When I was visiting Arizona for my seminar, I spent a lot of time with Ginger and her flock. Her living room is full of foraging trees for her expansive flock of rescue parrots. She has a large climbing tree that she custom built for her Congo African Grey Parrot, Ozzy. On several occasions I let Truman loose on this tree (while its occupant wasn't around) and he was absolutely thrilled. He was just climbing all around and checking the different toys out. I'd never seen him get more excited about a playstand. Since it was built for an African Grey, it was the perfect size for a Cape Parrot. Truman navigated his way through the expanse of branches and found toys that he was able to snap with ease.
Toward the end of my stay we had my birds and her (clipped) birds out at the same time. I put Kili and Truman on an unoccupied stand while the other birds were out. Truman was getting bored so he flew over to a seemingly unoccupied tree. However, its Senegal Parrot occupant came charging at him with open beak! It didn't take long for Truman to realize that not only was he unwelcome but that his assailant looked a heck of a lot like the one back home that kicks his butt. He flew off in the nick of time and headed for his favorite tree in the house, Ozzy's. Little did he know, however, Ozzy was actually out on his tree. Truman landed on the tree not far from Ozzy and the two Psittacinae came face to face for the first time.
Ozzy the African Grey on his custom built tree
The stand off ensued. Truman was like "who are you?" Ozzy was even more shocked, "I cannot believe you are on my tree. Don't you know this is my tree? What are you doing here?" For a while the two parrots stood dumbfounded, waiting for the other to make the first move. Eventually, Truman in his playful nature went for a toy and proceeded to play. Ozzy, still staring in disbelief at this uninvited stranger was unsure whether to attack or flee. Truman saw a toy near Ozzy and began walking toward it. Ozzy got a bit defensive and flashed his hooked bill in warning and Truman demonstrated his. In a moment it was all over and Ozzy retreated to a sulking corner of the tree while Truman roamed freely from toy to toy as he wished. This was the first and only time Truman won a fight. He is used to being bullied by Kili but here he did not even have to fight. The skittish Grey yielded his beloved tree to the uninvited guest with a bowie knife for a beak.
Thus I was persuaded to seek a bigger tree back home for Truman. I never bothered buying a large tree for him because at first I did not want it to block of his flight space but later because I got an aviary for him to spend time outside. Kili and Truman each had their own little table top tree at home but never gave much mind to them. One of the benefits of a larger tree that I learned from Ginger is that you can hang swings from them.
I spent some time searching for a ready to go Java tree. But not only are they very expensive, but none are perfect. Since they are all natural trees, there are a multitude of compromises in each. The thickness of the branches, the spacing between branches, the overhang of branches to hang toys from, and the size/shape of it all play major roles. However, after looking at dozens of trees, I realized that the only way to have one the ideal size, shape, and thrill for Truman, would be to engineer it myself. Thanks to Ginger, I realized that building a custom tree is a possibility.
I bought a variety of Java branches meant for mounting in the cage, some swings, and new toys. I also bought a cheap coffee table to mount this tree on to get it elevated without the cost of more branches. From the moment I was picking the branches, I was seeking ones that would be able to join together well. Deciding which branches would connect to other ones posed the biggest challenge. I had to find ends that would mate with the limbs of other branches and align it so higher branches could serve as toy hangars for lower ones. The tree also had to fit a specific contour of the space I had set aside for it.
Unlike most trees/stands for sale, I bolted an extensive series of stainless steel eye screws throughout the tree. This stand was engineered from start to finish to be a parrot dreamhouse. Large eye hooks suitable for mounting entire swings were factored into the original design. The tree was partly built in my workshop but then had to be completed on location because it would not fit through the door. What was extremely difficult was that I could not build further branches until prior ones were mounted but I needed to see the prior ones to know where the further ones would end up. So there was a lot of back and forth work assembling and disassembling the tree in order to be able to put everything together.
It took the greater part of a day to complete assembly of this deluxe custom built foraging empire. 4 swings and 11 toys completed the expansive mosaic of climbing locations for the parrots. Unlike the random branching of natural foraging trees, this one is layered in a way that guarantees the parrot can access every level. If Truman can't get to a specific branch from another, he can always climb up a toy or swing to get there. This may not be a huge tree, but it's highly accessible and efficient.
This morning I took Truman out to see his tree for the first time. He was like a little boy on Christmas morning. He ran around from perch to perch to try each toy. His eyes were running wild and he couldn't decide what part he wanted to play with first. Ironically he laid greatest preference to the two cheap toys I built for him myself rather than all the ones I paid good money for.
Kili was a bit weary of jumping straight on the tree at first. She watched from a safe distance but later decided to join. I put her on a perch at a distance from Truman and she proceeded to check things out as well. The tree is big enough and convoluted enough that the birds can play at opposite ends without the proximity to fight. Kili preferred some of the thinner swings and rope perches while Truman searched for tougher things to destroy.
Now with this homebuilt parrot amusement park I am hoping to be able to leave Truman out for longer spans of time. In the past I would inevitably have to put him away because he'd get into too much mischief. By concentrating everything a playful parrot could want on one tree, it will hopefully contain his attention for more time. Today he has spent hours playing and napping in his tree while I took care of other things. Yet, despite his expansive fun house, he still flew over to me from time to time to cuddle. This is an important balance. Truman is able to spend hours having fun independently, yet remains a cuddly people friendly bird.
After visiting Ginger's flock, rescues, and parrot stores on my Phoenix trip, I realized the pressing need for affordable parrot trees. With my experience building training perches, trees, and toys I intend to launch a new line of practical, affordable, quality parrot play stands with the busy parrot in mind. Stay tuned for an announcement about this new line of stands on the Parrot Wizard website. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Kili & Truman in their new custom built climbing tree:
Brilliant. I wish I was that creative and had any knowlege of DIY. The tree I currently have made fits the purpose for the size of birds I have but I've no idea how I would go about making one for a bigger bird as this one is only secured with a gravel filled plant pot and leather strips lol.
The price has always put me off of buying a proper tree and like you say, they are full of flaws for the purpose they are needed for.
Hey Michael, that looks great! My birds have a big playtree too and they love it!
I have a question though, how much does an average java tree cost in the U.S?
I bought my java tree for 160 euros which is about 190/200 dollars. (without bottom though, with bottom the tree would have been around 250 euros/300 dollars)
I did had to search for the right tree with alot of branches, good height etc.
Are single java branches that much cheaper that this was the cheapest way to build Truman a tree?
Because if I had to buy all those branches seperatly that would have cost me much more in totall.
Here are some photos of my tree, I added alot of rope too because they really like climbing and its a cheap way to make the tree more fun!
Yes, they are quite expensive. $300-$500 retail for a floor standing tree depending on size. It was not only cheaper but better to make Truman's tree from separate branches. I was able to get more overlapping branches to hang toys and swings from by designing it specifically for my birds and the spot I wanted to put it in. The only thing I still have yet to figure out is how to keep it clean but I'm sure I'll figure something out as I get to it.
It could possibly be cheaper doing it Michaels way as unlikely as it seems, over here full trees are in the range of 250-500 pounds, individual java branches cost between £10-50. Alot of people would consider the cost worth it cuz the java branches are extremely hardwearing and easy to clean.
If you don't mind hard work replacing branches and extra time spent cleaning you can get similar results with branches from ordinary trees which would be much much cheaper. That said Ollies tree is now 2 years old and I haven't had to replace anything at all as he doesn't chew alot and its bark is fairly smooth so easy enough to wipe down.
[quote="cml":1mr40zy9]I think the design turned out great michael! Will use both yours and Marsha's tree as inspiration for expanding the play stand/perch I built earlier this year =)![/quote:1mr40zy9]
I reckon this will be inspiration for many, including me.
Nice to know my tree is also an inspiration Thanks.
The way I keep my tree clean is very simple. With my tree the branches dont really overlap so they dont poop on their branches alot but they do offcourse clean their beaks on the branches.
What I do is just hot water (with a little eucalyptus sometimes) and a sponse and I scrub, scrub, scrub and all dirt gets off real easy.
Every once in a while I will also take down all the ropes and give them a bath too, offcourse the toys get cleaned alot more.
I made a bottom myself for the tree with woodchips for all the birdpoop which is easy to clean, but if you dont have a bottom you can always use one of those mats which you normally use for under your desk chairs.
I'm a DIY dud, so this may be a dumb question, but what did you use to meld the individual branches together (they look seamless)? If the answer is a trade secret or something, I'll wait & just purchase a tree from you when they're available!!
Just curious, where did you find all of those java perches? Especially the one you used as a base. We have a tough time finding extensive quantities of perches of that quality for medium and small sized birds here in Pittsburgh, PA.
Also, what was the total cost to you? You mentioned it was cheaper, but what was the total cost? If you used a dozen or more branches bought from retail stores at the prices we pay in Pittsburgh, that could have easily cost over $200 (still cheaper and better for the bird than buying a ready to go stand or tree).
As an aside. Thank you for your site. With your advice and articles we have already trained our green cheek conures to perform several tricks and have been able to successfully flight train them.
I love the article and the video. Joe and I would love to see the new tree! When are you going to invite us over? Your whole blog is pretty incredible! I think I'm going to have to order some shirts!
I am trying to fashion something like this for my quaker from wood from my front yard tree that was taken down. What is the best way to fashion two pieces together? What kind of screws did you use to connect wood to wood? Thanks!
My apologies for bringing up an old, old topic, but I find this to be a clever idea. I'm not a good builder, so I'm hoping to at least find a parrot tree or "playground" under a reasonable price. Out of all the cockatiels I've had over the year, Lucy is by far the most mischievous, and isn't satisfied by just one toy. When you have a bird that thinks everything is meant to be a toy for her alone, you have a bird that gets jealous if you have something she doesn't. So in result, she tries to "play" with whatever I have in my hands.
Not only that, but the cage isn't big enough to put a whole bunch of toys in (I plan on getting something bigger)' so having something like a climbing tree or play stand to put toys on would be convenient. I would ultimately love to have something like this so my pionus can be out of the cage more often, once he learns to play with toys (still working on that).
If you're still planning on producing a line of affordable parrot trees, I hope you at least make some in different sizes. Space is somewhat limited here, and I don't think a couple of cockatiels or a white capped pionus would need something that's fit for a much larger bird.