You might be saying to yourself, “Perching the cage! That’s old news….” Hang on a minute! The way you perch your parrot’s cage and the types of perches you choose can make or break his life experience. After all, perches are your parrot’s furniture. They must be comfortable, offer variety and be placed effectively.
Have you ever looked at your parrot’s feet? They have evolved this zygodactyl toe arrangement for better grasping and climbing. Beyond that, each toe may have as many as six joints, which allows them great dexterity when it comes to holding onto the smallest of objects. Many also use their feet like hands when eating. Since most companion parrots don’t do a lot of flying, they are on their feet about 99% of the time. We must use care when providing a physical environment.
There is an art to perching a parrot’s cage and a lot of people get it wrong, which is why I chose this topic. I ask for a photo of the cage when I do a consultation. You would be surprised at how frequently obvious things get missed, like food dishes without a perch nearby for access.
The principles are the same whether you have a baby parrot, a budgerigar, an African Grey or a Hyacinth macaw.
- A variety of perches should be provided in the cage with different materials and different diameters. The standard advice is that perches must be of such a diameter that the bird’s toes can go at least half-way around the perch. In fact, many birds enjoy smaller perches for variety. If you watch parrots fly outdoors, they often choose to land on very small branches that offer a lot of movement.
- Perches should be placed thoughtfully so that they facilitate maintenance behaviors such as foraging and preening.
- Parrots should be offered the opportunity to perch up high daily for best mental health. To a parrot, height spells safety.
Perch Types for the Cage
Your parrot will benefit from having a wide variety of perches from which to choose. Consider my somewhat biased review below.
- Platform perches or shelf perches – occasionally parrots like to perch with their toes extended. For any parrot with a physical disability of the legs or feet, these are essential and will contribute greatly to quality of life.
- Rope perches provide a softer surface and can help to strengthen leg muscles, since they move a bit as the parrot walks along. If you do use rope perches and your parrot chews on them, make sure to keep the strings cut short so that toes can’t get trapped.
- Heated (Thermo™) perches can be a comfort to a parrot with arthritis or when cold temperatures at night are a concern. At present there is a controversy as to the safety of these. It has been reported that they may generate an electromagnetic field (EMF) that could affect the parrot’s health. The EPA does appear to consider the danger of EMFs to be real. I have no idea if they might be dangerous or not, but I offer this information to trigger your own research since they can be nice to have.
- Pedicure perches – an almost infinite variety are now available. I continue to recommend the Parrotopia Sandy Perch due to its unique design. Actual branches with all of their irregularities are used in the production. This creates much greater likelihood that the nails will come into contact with the perch. I have had them in my cages for the past 20 years and have never had to trim any parrot’s nails. Parrots also love them for cleaning their beaks. It is important to note that veterinarians have voiced concern that perches of this type could cause abrasions on the bottom of the feet. I have not found this to be the case with the Sandy Perch. No matter what perches you provide, it’s best to examine the bottom of your parrot’s feet on a regular basis for possible areas of soreness.
- Safe woods – if you’re tempted to create your own perches from plant materials, make sure you know what type of wood you are gathering and that it is safe. Willow and eucalyptus are favored by parrots. Lot of folks recommend washing and bleaching (or baking at a low temperature in the oven) any wood you bring in from the outdoors. I’ve never thought this necessary, but if you want to err on the cautious side that type of treatment should kill anything living that remains on the wood. Taking wood from the natural environment can provide wonderful perching options, to which the little budgie above will attest.
- Dowels – possibly the least desirable type for any bird.
- Sleeping huts – the one perch I do not like to see in cages. The tops of these tend to get filthy quite quickly. Parrots don’t need them; they are sold more for the concerned owner. Last, if the parrot spends time in them during the day, they can increase territorial behavior around the cage since they can be construed by the parrot as a potential nest cavity, especially if there is a pair bond present with the owner.
