Choosing a Cage

I get a lot of questions regarding what cage sizes are “adequate” for specific birds. The simple answer to this question has always been “Get the largest one you can afford.” However, picking out the right cage to meet your birds’ needs can be more complicated than that, especially if you are introducing more than one bird or mixing species. There are several things you should take into consideration when choosing a cage.

Height vs. Width
Birds fly side to side, not up and down. When I first started out breeding budgies I had a cage that was about 18″ wide and long and about 4′ high. It might as well have been 24″ high because that’s the extent of it that my budgies used. Birds need space, but not height. Width is much more important. Had the cage been 18″ wide and tall and 4′ long my budgies would have used the entire thing. Stick to rectangular cages that are longer/wider than they are tall.

Bird Size
How big are your birds? A macaw will need a much larger cage than a budgie. Many of the resources I’ve read tell you that the cage should be large enough for the bird to extend its wings without touching the bars, and large enough to turn around in without smacking the side. This is too small. For a hospital cage this would be fine because you are trying to restrict movement; however a day-to-day cage that the bird lives in should be double or triple this size. It should be able to hold two perches spaced greatly apart as well as toys.

Another funny thing about most parrots is that the smaller they are, the more space they need proportionally. Budgies require a huge amount of space when compared to a macaw (not quite to scale, but see below). This is due to their activity level. I cringe every time I see budgies kept in those tiny, blue, house-shaped cages that aren’t even one foot in ANY dimension. This is like a human being forced to live in their shower stall or closet!

Finches, budgies and smaller species typically require a ton of space when compared to a larger species. However, this doesn’t mean you should short-change your larger pets!

Activity Level
One budgie requires 2-3 times as much space as a cockatiel. Why? Because budgies are more active! This is why smaller birds need more space- generally they are much more active than the larger birds. You can see the difference just by picking them up: budgies and most parakeets “jump” onto your finger (or your shoulder, or your head…); parrots usually “step up,” rather than hop to you. Know your species: kakarikis, lovebirds and budgies are all extremely active. Nonpsittacine species like finches, toucans, mousebirds and other “softbills” are all very active. These birds require a huge amount of space no matter what their size- toucans require an aviary, macaws don’t.

This is not to say that all larger parrots are inactive and don’t require much space. It is important to keep in mind the activity level of the individual bird as well. When my mitred conure Fry died, I bought a Goffin cockatoo, Loki. Fry’s cage was brand new, and huge step up from the original cage he came in. Fry was a fairly inactive bird, so it suited him just fine. Loki, who is relatively the same size as Fry was, found this cage abysmally small. Loki is an extremely active bird, and also easily bored, which means that many toys are required to keep her interest. Fry’s cage was barely large enough for three of Loki’s toys, let alone Loki herself. I began searching for a new cage, and ended up getting macaw/large cockatoo cage. The new cage currently contains 12 toys (two more on the playstand above), and there is still room for her to hop about.


Loki’s new cage (left) vs her old cage (right).

How much time will the bird spend in the cage?
If you work away from home and your bird is locked up all day, then the cage needs to be very large. Like Loki’s cage, it should have plenty of room for toys, and also plenty of room for the bird to hop about. Fry’s cage [barely] had room for either one or the other. It’s easy to overestimate the size of an unfurnished cage. If you’re at a store, try placing a few toys inside to get a better feel for how much room you actually have to work with. If the bird won’t be able to move around much with three toys hanging inside, then the cage is too small. For a bird that is home all day, the cage should be able to fit at least 2-3 perches (one can be a swing), 4-6 toys, food dishes and the bird itself (with room to jump from perch to perch).

If the bird is out of its cage for a good portion of the day, then the cage can be smaller. A birdie-safe “play area” will give your bird a change of scenery and allow it to interact more with you. If a bird is out all day (for those lucky people who work at home) the cage can be much smaller because your bird will only be using it at night. Playstands should make up for the lack of cage size and contain plenty of toys, perches and other goodies to keep your bird occupied.

Mutiple Birds and Mixing Species
More birds means more space. Bickering is normal but if certain birds are picked on more than others or if they are fighting over food/water/perches then the cage is probably too small. When mixing species you must take into account what each is like. Nonaggressive species like budgies and tiels can mix but only if the tiels have room to get away from the budgies, whose constant activity will drive them nuts. See my article on Colony Breeding for more tips.

No round cages! No cute house-shaped cages! Cages should be designed for birds, not humans. Odd angles trap toes, create unused space and make cleaning and accessing the cage a nightmare. Stick to squares and rectangles.

Bar Spacing and Alignment
Most small species are fine with 1/2 spacing. Larger birds can have wider spacing, just not so wide that they can get their heads caught. Larger birds will also require thicker wire to keep them from chewing through. There should be plenty of horizontal bars. Clipped birds especially require these to help them get around the cage.


If your bird can do this, your bar spacing is too wide.

Many cages are galvanized. This is fine, but the process of galvanizing can leave traces of zinc and other metals on the wire which can kill your bird. Rinse all galvanized cages with a mixture of vinegar-water to remove these trace metals.

Bottom Grate
This feature keeps your birds from picking at dropped food and feces, as well as the substrate (you can use colored newspaper again!). I highly recommend getting a cage with this.

Acrylic Cages
These cages have their own distinct pros and cons. They are designed for optimal visibility and reduced mess. However, they contain no horizontal bars (although some now add a wire “climbing wall”), have reduced ventilation and climate control, and are extremely expensive.

Below are examples of actual cages offered for sale. I’ll start with some bad examples and then give you a few good designs.


Coast Cages Sunburst for Parakeets, Canaries & Finches

What’s Wrong

  • Very poor shape design. How is a bird going to utilize that space?
  • This cage is too small to fit any species. It would only be passable as a carrier.

Petco Delux Kit for Canary & Finch

“This deluxe starter kit begins with a stylish, quality cage…”

What’s Wrong:

  • Overall poor design and shape. What does “stylish” have to do with birds?
  • Too small for any bird, let alone an active finch.
  • Beware of “starter kits”- they are overpriced and may contain junk you don’t need (and not enough of what you do need).

Avian Select Parakeet Cages

What’s Wrong:

  • Round design- perfect for pinching toes.
  • Generally anything on a stand like this is going to be designed for humans and not for birds.
  • Too small, yet again.

Okay, enough of the crappy cages. Here are some good ones.


Giantex Bird Cage Large

What’s Right:

  • Rectangular design.
  • Adequate size for small/medium parrots
  • Generic playstand included
  • Bottom grate included
  • Metal seed catcher to reduce mess
  • On wheels to ease movement
  • Large, easy-access door and heavy-duty feeding crocks



Mcage Large Wrought Iron Flight Cage

What’s Right:

  • Large
  • Good bar spacing for small species
  • Plenty of horizontal bars
  • On wheels for easy transport and comes apart

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Which Bird is Right for You?

Not sure what bird is right for you? Check these genus profiles. If a ? is noted it means I don’t have enough experience with the species to say.


Genus/Common Name Nymphicus
Includes Cockatiels
Size Small.
Talking Ability Limited. Good whistler.
Lifespan 20-25
Noise Quiet, but their contact call may be annoying.
Dimorphic Yes. See my Guide to Sexing Tiels Visually.
Comments See species profile for more information. The cockatiel is a good beginner bird that enjoys being pet more than a budgie.


Genus/Common Name Lories
Includes Lories and lorikeets.
Size Tiny to medium.
Talking Ability ?
Lifespan ?
Noise Varies.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Very colorful and playful. Specialized diet (expensive and causes squirts).

loki17 Goffin cockatoo

Genus/Common Name Cockatoos
Includes Cockatoos
Size Medium to large.
Talking Ability Varies.
Lifespan 50-80
Noise Quiet to loud. Large species are typically very loud. My Goffin is very quiet.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Very demanding pets, but playful and highly intelligent. They are the cuddliest birds you can find. Difficult to breed. Males known for killing, maiming, and trapping hens during breeding.


Genus/Common Name Eclectus
Includes Eclectus
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Varies.
Lifespan ?
Noise ?
Dimorphic Very. Males are green and females are red.
Comments Matriarcal. Stunning colors and odd feather texture.



A female scarletchested parakeet.

Genus/Common Name Aussie Keets
Includes Polytelis (suberb, regent, princess), king, Platycerus (rosellas), Psephotus (red-rump, mulga), Neophema (bourke, scarlet-chest, turquoise).
Size Small to medium.
Talking Ability Varies.
Lifespan 10-30
Noise Pleasant.
Dimorphic Some species are.
Comments Good aviary birds but not commonly kept as pets. Rosellas are curious as pets and love to whistle.

 budgies06Budgies come in a variety of colors.

Genus/Common Name Melopsittacus
Includes Budgie.
Size Small.
Talking Ability Very good.
Lifespan 5-15
Noise Constant chattering. Usually not offensive.
Dimorphic Yes.
Comments See species profile for more information. Great beginner pets, but they usually do not come tame.




Genus/Common Name Cyanoramphus
Includes Kakarikis
Size Small.
Talking Ability Good.
Lifespan 10-?
Noise Pleasant.
Dimorphic Yes, but it takes experience.
Comments See species profile for more information. Kakarikis are high energy pets that require a lot of space and supervision. They rarely sit still for long and make very entertaining pets.


