What is better for taking a parrot outside, a harness or a travel cage? This article will go over some of the pros and cons of using a travel cage or harness for taking a pet parrot outdoors.
As you well know, it is very important to have some physical method of restraint whenever you take a pet parrot outside. Although having a great relationship with your parrot should be the primary reason your bird does not fly away, a back up physical means is best to keep things safe when things outside your control happen. Even well trained parrots and parrots with clipped wings manage to fly away and be lost outside.
You have 3 choices of protection when taking your parrot outside, a travel carrier, travel cage, and a harness. Which is best or which should you get? In my opinion, each of these has its own purpose and you would benefit most from getting all 3. I have each of these 3 for each of my 3 parrots.
A travel carrier is the best thing to use to transport your parrot to go somewhere. Most often this will be to go to a vet, but it can just as well be helpful to drive a couple hours to a summerhouse where you have a full size cage waiting. Unlike a travel cage, carriers usually have solid walls and limited visibility. Some are hardshell plastic carriers (normally used for a cat or a dog, but converted for use for a bird) while others are special purpose bags for transport. A carrier offers better protection for the parrot and less climbing opportunity than a cage. Strictly for getting from point A to point B, this is better than a travel cage.
A travel cage is a smaller cage that the bird can be taken outside in. Ideally, it should be lightweight, have a carry handle, and a perch inside for the bird. Try to avoid using a wire cage meant for parakeets for any larger bird. Those cages come apart easily and a larger bird is more likely to speed up that process. Most things are just held together by friction, squeeze, or bent wire and any parrot from a Green Cheek Conure and up can undo that. The Aluminum Travel Cage from Parrot Wizard is light weight, safe, and convenient for all small to medium parrots. If you insist on using a wire cage outdoors, be sure to zip tie everything secure that isn't immediately necessary including all food doors, where the cage connects to the base, and where cage sections connect to each other.
Unlike a carrier, a travel cage is meant to provide your parrot a more active outdoor experience. The parrot can readily see out of the cage in all directions, climb around the bars, and soak in the sunlight. You can more easily see and talk with your parrot and have a mutual time outdoors. A travel cage is good for sitting with your parrot in the backyard, walking around the block, driving and spending time at a park, or when taking a trip where the parrot will be living out of that cage for a few days at a time. If your parrot is spending less than a few hours in the travel cage, forget about putting food and water inside as the parrot will only make a mess and not even consume any of it. For longer trips, put food and water in when you are not in motion.
Although a travel cage can be used in place of a carrier (especially by covering the cage with a towel in cases where the bird is nervous from being too exposed), it may be bulky to go in and out of the vet's office with. A more compact travel carrier that limits your parrot's activity is still better for those types of outings. However, when it comes to enjoying the outdoors and being visible to you, a travel cage is more suitable. Some parrots may be scared of the travel cage or carrier, but luckily it is fairly easy to train them to accept it.
A bird harness provides the ultimate outdoor experience to both you and your parrot. You can enjoy your parrot's direct company and the bird can freely move about on you. Add a leash extension in a safe environment (nowhere to get tangled or harmed) and your parrot can even fly. The harness provides the maximum freedom, however, it also requires the highest level of training and the highest level of supervision. If you go outside with your parrot on a harness, you need to keep your attention on the bird the entire time. So, if your purpose is to go for a walk with your bird, a harness is great. On the other hand, if you are having a backyard BBQ with guests and want your parrot to be outside, it may be better to use a travel cage since you are too busy (and near a hot grill) to be able to give the bird enough attention. Although a harness can keep your parrot from flying off, you cannot simple tie the bird to something and divert your attention. A bored bird can chew through the harness or get into mischief if left unsupervised even for a short time. So, as you can see, a carrier, travel cage, and harness all have their place.
