Giving your feathered friends the perfect place to call nest

WING IT: Expressing natural behaviours like flight is key to bird wellbeing. Picture: Shutterstock
WING IT: Expressing natural behaviours like flight is key to bird wellbeing. Picture: Shutterstock

Birds are highly intelligent and, like all other pets, require appropriate housing and mental stimulation.

Here are some tips to follow if you have pet birds to ensure they have a good life.

How much space?

Most cages are too small to allow birds to fly freely and can severely restrict their ability to exercise and express their normal behaviours.

So, if birds are permanently confined to a cage, they should also have access to a flight aviary or be given regular opportunities to fly in a safe indoor environment outside their cage.

You should aim to provide as large a cage as possible given available space and financial considerations. As birds don't fly straight up and down vertically, cages that are narrow with a lot of vertical space but not a lot of horizontal space, often don't provide enough room.

The minimum length of a cage for a pair of birds should be at least three times their combined wing span - the wing span being the length from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other wing, when both wings are stretched out.

The length should allow at least two wing beats (the more the better) between perches. And the height should be at least three times the length from head to tip of tail of the largest bird to be confined in it. Check our Knowledgebase for tips on how much space your bird needs.

Other housing factors

Housing should also have a variety of different perches with enough spaces for all birds. Perches should be rough and made of natural, non-toxic wood to help prevent overgrown toenails.

They should also be placed apart to encourage flight, but not placed directly above other perches or food and drink containers.

Housing should always be kept clean and hygienic. Once a day, you should clean and disinfect food and water dishes, change cage paper, spot clean the cage and replace food.

In addition to perches, food and water, housing should provide bathing water (either through a sprinkler or in a container appropriate for the species), as well as sufficient nesting sites with suitable nesting material if birds are breeding. On top of this, make sure that your birds' housing is escape-proof and predator-proof.

Enrichment

As with any animal, ensuring the environment in which your birds live is interesting and varied will make their lives more enjoyable. This can include a varied diet, movable perches and objects for them to play and interact with (such as mixing pellets or seeds with large wooden beads or blocks, cork, shredded paper or buttons so that the bird must dig through the bowl to find its food).

Most bird species are highly social. In the natural environment they live in groups or at least pairs. So because of that, pet birds should be housed in groups or pairs of compatible species or individuals.

Pet birds also often consider their human family to be part of their 'flock', and so it's good for your birds' welfare to integrate them appropriately into daily activities.

Other considerations

Birds should be protected from extreme weather. If your aviary or cage is exposed to the weather, it should allow all birds to shelter together in a place that is protected from wind, rain and direct sunlight.

Birds need adequate ventilation and also protection from draughts and fumes. Indoors, at least half of the largest side of the cage should be a metal grill, netting or mesh (rather than being solid).

Avoid exposure to fumes from cleaning products, paint, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, scented candles or incense.

Outdoors, a solid material or cladding on the roof and walls will protect against heavy winds while at least three-quarters of the area of one wall should be open-weave mesh.

Lastly, birds need to be protected from loud or sudden noises, be kept away from the sights and sounds of predatory animals and shouldn't be permanently kept in high-traffic areas of the household.

For more tips, visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase.