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.
Just a day after completing assembly of the Kings Travel Cage that I bought for the parrots, I began introducing them to it. Actually I had already begun introducing them while my brother assembled it by having them sit on nearby perches and watch. When the birds see humans safely interacting with something, it gives them more confidence to try it themselves rather than be frightened by a newly appeared object they are expected to go into.
Don't just shove or force your parrot into the travel cage or carrier immediately. Ok, it's true that I did this with Truman the day I assembled it, but with good reason. The travel cage looks just like his big cage and he is young and ready to explore. So by putting him into it that way, it did not frighten him at all. He was more excited about checking out the toys. However, I would not have done the same with Kili or most other birds. Instead, use the following procedure.
It is important to maintain the carrier/travel cage experience a positive one. The simple fact of getting locked up in it and ignored for some hours (quite likely bumpy and uncomfortable) is quite unpleasant in itself. This is why it is required to do everything in your power to make carrier time be as good as possible to make up for that. If you don't make carrier time enjoyable for your parrot, it will quickly become scared of going in the carrier and resist by all means. It will fly away, bite, and make it really hard for you to get it in there. Let me remind you that good carrier behavior is not only necessary for taking a parrot out on social outings, but also for emergency vet visits and grooming. Unfortunately, most people only end up using a carrier in time of need. This is likely to be rushed and unpleasant for the parrot. So for all of these reasons, I recommend carrier/travel cage training before you actually need to transport the parrot. I urge everyone who owns a carrier (whether your parrot is already accustomed to it or never been in it) to go and practice some carrier time with your parrot in a pleasant way as I will soon get to explaining, I promise. If you don't have a carrier, please go any buy one and practice these techniques because you can't be certain when you might need to take your parrot some place.
While the first step to a successful carrier introduction is letting the parrot see it and see you working with it, next comes a more proactive approach. Don't just force your parrot into the carrier all at once. Instead, put it on top of, next to, or around the carrier/cage.
I started by carrying Kili over and putting her on the cage top handle perch. She wasn't too scared because the dowel perch looked similar enough to other dowel perches she had previously frequented. But more importantly, she has a clear path to fly away should she choose to because I did not immediately confine her in the cage. To get Kili more used to being there, I targeted her back and forth on that perch. Then I targeted her down to the cage top bars.
Meanwhile Truman was at a distance watching. Unexpectedly he flew over to join us. He wasn't going to miss out on all this fun. He landed on the cage top and wanted to play "target" too. So the birds took turns targeting to various spots on the cage top. I took Kili and brought her down to the cage level. I didn't make her go in but rather targeted her from my hand to the travel cage perch. She stepped right in and was thrilled to get a treat so effortlessly. I continued targeting her around inside until she noticed the new toys and went to check them out.
It didn't take any targeting to get Truman to go into the travel cage. The sight of new toys just drew him right in. Getting him away from those toys would probably serve a greater challenge then getting him to go in. If your parrot loves toys, definitely use this to your advantage by providing better than usual toys in the travel cage to make it more worthwhile. It is very important that your parrots actually like their travel cage or carrier. Just tolerating isn't enough. They have to like it because it will serve as their home away from home. They need to feel safe and comfortable in their carrier. Furthermore, for flighted parrots it is good for them to be super familiar with their cage or carrier so that they have a place to fly back to if they get scared when you're out. One more reason I want my parrots to become super familiar and love their travel cage is in the event they ever get lost outside home, I will put the travel cage outside to lure them back in (I know people recommend putting the bird's cage outside but Truman's cage is not going to fit through the door, so travel cage works great).
The travel cage familiarization was a great success, but how would the parrots react to being locked inside for periods at a time? I began with Truman by pouring a meal of pellets in the travel cage's food bowl and leaving him inside for an hour. Without hesitation Truman went right for the food and had an enjoyable meal. Once again, here is an example of providing a positive cage/carrier environment where something good happens every time the parrot is inside. For the next few days I let the parrots take turns eating their meals in the travel cage and being locked inside progressively longer to get used to being in it.
I am very happy with the custom perch layout I configured. The perches came out to be at an ideal height and distance that either parrot can comfortably use the travel cage. Truman uses his beak to lean and step from perch to perch; Kili hops. Although the parrots can easily climb the cage bars, they have little need to.
