from the bottom to the top of the cage. Quality is not only in the design of the exterior of the cage. A quality cage is one that meets or exceeds standards of excellence throughout the design and includes extra features that meet the special needs of our feathered friends.
Hint #13 - Ouch!!!
Watch for sharp edges on the cage. This usually happesn where metal meets metal. Look on the inside as well as the outside of the cage. Run your hands around any area that may be suspect.
Hint #14 - Who do you trust???
Many people offer advice, and they do mean well. However, with technology becoming more and more advanced, it is easy to fall prey to incorrect remarks about a brand of cages. Remember there are 2 sides to every story. Check out the reliability of the source. You don't want to lose out on a great cage because someone has ignorantly repeated an erroneous story. Check out the facts.
As consumers we tend to want to believe other consumers. We have been taught that word of mouth is the best way to find things out. Technology has given us the freedom to do this without using our mouths. With the touch of a button we can create a harmful slant , believing that we will not have any backlash. The scary part is that, true or untrue, we can affect many people with our stories and opinions.
The manufacturers that I spoke with were very helpful and also very informed. Remember the one simple question "Why should I buy your cage?". So please get the facts and make an educated decision. It really is as simple as a few phone calls.
Winged Wisdom Note: Sharron Salas is a bird owner. She has also been a part of the Pet industry for over 8 years, as a representative and as a consultant.
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