Genus/Common Name Agapornis
Includes Lovebirds.
Size Small.
Talking Ability Limited.
Lifespan 10-20
Noise Like budgie only higher pitched.
Dimorphic Some.
Comments Make feisty and curious handfed pets.


Genus/Common Name Psittacula
Includes Indian ringneck, African ringneck, Alexandrine, plum-head, blossom-head, Derbyan, Moustached.
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Excellent.
Lifespan 20-30
Noise Loud.
Dimorphic Yes.
Comments See species profile for more information. This genus is unfairly labeled “standoffish.” Ringnecks make excellent pets if well socialized. They are highly intelligent, curious and playful. They do tend to be strong willed and require a more experienced or assertive owner.



Genus/Common Name Poicephalus
Includes Senegal, meyers, cape, jardine’s, brown-head.
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Moderate.
Lifespan 30-40
Noise Quiet.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Good apartment birds. Senegals are the most popular.




Genus/Common Name Ara
Includes Macaws (extinct/endangered ones in other genus).
Size Medium to large.
Talking Ability Moderate.
Lifespan 80-100
Noise Loud.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Not as popular as once were, perhaps due to size, expense and noise level. They are the larger relatives of conures. Intelligent and playful.


jayjay3Sun conures are very popular due to their color.

Genus/Common Name Aratinga.
Includes Most conures. Nanday in another genus but the profile still applies.
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Limited.
Lifespan 30
Noise Loud.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Very loud for size. Playful, curious pets. Very outgoing and fun-loving. Tend to become one-person birds if you let them.


gc conureGreencheek conure

Genus/Common Name Pyrrhura
Includes Green-cheek, maroon-belly, pearl, paint and most other small conures.
Size Small.
Talking Ability Limited.
Lifespan 30
Noise Usually quiet.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Good for someone who likes conures but hates noise. These guys are smaller and generally much quieter.




Genus/Common Name Brotogeris
Includes White-wing, canary-wing, grey-cheek, and other “pocket parakeets.”
Size Small.
Talking Ability Moderate.
Lifespan 30
Noise Loud.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Used to be available in large numbers. Very limited supply since importation stopped and these birds are difficult to breed. Known to be outstanding pets. Most of these birds should probably be in breeding programs though.



Genus/Common Name Poinites
Includes Caique
Size Medium.
Talking Ability ?
Lifespan ?
Noise ?
Dimorphic No.
Comments South American species. Curious and feisty.



Genus/Common Name Parrotlet
Includes Parrotlet
Size Tiny to small.
Talking Ability ?
Lifespan ?
Noise ?
Dimorphic I think some species are.
Comments These guys are known as “mini amazons.” They have a large attitude for such small birds. They cannot be bred in colonies.



Genus/Common Name Amazona
Includes Amazons
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Excellent.
Lifespan 50-80
Noise Loud.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Outgoing and boisterous. Some species more mellow (mealy, lilac-crown, orange-wing). Can be very aggressive during breeding displays. Get hyper easily. Some, like double yellow heads and yellow napes, love opera and will make up their own songs.



Genus/Common Name Pionus
Includes Pionus
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Moderate.
Lifespan 50-80
Noise Quiet.
Dimorphic No.
Comments Good apartment birds. Appealing to people who like South Americans but dislike noise.


african grey1

Genus/Common Name Psittacus
Includes African grey
Size Medium.
Talking Ability Excellent.
Lifespan 50-80
Noise Quiet but like to pick up household noises to repeat constantly (much to the annoyance of some owners).
Dimorphic No.
Comments Highly intelligent and excellent mimics, but shy and sensitive. Can be badly affected by change if normally kept on a strict schedule. Plucking very common if stressed.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Shopping for a Bird


lovebird-1-1365617-639x511What kind of bird do you want?

The first thing you need to do is decide on the right species. This requires a bit of research and involves you knowing exactly what you want. I have a brief species guide here.

How big do you want your bird? Size plays a large role in other bird characteristics. It can affect noise, the amount you’ll have to spend on a cage and toys, the lifespan and the price. The larger the bird, the more expensive it will be to set up and maintain.

Larger birds generally live longer. Budgies can live up to 15 but often die much earlier due to malnutrition or tumors. Cockatiels and other big smaller birds like conures and Senegals can live from 20-30. Most of the parrots like amazons and African greys can live 50-80. Macaws have been known to make it to 100. A larger bird means a much longer commitment.