Travel Carrier Pros/Cons: · Pro: Secure · Pro: Low visibility (good for new or nervous bird or busy environment) · Pro: Lightweight for mobility · Pro: Inexpensive or mid-priced · Con: Not good for getting sunlight · Con: Not good for interaction
Travel Cage Pros/Cons: · Pro: Good visibility · Pro: Good for getting sunlight · Pro: Some interaction with bird through bars · Pro: Bird can live in travel cage for a few days at a time · Con: Midweight, less convenient to walk with · Con: Expensive (or poor quality/security on wire cages) · Con: Heavy or impossible for large parrots
Harness Pros/Cons: · Pro: Maximum freedom · Pro: Flight possible · Pro: Personal hands on interaction · Pro: Inexpensive · Pro: Lightest travel method for large parrots · Con: Requires extensive training · Con: Requires constant attention/supervision · Con: Difficult or unavailable for very small parakeets
Using a travel carrier, travel cage, and harness all have their pros and cons. Each has its place depending on what you are trying to do with that bird at that time. Use a carrier for efficient transport of your bird. Use a travel cage to spend time outdoors with your parrot in a more interactive way and as an alternative to the harness if your parrot is not yet ready to use one. Train your parrot to wear a harness and use a harness for hands on, yet safe, outdoor time with your bird.
Toys and perches are very important for your parrot's health and well-being. They're more than just for your parrot's entertainment, although that is a very important role as well. They provide necessary exercise to your bird's beak and feet!
Having a huge cage for your parrot is great. But if that huge cage isn't extensively filled with perches and toys, it is just as well a tiny cage. The main advantage of a huge cage is that there is an opportunity to put a lot of perches for your parrot to move around on and many toys to motivate it to come to. Without them, you'll just have a parrot sitting in one part of the cage all day doing the same as it would if it were in a smaller cage.
Perches are the foundation of your parrot's living space. The bird spends all day on its feet. Having a good variety of different perches provides diversity and comfort to your parrot's feet by allowing it to change and choose its perching. Forget about dowel and plastic perches. Throw them out. They are no good for your parrot. Take caution of natural perches that are straight and smooth as a dowel. Just because they are natural, doesn't do any good if they act the same way as a dowel.
The four typical kinds of perches are:
Natural Rope Cement NU Perches
I would strongly encourage you to offer all four types so that your parrot has the most variety and choice. Wood perches should be the Natural perches are fun because each one is different. The diameter, texture, and shape will vary. This is great for your parrot. Unfortunately, you don't always know what you are getting when ordering online and some natural perches don't offer all of the advantages of being natural. Sometimes it isn't possible to make wildly wavy perches properly fit the rectangular orientation of a bird cage. For this reason, I came up with and patented the NU Perch. These perches offer the maximum amount of variation, choice, and comfort while also being totally safe and affordable. Provide a variety of different lengths, thicknesses, and hardness of perches so that your bird can experience different perching techniques as it moves about the cage.
Rope perches and cement perches are good additions to wood perches but only in moderation. The cement perches can help keep your parrot's claws trimmed and it's a different texture than all other perches. However, excessive use of cement perches can greatly irritate the bird's feet. Never put a cement (or other sanding type) perch where your parrot sleeps. In other words, don't put the cement perch up high or where your parrot goes a lot. Ideally, place a cement perch in a place your parrot visits just a few times a day. For this reason, a cement perch serves very well by the bird's water (bottle or bowl). It only takes a few drinks a day but otherwise does not spend an excessive amount of time in that area.
Rope perches are the exact opposite of cement perches. Instead of being hard and harsh, rope perches are smooth and comfy. This is a good thing but in moderation. Rope perches can provide relief from firmer perches. But if used excessively, they may cause the bird's feet to be too sensitive on harder surfaces. Also, extreme caution must be taken if the bird chews on the rope perch. Two major hazards can be caused by chewed rope perches. First of all, some birds ingest the rope and can develop a crop infection. Another hazard is that the bird can get its foot or claw caught in the chewed strands of rope and get stuck. So, to avoid either case, inspect the rope perches regularly and replace preemptively if there is any sign of damage.
