Cages are one of the most costly expenses associated with bird ownership. They are also the source of several common pitfalls, especially when it comes to small birds.
What sort of cage do I get?
The bigger the cage, the better. Pick the biggest cage that fits within your budget and living room. Most people unfortunately choose a cage which is far too small. Although your bird may be small, their cage should not be! As a minimum, all birds should be able to fully spread their wings inside the cage without touching one another.
For small birds, you will need a cage which has a bar spacing of 1cm or smaller - any larger and there is a risk of them getting their head stuck.
Opt for a rectangular cage with corners over a round cage. Corners help birds feel safe; round cages make them feel claustrophobic.
Letting birds out of cages
Another big mistake is assuming your bird can be left caged 24/7. Many people realise that a macaw or cockatoo should have free flight time, but assume that their finch or canary is fine in a cage all day. All birds need to be let out of their cages daily for several hours. At G'Day Birdie Sanctuary, all of our birds are free to fly around the house from sunrise til sunset, every day.
When you first bring them home, they may be reluctant to leave their cage. That's okay! It's important to still provide them with the opportunity to explore when they are ready.
What to put in your cage
Most cages come with either plastic or wooden dowel perches, which are the same width all the way across. These don't provide your birds with the opportunity to tense and relax their leg muscles as they perch, which can lead to health problems such as bumblefoot. Make sure your cage has perches of a variety of sizes. Using tree branches is a great way to ensure your bird has healthy feet - we use eucalyptus branches in all our cages.
Toys are important for birds of all sizes! Make sure there are multiple in your bird's cage, and rotate them every week or so to ensure variety. There is some debate in the bird community over whether toys with mirrors are appropriate. Keep an eye on your birds when playing with these, and ensure that they do not become too enamoured with their reflection. Never use toys which contain cotton parts! Many "bird" toys contain cotton fibres, which when swallowed become stuck in their crop and accumulate over months or years. This can be fatal.
Housing birds together
If you have multiple types of birds (or multiple birds of the same species), it is important to research who can and cannot be caged together. Never keep a wax- or soft-bill (e.g. canary or finch) caged with a hook-bill (e.g. budgie or cockatiel). Hookbills are powerful, and can deliver considerable damage to other birds. While these birds can interact fine together in a large space, such as an aviary or living room, being confined to a cage together often ends in disaster.
It's a good idea to have a spare cage handy in case a bird becomes territorial or aggressive, and needs to be temporarily separated from the rest of the flock. During breeding season (spring), you may need to house bird pairs separately. This is especially true for canaries, who are naturally solitary birds.
Do I actually need a cage for my bird?
Nope! Birds in the wild obviously aren't caged. Stands made from natural tree branches can make a great alternative resting place for birds at night. However, you will still need a transport cage for vet visits. This can be smaller than your regular cage, as they are only used for short periods and are easier to carry around.