In general, the bigger the bird the larger the price tag. Species that are less common or more difficult to breed will also cost more. Galahs and Goffins are both similarly-sized cockatoos but Galahs are far more expensive. Newly-developed colors can also cost quite a bit.

Many parrots scream. If you live in an apartment or can’t handle a loud animal then you need to factor this into your decision. Volume isn’t the only thing to take into account though- if possible, research what your preferred species sound like. Sometimes a particular noise will be bothersome to you but not others.



Each species varies in character and it’s very important to pick one that you can get along with. Some people like cuddlers while others prefer boisterous birds that are more hands-off.

It’s no use picking a species that is very rare and belongs in a breeding program (unless that’s why you’re searching for it). Some species are available year-round while others will have babies at certain times of the year. If you’re adopting you may have a harder time finding your preferred species. Certain states in the U.S. breed more birds and will have a better selection.

This is the last quality in the world to be looking for in a bird. Anyone who picks a species solely on it’s ability to talk is making a grave mistake. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice thing to have, but it’s only the icing on the cake.

Once you’ve decided on a species you still need to buy it. The following are things you need to look for while you’re actually out shopping.

Birds that are moving around in the cage and making lots of noise are often healthy, happy birds.

The bird should look healthy. Colors should be bright. Feathers, eyes, vent, nostrils and everything else should be clean.


This bird is sick. It’s slouching and it’s feathers are a bit ruffled and unkempt.




These birds appear healthy: clear eyes, neat feathers, ACTIVE posture.

Other Birds in the Cage
Check the other birds in the cage. Do they look bad? If so you’d best move along. Maybe they are ill and the one bird you like just isn’t displaying any symptoms yet.

Recently I’ve seen more people pushing others to adopt birds rather than buy a baby. As a breeder I’m obviously biased, but I’ve taken in my share of older birds and I really don’t recommend it to novice owners. You’ll have no idea what kind of behavior problems a used bird may have, nor the experience to combat said problems. Training will be much more difficult. Underlying health problems are also a concern. You just don’t know what you’re getting. If you are new to birds I highly recommend getting a baby from a reputable source. You’ll be starting with a clean slate.

In general don’t buy from pet stores. Their price will be double that of anything offered by a private breeder. Shop around to get an idea of what the usual price is.

Again, avoid pet stores, especially if they are a larger chain like Petco. They have no business selling live animals and often buy animals from large scale wholesalers. The only exception would be a store that specializes in birds and has a good relationship with several reputable breeders.

The seller can tell you a lot about the bird being offered. You want to buy from someone who is knowledgeable, helpful, knows the bird’s history, and is reputable. If the seller is junk most likely the birds will be too.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Multiple Pet Birds Sharing Spaces


This is what consent looks like.

I been seeing a discomforting trend lately on Facebook- a lot of inexperienced people are allowing their birds to play together with minimal supervision. While this may seem rather innocuous, it can lead to brutal injuries when the birds clash.

One post, since deleted, was a long rant about the “hidden costs” of owning birds. The owner complained about spending well over $3000 on veterinary bills for a single bird. The aggressive conure had had wings broken on two separate occasions during altercations with other birds. After X-rays and surgery, the bird had amazingly recovered the ability to fly. The owner decided to keep it in its cage, but still allowed other birds access to climb on it. This conure was known to be very territorial of its cage. Not surprisingly, another bird ended up with a severely lacerated/crushed ankle that would likely need to be amputated.

Another man posted a video of his amazon propositioning his Goffin cockatoo, with the caption “please explain.” It was very clear from the body language that the Goffin was not happy. It was about as far removed as possible without flying to a new location. It was at a lower perch position, making it even more defensive. It was likely that the amazon kept encroaching into the Goffin’s personal space until it had ended up where it was- with no place to go. Any time the amazon got too close the Goffin would threateningly open its beak. When the amazon’s posture returned to normal the Goffin relaxed slightly. This went back and forth for a while.

The above interaction didn’t lead to a fight, but it certainly could have. The owner also reported that the amazon had begun getting aggressive towards anyone who tried to handle the object of his affection. Thankfully, the owner had the good sense to separate the birds after he found out what the body language meant.

Most people are reasonably familiar with dogs and cats. Even when they anthropomorphize their pets they generally don’t make mistakes that are quite as grievous. Dogs have cohabitated with humans for so long that the ability to read humans is built into their domestication. One study demonstrated that even puppies with no prior training will pay attention to where a human is pointing. Human children don’t even pick up that skill until around the same time they begin to walk!

Parrots, on the other hand, are not domesticated and have comparatively weird body language. It makes their behavior a lot harder to interpret without practical experience. Allowing pet parrots to share the same space when you don’t have a comfortable working knowledge of bird body language is a recipe for disaster.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.