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As a pet bird must spend a lot of time in its cage, it is vital that the cage provides all that the bird needs, both physically and mentally. The inside of the cage should be kept clean, but also should resemble the sort of place the bird would be found in, in nature; usually the top of a tree!

Perches should be of natural branches of non toxic trees, and several varying diameters. Put them in the top third of the cage. The bird will not spend long at the bottom of the cage (if it does you probably have a problem!). When they become chewed or soiled, replace them with new branches. Never use sandpaper on the perches. It damages the skin on the feet. Make sure the food and water dishes are not below where the bird sits (and toilets into them). Provide several perches at varying heights, to encourage the bird to climb and jump from perch to perch.

The cage should be kept scrupulously clean. Most cage birds have the misfortune to eat in the bathroom and toilet in the kitchen! The bottom of the cage should be lined with newspaper or paper towels that can be changed daily. The entire cage should be scrubbed down weekly with detergent and hot water, then sprayed with a disinfectant such as Virkon. The cage should be rinsed and dried before the bird is replaced in it. Food and water bowls should be washed daily and scrubbed and disinfected weekly.

Far better than plastic purchased toys, provide natural items for chewing and playing: seeding grasses, small cones, corn cob, sunflower head, pieces of non toxic trees with berries or leaves on them etc. The birds will chew and destroy these branches. This is good! It exercises the beak, claws and mind. When they are destroyed, provide new ones.

Consult your vet or bird supplier about diet. Pelleted foods are not common in NZ as yet, but are far better than seed diets. All birds should have access to clean water, grit and cuttlebone as well as their normal foods. Provide a wide variety of fresh items eg apple, seeding grasses, silver beet, parsley etc and replace daily or when wilted. Parsley, lettuce or silverbeet plants can be grown in small pots and placed in the cage for the bird to chew on. The bird may only take one or two mouthfuls of the greens, but this is vital to good health. Keep going!

If at all possible, your bird will greatly appreciate having time out of the cage to stretch its wings. If you practice giving your bird food treats by hand, you will be able to entice it out of the cage, and then in again at the end of exercise. Never leave a bird unattended out of its cage; there are too many hazards in most houses eg electric wires, metal objects, glass windows. Cover large glass areas or crashes may occur.

The bird will appreciate time spent with it, and if you have very limited time, it is kinder to keep a pair of the smaller species. Large parrots require special care and are not for those unprepared to spend considerable time and effort on their care and housing.

Dawn Mills BVSc, MACVSc.

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