Now that the birds were accustomed to being in the travel cage at home, it was time for a field test. The day I took Truman flying in an airplane, I brought him to the airport in his carrier, but I let him ride back home in his travel cage. He loved it. He was endlessly entertained by the toys hanging inside. He would make his way back and forth on the perch to play with the two toys. He held on well and never fell off his perch during the drive (even bumpy parts and steep turns). He was even able to balance on one foot while playing with a bottle cap in his beak and dominant foot. He was so busy playing the whole car ride that he did not scream or cause any trouble.
Later that same day Kili got to spend some time and eat a meal in the travel cage while out as well. Both parrots did great in their travel cage and appear to like it better than their travel carriers. Truman didn't step in poop or his his tail on the sides. Although I found some faults in the set up, price, weight, and value of the travel cage, it was a major hit with the parrots. With the modifications I made and training I did, this travel cage is absolutely worthwhile for the parrots. From the bird's perspective, I definitely recommend this travel cage.
Rather than being some unpleasant form of confinement, I had succeeded in introducing the travel cage as a fun place to be. The parrots enjoyed eating and playing with toys in their new cage. They go in willingly and even fly over and land on top of the travel cage for the hell of it. Regardless of what cage or carrier you use for your parrots, just remember to make it a worthwhile experience. Good carrier training is the first step in being able to bring your parrots out for socializing to the rest of the world.
For some time now I have been contemplating upgrading Truman to a larger travel carrier. Unfortunately his carrier is no bigger than Kili's even though he is a bigger parrot. Generally this has been fine for short outings like taking him to the vet or on a short drive. However, I have begun taking him on overnight outings lately and long drives. Not only is the carrier confined, but also boring for him. I think boredom leads him to a lot of screaming during the drives. Most of this would be manageable but my biggest complaint is that he ends up stepping off his perch into the poop below. Just stepping in poop is never enough. He ends up getting it all over his beak, the walls of the carrier, and everywhere as he is playing with the paper towel. Also his tail keeps hitting the walls as he turns around, so he comes out quite scraggly looking.
I would gladly put his perch higher (like in Kili's carrier), but since he is so big, any higher would cram him against the top of the carrier. Thus I set out in search of a new travel carrier. My main criteria was that the carrier must be about 4 inches taller so that I could raise the perch 3 inches and allow an extra inch of head room. Of course I must be able to modify it to add a perch but toy hanging options are also important. I wanted a few inches more to the width but not really the length. The length gives him more than enough space as it is. Finally, I like having a cage style top loading door for putting him in and cleaning. Most pet carriers have a side door only which is unsuitable for a parrot.
At PetSmart I actually found the same version as his current carrier but one size larger. I was really excited because I liked the design I initially chose. Unfortunately it turned out that the bigger version was several inches longer but barely an inch taller or wider. This was of absolutely no use to me. Since I bought Truman's cage, I was aware of a travel cage made my Kings Cages. I have thus far been reluctant to buy it because of price and weight. I began considering it again since seeing it at the Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza. However, they lied about their products being 20% off which was a major turn off from buying the cage there.
I had no luck finding a plastic carrier to modify and replace Truman's carrier, so I considered the Kings Cages Travel Cage some more. I got to see it in person and my first reaction was that it was too big, too heavy, and too expensive. This was the same feeling I got the previous times I've seen it which was why I did not buy it previously. I decided to compare to the smaller version of it. Despite being made out of aluminum, it weighs a hefty 14lbs without the parrot, toys, or perches.The small Kings Travel Cage is more affordable and the 8lb weight is acceptable. I was not disappointed about the lack of a grate or food doors. I could always hang my own food bowls and keep the perch high instead of a grate. However the 14" cube dimensions were unsuitable. It would hardly serve as an upgrade from Truman's current carrier. Furthermore, I discovered that the bottom is not held in and can fall into the cage. It cannot fall out, but there is nothing stopping it from falling in.
Realizing that the small carrier was not an option, I continued deliberating with myself about the medium one. I even got permission to bring the sample out of the store and check how it fits in my car. Luckily it just fits on a seat and the seat belt just reaches to secure it. I even held Truman next to the cage to see how he would fit inside of it. Finally I was convinced by the incredible discount I was offered to purchase the travel cage. 30% off the online standard price is no cheap Bird Paradise trick. Even at $150, the travel cage is quite expensive. This is really the absolute max I would pay for it but I knew there was no way of finding it any cheaper or a better alternative elsewhere. So I went ahead and bought the cage for Truman.