Placing perches correctly requires us to examine the types of activities the parrot performs. We then position the perches to best facilitate those. I see little point in placing perches in the lower third of the cage. If you have perches down low, ask yourself if your parrot uses them and if they are covered with poop. If he doesn’t and they are, take them out, scrub them up, and replace them in a more functional location.
Most cages for medium to large parrots come with a long perch that extends from one side to the other at the level of the food dish holders. I like that configuration since it gives the parrot an easy path to traverse the cage from side to side.
In addition, consider placing at that same level shorter bolt-on natural wood perches in front of the food dishes so that they extend from the front of the cage toward the back. If you did, your parrot could face his food dish as he dined! These natural wood perches are widely available and are usually between 8 and 12 inches long.
Additional perches should be placed in the upper third of the cage where your parrot will prefer to be most of the time. If you add one, make sure he’s got enough head room. Then hang toys in places where he can reach them easily from those upper perches. I’m not a fan of swings in cages since they take up so much room. If you do have one, make sure it’s in the very center so that he doesn’t hit the sides as he swings.
After you re-perch that cage with the suggestions above, wait a day and make sure that the perches aren’t collecting poop and there isn’t poop in any food dish.
Another mantra of mine: Parrots need to go places. A single cage is not enough. For best quality of life, they need to
have a variety of perches around the house. I think a perch in every room where the parrot spends time is not unreasonable. If you have a perch in every room, you might be more inclined to take your parrot with you when you travel around the house, which would be good for him. Further, if you have a perch in every room, he can perch independently rather than staying on your shoulder. It’s better for him and you. Options are free-standing play-gyms, hanging perches, table-top perches and the Wingdow. Consider also getting one very simple stand for parrot training sessions.
It’s tough these days to find a free-standing playstand that is fully functional. Most are so simple in design that the bird simply sits in one place at the top. You can spend a whole lot of money for a stand that looks like it offers enough variety, only to find that your parrot doesn’t want to climb downward on all those rungs. A good parrot stand will, through its engineering, encourage movement, have a place for food dishes, and at least one toy hanger. Don’t cut corners here; you get what you pay for in this case.
I love hanging perches. I’m talking about the ones that will hang from your ceiling. Parrots feel safe up high, so it’s important to offer them this opportunity. For flighted parrots, they are essential. A simple one that most parrots love is the coiled rope perch. There are many other great designs available as well. One very unique design is the Get-A-Grip climbing net. If you have parrots who fly, hanging perches will go a long way towards keeping them off the tops of your doors and bookcases.
Having a couple of table-top perches is nice too if your bird likes to hang out with you while you cook or put your make-up on. For small to medium parrots, a natural wicker basket works nicely. These are plentiful at Goodwill Stores. Get one with a wide enough base that it won’t tip over due to your parrot’s weight and with a handle that is of a good perching diameter. You can move this from room to room and fill the base with a foraging activity or simply a few foot toys.
If your parrot showers with you, he needs a perch in there too. Most are simple in design and rely on suction cups to stay in place. This can be a problem if your tile shower has an uneven surface. One solution is to build your own free-standing perch from PVC. This can then also double as a training perch. If you do use PVC, make sure to wrap the perch itself with a non-slip material like Vet Wrap or score the surface with a dremel tool. I found this diagram in Google images. Many thanks to the wonderful sole who contributed this.
Teaching the Perch
As much as I will love you for providing a variety of perches, your parrot may not thank you initially. Many adult parrots are wary of new things and will reject them at first. They may even be afraid of the new perch. This is not the time to decide: “He just doesn’t like it!”
Instead, decide: “Okay, I will need to teach him to like it!” By following a desensitization and counter-conditioning plan that pairs high value reinforcers with very gradual increases in proximity to the scary perch, you can teach him to enjoy it. Outlining such a plan is not within the scope of this blog post, but this is something with which I could easily help you on a private basis.
I’d love to hear from you. What perches do you have that you really like?