Management and Husbandry

Other common diseases found in caged birds result from poor management. Boredom, cramped and dirty caging, improper ambient temperature, and inadequate perches can lead to a variety of problems such as feather picking, obesity, upper respiratory infections, infections of the feet (bumblefoot), etc.

You can prevent most of these diseases by paying attention to cage, perch and toy selection, providing environmental enrichment, practicing good hygiene and by providing heat and protection from drafts.

Cage Size

  • For smaller birds (quakers, senegals, and conure size) the cage should be no smaller than 24″by 18″ by 18″ with at least 1/2 inch bar spacing.
  • For medium size birds (eclectus, africans and amazon size) the cage should be no smaller than 30″ by 24″ by 30″ with at least 3/4 inch bar spacing.
  • For large birds (macaws and cockatoo size) the cage should be no smaller than 36″ by 36″ by 48″with at least 1 inch bar spacing. The size and bar spacing of your birds home is important when trying to maximize the happiness of your bird. Your bird should always be able to fully extend its wings and there should always be enough room for its tail.

Cage Placement

Placement of the cage in your house is important to your bird’s happiness and health. Their cage should be out of direct sunlight. Partial sunlight is okay, but be sure that your bird can get into a shaded area to prevent over heating. Try to not place your bird in drafty areas, such as in front of doors, windows in winter or air conditioner vents. Also, you should try to avoid placing your bird’s cage in the kitchen. Too often we have seen burns from birds flying into pots on the stove. Then there is the issue of bacteria found naturally in bird feces in close association with your family’s food. Outside cages are subject to attack by cats, raccoons, dogs, and hawks.

Perches and Toys

Two or three perches of various sizes should be kept in your bird’s cage. The variation in diameter of the perches helps to exercise your bird’s feet and prevent arthritis. The highest perch should be the most comfortable one for your bird because that will be the perch that they will usually sleep on.

You should try to keep two or three “appropriate” toys in the cage to prevent boredom. In their natural environment, birds are constantly tearing leaves and bark off of branches in their constant hunt for nutrition and energy. Toys allow them to exercise their natural drive to destroy things. If they are not given an outlet for this kind of behavior, self mutilation (or feather picking) may result. Try to avoid toys that have small metal or plastic parts that can easily be broken and swallowed. Excellent choices for bird toys are:

  • fruits and veggies cut into different shapes
  • uncooked pasta to crush and destroy: elbows, wagon wheels, spaghetti, lasagna
  • hanging sprigs of ‘bird safe’ leafy twigs (see below)
  • cotton ropes
  • a few hard shelled, uncracked nuts (walnuts, pecans)
  • a Kong toy (special bird kongs are available)
Bird safe plants include:
Dogwood Rose Elm Fir
Marigold Peppermint Spearmint Parsley
Honeysuckle Willow Magnolia Chamomile
Petunia Camellia Gardenia

We recommend that you cover the cage at night. This provides your bird a quiet, dark place to rest. Covering the cage also provides protection from drafts and serves to capture heat. A heating pad under the cage at night will provide additional heat in the winter. Once you start covering your bird, you should continue this for the life of your bird. Just like us, they are creatures of habit and it will disrupt their sleeping cycle if you don’t cover them.

Toxcities are also very common among caged exotic birds. Here’s a list of some of the more common toxins found in almost every home.
  • Cigarette Smoke
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Medicines
  • Tobacco
  • Poppy
  • Alcohol
  • Sage
  • Tulip
  • Sago cycas
  • Delphinium
  • Azalea
  • Daffodil
  • Wisteria
  • Figs
  • Hyacinth
  • Narcissus
  • Oak
  • Iris
  • Peony
  • Periwinkle
  • Ivy: Boston, English and some others
  • Philodendron
  • Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
  • Juniper
  • Poinsettia
  • Rhododendron
  • Mistletoe
  • Rhubarb
  • Morning Glory
  • Liquid refrigerants found in AC units and refrigerator compressors
  • Apple: seeds and leaves
  • Daphne
  • Laurel
  • Insect repellents: Either from the bottle or when it is on the skin of the owner
  • Fruit seeds and apricots: pits, leaves and bark
  • Burning Teflon covered cookery
  • Eggplant: unripe/over-ripe fruit and leaves of Elephant’s ear
  • Lead: fishing weights, lead wires or solder used to secure cage doors, batteries, foil from wine bottles, caulk and paint found in older homes

Other Husbandry Issues

One of the most commonly asked questions is whether or not to clip wings. Often we see broken wings, broken necks, burns and heart-broken owners that have lost their pets due to preventable accidents or escapes. The bird in captivity is at high risk for injuries from ceiling fans, colliding into windows, landing in boiling pots of water, crashing into walls, etc. So, we encourage clients to have their birds wings clipped. Although clipping a bird’s wings is not a very hard thing to do, serious mistakes can be made by an inexperienced person. Also, birds will resent the person who trims their wings.

Nail clipping is desirable. It prevents nails getting caught in clothing or on toys. It prevents the handler’s skin from getting scratched. In smaller birds, nails may be filed with an emery board or clipped with nail trimmers. If you attempt this yourself, be sure that you have something on hand to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the quick. If bleeding does occur, you can use styptic powder (Kwik Stop), flour, or corn starch to stop the bleeding. For larger birds, we recommend that you bring your bird to someone who is experienced in handling and clipping bird nails. Concrete perches and sand paper covers for perches may keep your bird’s nails shorter, but they can cause irritation and excessive wear to the soles of the feet and may be a cause of bumblefoot. Beak trimming may be necessary if your bird doesn’t wear it down chewing on toys, nuts or cuttle bones. DO NOT attempt to do this yourself. You should seek the expertise of a veterinarian for this.


Wild birds generally take advantage of natural rainfall to shower. This helps keep their feathers clean, restoring a brilliant sheen to their plumage. Caged birds should also be allowed to bathe periodically. Once a week is usually sufficient, although some bird owners prefer to make it part of their daily routine.

Some birds prefer a bath in a container that has a small amount of water in it; others will tolerate mist from a spray bottle You can also bathe your bird by taking them in the shower with you. There are shower perches available at specialty stores that cater to pet birds. Or he could perch on the shower rod and enjoy the steamy humidity. After your bird finishes its bath, hairdryers can be used to dry it. Use a low temperature setting and a safe distance (more than 10 inches) from your bird to prevent burns. If you chose to let your bird “drip dry”, make sure that they are kept in a warm area away from drafts.