Who’s the Pet Here? Housing Your Pet Cockatiel
By Mary Kaye Buchtel
Written for NCS Magazine – 1988
This issue, I’ll concentrate on housing. It’s exciting to hear how much you care for your pets. The attitude is so often “only the best for my bird”. I feel that way myself. My husband should get such a balanced diet of fresh, healthy food (no Stove-Top Stuffing for the birds). Perhaps no other bird is quite so appreciative of all the care as our sweet, responsive little ‘tiels! Perhaps I’m partial!
1. HOW BIG MUST A CAGE BE?
The rule of thumb is: the cage must be large enough for the bird to stretch both wings at once without touching the cage. Remember, toys and dishes take up room, too. Buy the largest cage you can afford with the wing span being the minimum. The smallest pet cage I use is 18″ x 22″. Be careful when placing “furniture” to leave room for the bird to move around without always bumping into something. Those lovely, long tails need room to clear the floor and sides. Grills above the tray aid health and cleanliness by keeping birds away from droppings.
2. DOES OUR PET BIRD NEED TO BE LET OUT OF IT’S CAGE?
Unless you bird lives in a flight and is able to fly for exercise, be kind and allow your bird daily time out of it’s cage to flap it’s wings and walk around. If your bird is tame and you want it to stay tame, time out is social time to keep your friendship strong. The bird allowed freedom should have clipped wings, to ensure it doesn’t escape through an open door or window. Exercise is as important to our birds as it is for you, it helps control weight, improves mental health and lengthens life for both of you.
3. WHAT TYPE OF LINER FOR THE CAGE BOTTOM?
Many people use newspaper, but unprinted paper such as grocery bags or the unprinted side of computer paper prevents exposing birds to printing chemicals. If you decide to use litter, you’ll have more difficulty seeing problems in the droppings. Don’t use clay-based litter such as kitty litter. If the bird eats clay, clay absorbs moisture which can impact the crop and the bird may starve. Corn cob litter is better (but still not recommended). Sand or gravel can be a hazard to your bird’s health. The prime considerations for cage lining is safety, easy to change, and inexpensive enough to change often. Paper must be changed daily, litter must be changed weekly.
4. TO COVER OR NOT TO COVER, THAT IS A QUESTION!
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a straight “yes” or “no” answer for these questions? This isn’t one of those questions. Each bird and it’s environmental situation requires a different answer. If your bird is afraid of the cover, don’t cover it. If the bird rest better with a cover, do. Some additional considerations are the amount of light in the room at night, the nighttime temperature, and your ability to provide regular house by covering and uncovering the cage on time daily. Covered birds may stay warmer when covered on winter nights but a covered cage can be too stuffy in the summer. Some birds have more night-frights if their cage is uncovered and some have more with the cover on; experiment with covers and nightlights if night-frights are a problem. Do what your bird is used to, unless there’s a problem. If you decide to change the routine, be aware of your bird’s reaction. You can change it’s habits, if necessary, by going slowly. These birds do nap uncovered during the day.
5. DOES OUR BIRD NEED TOYS?
You bet! If you don’t supply toys, the bird will do it’s best to find some. A bird kept alone in a cage without toys will chew on perches, bars and finally itself. This is a cruel and desperate situation. ‘Tiels enjoy bells, ladders, swings, shiny things like large beads and chains, and wood suitable for chewing. Beads and bell clappers must be too large to choke on, chains must be too small to get strangled in, too large to entrap toes.
You must carefully evaluate toys; there are some unsafe toys on the market.
Many parakeet toys are unsafe for cockatiels. Brittle plastic can injure your strong-beaked bird. Toys with lead poison the bird who exposes the lead. Wood must not be toxic, or have toxic color, plain is best. Rawhide toys are safe until wet or soiled with feces. Rawhide cannot be adequately sanitized and must be discarded. Rubber toys must be made of hard rubber so the bird cannot get a beakful. Even favorite toys become boring. Have several toys and rotate and clean them weekly. Avoid overcrowding, one or two toys at a time keep the bird occupied.
6. CAN OUR BIRD TRAVEL?
If your bird isn’t healthy, the only excusable travel is to an avian veterinarian. The bird should be in a hospital if it is at all weak. This is a covered cage without perches./ Be aware that sick birds must be kept warm. Most birds would rather stay home with a caring sitter and see your when you return. If you really must take a healthy bird on a car trip, it can travel in it’s cage. Healthy birds perch very well; they’re even designed to stay in trees when the wind blows. Use common sense to keep the bird warm/cool enough and allow as little stress as possible. Remove hanging toys and swings to prevent a concussion or eye injury. You may find your bird less fearful if the cage is covered with a light cover so it can see it’s immediate surroundings, but isn’t startled by all the strange objects “flying” by. Water invariably spills, presenting a health threat. If it’s only an hour long trip, fill the dish when you arrive. If the trip is to last longer, fruit or other juicy food supplies moisture until you take a driving break when you can offer a drink. We’ve found our birds don’t eat while the car is moving, although food is always available. If your trip will be longer than one day, plan a break around dinner time, make sure it’s light, and let the bird eat for as long as it wants. This is time to fill the water dish. Use water brought from home and kept in a cooler to avoid upsetting the bird with a strange taste or different bacteria. Don’t start driving in the morning until the bird has eaten. Millet spray will often be eaten by a bird who’s too upset to eat anything else (a birdie banana split, I guess). Airline travel requires special arrangements with the specific airline. Cockatiels in cardboard boxes are birds ready to escape.
No discussion about housing would be complete without mentioning playgrounds. Birds must be caged when humans are busy or away. There are too many dangers to allow unsupervised play, but playgrounds offer a great place for pets to spend time close to their human. Our birds enjoy eating, preening, playing and napping on their playground while we relax.
Let us know how your birds are doing. Do any of you travel with your birds regularly? Do the birds seem to enjoy it? Please send us your favorite travel tips or warnings.