Just as perches are to your parrot's feet, toys are a health requirement for your parrot's beak. Parrots use their beaks quite extensively in the wild for feeding, nest cavity making, and playing. We won't be providing nesting opportunities to our pet parrots but we should nonetheless give them lots of chances to chew. Toys are a good human alternative to the chewing challenges that parrots would encounter in the wild. Abundance of toys is very important. Different shapes, textures, materials, and challenges will keep your parrot and its beak busy in different ways. Some materials such as plastic are tougher and will require harder chewing than softer materials like wood. Providing variety and abundance will improve your parrot's activity and provide the pleasure of choice.
Perches can also be a source of chewing pleasure and beak exercise. My parrots love the NU Perches in their cages not only because they are comfortable on their feet but also because they provide a reasonable chewing challenge. On one hand, the perches are soft enough that the birds can chew them if they choose to. On the other hand, they are tough enough that it takes them a while to really destroy them. I don't know why sometimes they leave perches alone and chew only toys and other times focus on the perches instead of toys. But by providing them the abundance and variety, I can ensure that they are kept busy, happy, and healthy in any case.
Keep in mind that the best deterrent against developing a feather-plucking problem is keeping the bird busy chewing things that are not on its body. Just because there are toys in the cage doesn't mean they are serving much useful purpose if they don't end up in a pile of splinters on the bottom of the cage. Looking, touching, and playing with the toys is only a small portion of their purpose. Getting the beak and mind exercised in the process of chewing them up is the biggest purpose. In the case of most parrots, something is going to get chewed up at the end of the day be it the bird's toys, perches, your furniture or stuff, or its feathers. In order to avoid it being the feathers or furniture, it is best to focus on toys and perches.
Some toys are just too difficult, thick, hard, or boring for your parrot to chew up. Offering a variety of different kinds of perches is a good way to improve the likelihood of the toys working out. However, sometimes the parrot just won't chew any of it up. The best way to get it started is to get smaller or easier toys that are meant for a smaller species than what you have. Letting the bird have success with a toy that is too easy can give it the motivation to tackle some of the tougher toys that are meant for its size. The toys gotta get chewed up in order to be serving their purpose.
Every parrot is different so what works for some parrots may not work for others. Let your parrot exhibit its own personality and develop its own preferences. Provide abundant variety of perches and toys so that it can make the most of them and grow its choices.
Here's a video of Marianna getting some new perches and toys for the flock and then rearranging their cages with the new goodies:
Kili & Truman buckled up their harnesses and rode on my shoulders the few blocks to the new house. I had a bug problem at the old apartment so I've been leaving as much behind as possible and only bringing clean things. This is why Truman's old aluminum cage had to be abandoned and not because there was anything else wrong with it. This is also why I opted to move the birds wearing harnesses rather than carriers.
We walked in through the bird room door and surprised Santina. She was sitting on the edge of her stand, excited to have company. Santina watched eagerly as her first bird visitors were settling in to the room next door. Kili & Truman watched me assemble water bottle holders, mount perches, and add toys to their bare cages. I bought two water bottles for each cage and mounted both brackets. Although I will normally only be using a single water bottle, when I need to go away for a weekend I will be able to leave twin water bottles for the unlikely event of a failure (in 5+ years using water bottles for my birds I have not had a problem).
The parrots sampled the toys as I was putting them into their cages. Truman gave his approval for a long strand of stars and Kili immediately began chewing up a cute shredding toy. These parrots love new toys, places, and situations. This is why it was an absolute non-event to move them to a new house. They have not shown the slightest sign of upset such as not eating, being quiet, or just inactive.
The reason it was so easy to move to a new house with my parrots without them freaking out is because we have already done this plenty of times before! Every outing, every trip, every household change we have ever made was a preparation for the unknown but inevitable eventual move. People often ask me "I am moving to a new house tomorrow, what can I do to make it easier for my parrot?" At that point it is already too late. The time to begin preparing your parrot for a move is now.
I occasionally took Kili and/or Truman with me to visit other people's houses. I took the birds for drives and outings. I had the parrots living out of their travel cages during trips and when we went camping. I even had the parrots living in completely different bird cages when we were visiting Ginger's Parrots Rescue. All of these different encounters prepared Kili & Truman to live in any sort of cage or house. And since they get excited about new toys, moving to a new cage with new toys is an opportunity rather than a burden for them.
Not long after I had the birds on top of their respective cages, Kili hopped over to Truman's cage and kicked him off to the smaller one. The funny thing is that the first time I let them out since, the first thing Truman did was to go and climb up into Kili's cage and stay there. It was as though she convinced him that if he just yields the bigger cage to her that she won't beat him up for it.
As for Santina, well she came from a rescue so she was already used to other birds. I could tell that Santina was excited to see other birds around and not upset. Kili & Truman have been to places with other parrots so to them it was no surprise to see a big bird next door. The move was such a non-event that it makes for a boring story. But that's what you want it to be. So begin preparing your parrot for any sorts of unforeseen changes by socializing and traveling with your parrot now.
Kili & Truman are moving to the new house where Santina has already been in quarantine. Now that Santina is clear of infection and moved to the big room, the smaller room - originally planned for cages - is now vacant. Having had a powder coat steel cage for Kili and aluminum Kings cage for Truman, I knew immediately what I'd be getting the birds at the new house.
After having Truman and his cage for 4 years, I continue to stand by the original review I did of the aluminum cage. It's expensive and it's not perfect. But it's the best cage for the money hands down. Powder coat cages just aren't sufficient in quality. Inevitably after a lot of use and washing, the coating comes off and they rust. Stainless steel cages are unbearably expensive. The aluminum cage is lighter in weight, easy to assemble, and overall good quality.
For the price, I think the aluminum cage line provides the best bang for the buck. At roughly double the price of a comparable powder coat cage, you get the benefit of non-corrosiveness that you can get from stainless steel at even twice more. As you folks probably know by now, I'm more value driven. I don't mind spending more but I hate spending more when I don't feel a sufficient benefit to justify the price. That's why I think a cage made from aluminum is the perfect compromise.
When you think about the long lifespan of a parrot and estimate the value you will get out of a cage, paying more up front for a cage makes more sense. Let's say the parrot will live 20+ years but the cage won't even make it that far. Depending on how bad you're willing to let the cage get before replacing it, I'd say it is reasonable to say that 5-10 years is realistic for the powder coat and 10-20 for the aluminum. Stainless might last even longer but if it's poor quality stainless it might not. Usually the hardware, hinges, food doors, etc will fail before the bars and the hassle will make the cage need replacement regardless. So if the aluminum cage can solidly last twice as long, at about twice the price it's a good deal. This is because you're getting a better cage with thicker bars during that time. There won't be any rust or chipping even when the cage begins to be less than desirable to keep.
Only one company makes aluminum parrot cages so there's no shopping around, Kings Cages. There is only one cage design to choose from but two sizes. I just call them the small aluminum cage and the big one. Kili is getting the small one which measures in at a sizable 25"x22"x45". This cage has 5/8" bar spacing and is great for Senegal Parrots, Conures, Cockatiels, Quakers, and other similar sized parrots. Considering that Kili is moving up from a 18x18x32 powder coat cage, it's an immediately obvious improvement. Back when I got Kili and that cage, I didn't know any better and until I was moving didn't find the chance to replace it. Truman on the other hand is getting a new version of the same cage he used to have as well. This one is 33"x25"x49" and makes a good sized cage for a Cape Parrot, Timneh Grey, Galah, or Smaller Amazon. I'm not sure if I would keep a CAG in this cage though. Maybe a smaller CAG yes but not the really big 600g ones.
The Aluminum Kings cages in 2 sizes come in 3 styles: standard, arch top, and play top. To me, all but the dometop are a waste of money. The playtop is expensive and not beneficial. Parrots will play on top of their cages with or without one and frankly a separate tree or stand is much better to have. The standard cage loses a lot of good living space without the archtop (playtop version included). For just a few $100 more and not a substantial amount in proportion to the main price, the living space is greatly expanded. There is a downside to the dometop though. Clumsy and baby birds can have trouble climbing around on it. When Truman was a baby he used to have trouble getting around and would fall off. But for agile adult birds this is no factor. It's also a bit of a pain trying to reach up and around to clean the dometop from inside.
I am handy with tools so the fact that the Kings Cage is so easy to put together plays little role. But, for most consumers this is a huge plus. It comes in just 8 pieces and all but the top two of the arch just snap together. The arch top connects with just 4 standard screws. Assembly is easy but you must pay attention that alignment is perfect or it won't come together. It only took 10 minutes to assemble the small cage by myself and then 10 minutes to assemble the big one with the help of my brother.
As I said in my first review, I don't like the wood dowels and plastic food cups.I immediately replace these with stainless steel cups and natural or NU Perches. The cage is actually a bit harder to clean than the powder coat one but not substantially enough to make it less worthy. The lighter weight and mobility make up for that. Another issue is plastic handles for the food doors can potentially be chewed off by any parrot. Most of the flaws are little nit picks and nuisances whereas the cage overall is solid, durable, and reliable.
So is it my dream cage? Does it have every feature/quality I'd want in a bird cage? No. But it is by far the best quality and value cage I have encountered and the one that I choose for my parrots Kili & Truman.
Let's talk about big birds and cages. I'm not doing this to make anyone feel bad but hopefully to inspire people to do better. I know I've made mistakes with cage sizes and want to help you realize some of the conclusions I have come to.
I'm gonna play novice bird owner/shopper. So I decide to get myself a macaw so I go to google and search for parrot cages. I pull up the first site I find and look how convenient, it says I can search by "breed" (breed, really?) for cages. Anyway, they have a Macaw breed so I know this must be the right kinda cage. I figure I won't splurge out and get the top of the line but I don't want low end either so I find something mid-priced of what they have. $550 gets me 40x30x66 in powder coat. Not the smallest nor the biggest macaw cage (although the biggest ones offered are barely bigger at 48x34x70) while the smaller ones aren't even 3 feet wide.
I don't know Santina's measurements yet but let's say from wikipedia it says Greenwings are up to 37" head to tail and 49" wingspan. Holy moly, a 49" bird in a 36 to 48" cage? Maybe if we trim off the wingtips a little it could just make it if it stands in the very center of its perch!? We think budgies get shafted with those tiny cages but they can hop and sort of fly in those! The big birds are the ones who really have it badly. Worse yet, those "macaw cages" usually can fit only a single perch (will be lucky if it's not a dowel!). The bird's tail is so long that if you put a perch lower its tail will drag and if you put a perch higher, it will hit its head.
I have often likened keeping a Green Winged Macaw in a "macaw cage" to keeping a cockatiel in a shoebox. Well my friend Ginger, who runs a rescue for Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels, did a little measuring for me. Turns out a Cockatiel's wingspan is about 14 inches and a typical shoebox about 12 inches long. That is a bird confined to a space smaller than its wingspan. Yet even the most modest of Cockatiel cages are 16-20 inches across. Ginger states that, "The cage most of the Cockatiels come in is the same kind from petco: 20 long, 16 wide, and 33 inches high but it's really not that much as it is a dome." Not that I advocate such a small cage for a Cockatiel, the bird still has more than a wingspan of width and 2-3 height levels it can climb to. This at least provides space for a modest variety of perches, wing stretching, and some activity.
Yet the cages marketed for macaws don't span up. I know $500 or $1000 on a cage sounds like a lot of money and that it must buy something fantastic. But price and seller offerings have nothing to do with what birds actually require. We're not even talking about getting a super roomy cage here, just the bare minimums.
Imagine being confined in a room or space small enough that you cannot stand up or extend your arms all the way? That wouldn't even be considered a room but more like a box! We take for granted having enough space to at least be able to stretch in any direction. Convicts, murders, and rapists have more space in their jail cells (typically 6'x8') than a perfectly innocent, beautiful, loving, and adored macaw has in its cage.
Without knowing Santina's actual dimensions yet, I can tell you that she takes up all of her 32x22x22 plastic carrier. She can travel in it but I would not expect her to be able to live in it. I cannot begin to imagine keeping her in a cage this isn't even double that size (most are 48x30x60 or less)! I'm not trying to harp on people who have macaws in cages just because I have Santina in a room. I haven't given this as much thought until now. This is more to discourage people from getting macaws in the first place without having sufficient space for an entire bird room or aviary and to encourage those who already have macaws to find ways to get them more space. The absolute maximum size macaw cage available really only meets absolute minimum size requirements.
We need to stop thinking of parrots just in terms of their body. We must also take into consideration their wingspan. I think because many birds are clipped and don't fly, people are not accustomed to seeing those wings in full but they still need to be able to stretch and flap in their cage. I do think that a lot of out of cage time, outdoor time, training, flight, enrichment, and activity can make up to a large extent for an undersized cage, however, the cage must still meet the following minimum requirements:
1) The bar spacing must be appropriate and safe 2) The bird must be able to open its wings in full if it wants to 3) The cage must be able to accommodate an absolute minimum of 3 different perches that the bird can access
These are the absolute minimum requirements for a long-term bird cage not to be animal cruelty in my opinion. We should strive to give them as much space as we possibly can but if a cage does not meet those minimums, it should not even be considered.
One problem I've run into when chatting with savy parrot owners is that it was difficult to impossible to establish baseline cage minimums with them. Everyone had a different opinion on the subject and many people would take whatever the minimum used to be and add a few inches and call that the minimum. I think it is well intentioned and I hope everyone strives to go well beyond the minimum. However, there has to be some kind of minimum in place below which it is just not acceptable and that is the one based on wingspan and perch quantity. Without this concrete minimum, it is hard to say and compare what kind of parrot personality requires what kind of size. All other personality/species differences can be added on top of this but no cage should ever be smaller (except perhaps in the case of a specially handicapped, baby, or injured bird). If you want me to make a general suggestion about what I think a good cage size is as opposed to the minimum, I would say double the minimum is a great place to be or the biggest thing above minimum that you can possibly accomplish.
Out of interest sake I measured Kili & Truman's wingspans for some comparisons. What is the wingspan of a Senegal Parrot? Kili is a below average sized female Senegal Parrot with a wingspan of 18 inches. Ever wondered what a Cape Parrot's Wingspan is? Truman who is a mid to large sized Brown-Necked Cape Parrot has a wingspan of 26 inches! Who would think it's so much just by looking at them. Folded up, these birds don't exceed 12 inches in any direction. Now let's see how their cages size up.
Kili's cage is 18x18x30 Truman's cage is 33x25x67 (though domed top)
I don't think Kili's cage is big enough but it's what I naively picked because I didn't know any better back then. I didn't find it worthwhile to throw it out to get something a little bigger so instead I focused on out of cage, aviary, and outdoor time. When Kili moves to my new place, she'll be getting a 25x22x63 aluminum dome cage just like Truman's. If Truman plays nice with Santina and I can leave them out together in the big room, Kili can have the entire little room with an open cage policy. If not, then Kili & Truman can have cages in the small room Santina currently occupies. These guys grew up in cages and are used to them.
Kili's cage works out to a full wingspan wide for her and she has 4 perches. So while unfortunately on the minimum end, I would consider this an acceptable cage (but hope for bigger). Truman's cage is 1.8 wingspans wide and has enough room for 5 perches, loads of toys, and still a lot of unoccupied space. That is a much better cage size for a Cape, Grey, or Amazon parrot. Ideally I would like a bit bigger but this is as big as aluminum cages come. The compromise for having an uncoated and corrosion proof cage is worth it.
Now that you've heard my thoughts about absolute minimum cage size, measure or research your parrot's actual wingspan and compare it to the cage size. If it is more than the size of the cage or the cage doesn't have a minimum of 3 different perches the bird can spend time on, get a bigger cage! If you're looking to acquire a big parrot (whether from store, breeder, or rescue), don't listen to them for a second about cage size if it doesn't at least meet those 3 minimum rules and really look for bigger. The time has come for savy parrot owners to take a stance and say it is not acceptable to keep birds in cages that they cannot fit in fully. Then take it one step further and provide the biggest cage or living space that you can. Your parrot spends more time in your house than you do so it's definitely worth it.
Check out Santina going back to cage room and climbing up: