Check out bird books and magazines and you’ll run into the same advice over and over-“Buy the biggest cage you can afford.” Big cages give your bird more space to play, fly, and climb, but they help you out, too. A bird in a good-sized cage is going to mean less mess for you than one in a small cage.
A big-enough cage gives you the freedom to position perches so they aren’t near food and water dishes or over each other, which keeps everything cleaner. Big cages also have more space for the droppings and spilled food to land on the floor of the cage – instead of the floor of your living room.
Many people put birds in cages that are just plain way too small. The bird droppings and spilled food build up fast if you put a cockatiel in a cage that is, say, sixteen inches square and twenty inches high. Lots of cages that are sold in perfectly respectable pet stores are too small for any bird, or at least too small for the bird they are being advertised for. If you see a “cockatiel” cage, it’s likely that it would be more suitable for one parakeet-even though that “cockatiel” cage might cost eighty bucks!
The problem with bigger cages is that bird cages can be very expensive, but there are way to get around that. I wouldn’t recommend ever buying your bird cage at one of the big chain pet stores. Discount stores, although possibly cheaper, aren’t ideal either because the cage quality and selection is not as good. You’re not going to find a three-by-four foot flight cage at Wal-Mart. More on where to buy your cage in a minute.
The two size considerations you need to pay attention to in bird cages are the interior space, of course, and also the bar spacing. You might want to buy your cockatiel a giant cage, but if you’re not careful to pay attention to bar spacing, you may end up with bars he can stick his head between (not safe) or with a very expensive cage that was designed to house a large parrot. In a lot of big cages, the bars are heavy-duty, which you don’t need if you have a smaller bird that doesn’t chew hard.
If you want a big cage for a smallish bird, like a parakeet, lovebird, cockatiel, or conure, look for a “flight cage.” These have lots of interior room while still providing narrow bar spacing and bars that don’t look like you’re trying to house Godzilla in there.
The bigger the bird, the bigger the cage. If you have to, you can house a parakeet in a little cage and just plan on giving him lots of out-of-cage time in the house to make up for it. However, if you’re interested in having one of the larger parrots like an Amazon, African Grey, large cockatoo, or macaw, you’re going to have to invest in a cage that is both big and heavy-duty (think Godzilla bars). These cost hundreds of dollars, but you can probably save some money if you hunt around a bit.
So what’s the key to housing Tweetie in a big cage that doesn’t cost a fortune? I’ve been surprised to find that bird cages are an excellent thing to buy online. Check out ebay-search under “bird cage” or “flight cage.” You’ll see a ton of cages (mostly brand new) and also links to some ebay stores that offer more cages. Or Google some of these phrases: “wholesale bird cage,” “buy bird cage online,” and “bird breeding cages.” Or anything else you can think of. (I would include my specific favorites, but websites change so often you’re probably better off finding your own.) You’ll find lots of cages, generally cheaper than they would be in your local pet shop. Frequently you’ll find the same cage offered in several different places, which helps you pinpoint the cheapest source.
What about shipping? Many times the places that sell the larger, heavier cages offer free shipping. Buying from a place that offers free shipping makes it easier to figure out how much that cage will actually cost you. On ebay, some people offer free shipping, some sell the cage for a moderate price and then charge you “actual” shipping (which can really add up, so be sure to factor it in to the cost of the cage) and some sell cages for 99 cents but charge you a hundred bucks for shipping. Just be sure to check the shipping cost and add it to the cage cost to determine the true cage price.
Some online sources offer wire mesh cages (search under “bird breeding cages”) that are cheap for the size. They are also kind of ugly, but if you’re not picky about how your cage looks, they can provide a cheaper way of giving your bird more space. Some of them even claim to hold up to macaws and cockatoos. Just do some reading about zinc poisoning in birds if you buy one, because there are claims that certain types of wire mesh contain zinc which is harmful to birds that chew the bars.
One thing about online birds cages, of course-they arrive unassembled and you have to put them together. I’m lousy at that sort of thing but I’ve put all ours together myself without having to ask my husband for help, so it must not be too hard.
If you’d rather buy your cage locally, check your Yellow Pages for hardware or farm-supply stores that offer pet supplies. Sometimes they have cages cheaper than the pet stores, especially if you drive out to a rural area that has genuine farm-supply stores that supply genuine farms!
Here’s a list of the bird cages in my home and what’s in them:
1. Mr. Hillme, a green-cheeked conure: interior cage size 19 by 28 inches and three feet high at the highest point (it’s a dome-top, so part of it is shorter).
2. Three cockatiels sharing a cage: at the moment I have them in a cage that’s about 22 inches square and 27 inches high, but I don’t consider that to be large enough and I’m planning to get them a flight cage.
3. Cocoa, a Meyer’s parrot (smaller than an Amazon or African Grey-about the size of a cockatiel but with a shorter tail): Cocoa has a nice big cage, two feet deep, three feet long, and four feet high at the highest point (it’s a dome top). This cage is very easy to clean, which may be due to the size (how much mess can one little bird make in a cage that size?). I keep newspapers on the bottom grate and just roll them up and put down new ones. Cocoa spends very little time clinging (and pooping) on the bars because of the space in the cage, and the perches are widely spaced enough so that he doesn’t sit over (and poop on) any of them.
4. Popcorn, a parakeet: rectangular “flight cage” with narrow bar spacing, 30 inches long by 20 inches wide, and four feet high. For one parakeet. And by golly, it stays clean. My intention is actually to put four or five parakeets of different colors in there and make a little aviary out of it, but I don’t have the others yet. I bought this cage recently on ebay for $129.95 including shipping. (If you think that’s expensive for a cage that size, you haven’t priced retail bird cages lately.) It’s a silver-blue color, on wheels, with a lower shelf under the cage itself. (Why can’t I switch Popcorn and the cockatiels and give the cockatiels more room? Because their bar spacing is too wide for a parakeet.)
5. Louise, a lorikeet: cage is thirty inches long, nineteen inches high, and nineteen inches wide. Lorikeets have unusually loose droppings that they sort of spray out in a wide, wet arc. Louise started out at our house in a normal bird cage, but the droppings were all over the floor. The cage she’s in now was sold as a guinea pig cage. The bottom half is a plastic bin and a barred top fits over it. The perches fit on the bars, and the droppings fall down into the plastic area instead of spraying onto the floor. Lorikeets like to play on the floor of the cage anyway, so having a solid bottom works well-I keep a towel in there instead of papers. It works great and only cost $60.00 brand new on ebay ($30 for the cage and $30 for shipping)-cheaper than a “bird cage” of the same size. Oh, it also came with a wheeled stand.
Speaking of stands, I prefer cages that come on legs with castors. All our cages are like this. That way you don’t have to bother finding a solid, safe piece of furniture to set the cage on. Most of the larger cages sold are free-standing ones of this type, although some of the flight cages sit directly on the floor (and are four to six feet tall).
Beware of acrylic cages. They are advertised as being a great way to view your bird while keeping the mess inside, but keep in mind that most parrot-type birds spend a lot of time climbing on the bars of their cages. If the sides of the cage are solid, the only places the bird has to sit are on the perches, so you’d need lots of perches of different types and sizes with this type of cage.
Oh, one caution-if you have a bird that’s always been housed in a small cage, be careful about moving him to a bigger one. Naturally, it might be a shock-he might feel exposed and frightened at first. If it’ll fit, you might put the small cage inside the bigger one with the small cage door open, or you might start out putting him in the big cage for short periods of time to get used to it. And for the time being, try to keep the same type of perches and food and water dishes so he won’t have to adjust to too much change at once.
Have fun cage shopping!