I discovered that the medium travel cage does not come with a top handle perch like the cheaper small cage does. I brought this up and was given a perch dowel for free to screw on myself. Being handy, this was not much of a problem for me but I find it disappointing that the more expensive cage lacks an awesome feature of the cheaper version! If I could make one complaint about Kings Cages is that the more expensive the products they make, the more they cut corners. The cheap economy cages come with stainless steel bowls while the expensive aluminum cages come with worthless plastic cups. The travel cage came with these cheap cups but I don't intend on upgrading them unless Truman chews them to bits. I wouldn't be surprised if he does; he chews plastic bottle caps into a pulp in under twenty minutes. I'm mainly counting on the fact he won't have enough time in the travel cage (and that I will only leave cups in briefly during feeding) to destroy the cups and want to save on weight, space, and money from upgrading to stainless steel ones.
I let Kili and Truman stay out to watch the assembly of their new travel cage. The reason I say their is because they will each continue to have a carrier but will take turns spending time in the travel cage. My brother helped assemble the cage. Assembly is quite easy and takes no time at all. No tools, hardware, or skills are required. This definitely puts Kings Cages ahead of others for people who need the product without the complexity of assembly. The hard part is figuring out the orientation of each piece but luckily they only go in one way. Once the inner tabs are lined up, it's just a matter of pounding the parts until they lock into each other. The best way is to turn the parts such that you can hit down with your hand and allow gravity to help.
The four sides connect first and then the top is added to hold everything together. The poop pan and grate slide in like a normal cage. Yet, unlike the normal cages, the travel cage has a rotating flap to prevent them from sliding out. This is fantastic and I'm disappointed the bigger cages don't have this feature as well. The large door is built into the front panel, so no mounting of a door is required. The door spans the entire front so it is very easy to access the inside. The food doors are built into the front door which makes it easy to open the cage door to refill the cups without need of taking them out.
The included perch is a machined dowel with notches. It is easy to drop in place. Gravity holds it down but unfortunately driving on a bumpy road could allow the perch to bounce upward. I do not recommend using the included perch as a primary. In fact, it is almost mandatory to have two perches inside. I placed the included perch toward the front of the carrier to facilitate easy access to the food bowls for the parrot. Then my brother helped me by cutting and bolting a dragonwood perch slightly back of middle. I selected dragonwood because the bark is more porous and allows the parrots a good grip with their talons during travel. My brother bolted the perch on using equipment from my Traning Perch assembly kit. Instead of the wing nuts typically used for cage perches, we opted for a permanent wrench on nut instead. The added security of such a nut plus the fact that it sticks out less made it preferable for a travel cage. The notched perch can only stand at the height dictated by the cross bars it sits on. However, I was able to select any height for the bolt on perch. I did not place it dead center because that would waste space toward the back and cram the feeding perch. So instead I placed it back as far as I could go without Truman's tail hitting the rear cage bars. I also placed the main perch slightly higher than the food perch. This way the low perch does not affect him when he stands on the main one and his tail can hang below the main perch when he is on the eating one.
The final modification to make was to cut and screw on the spare dowel I received. This was easy for me but not something the average person can undertake. I used a miter saw to cut the dowel to the size appropriate to the cage top handle. Then I drilled holes through the aluminum handle using a drill press. Next I added wider holes into the outside of the handle holes to facilitate counter sinking the screw head into the handle. Next I transferred the holes from the handle to the perch by aligning it and using a drill with a smaller bit. The final step was to put 3 screws through the handle to attach the perch. This is a pretty essential modification because perching on the bare handle alone would be uncomfortable for the parrot. The method for mounting the handle is pretty strange. There are two knobs that stick out the sides of the cage and the handle snaps onto them by stretching apart and over the knobs. Then the handle is pulled upward and locked in place by pieces that rotate down. Not only is it complicated, but also looks like the most likely fail point on the entire cage.
I added two toys to the carrier. One was an old toy but one was brand new. I hung them on the sides not only to keep them out of the way but also to provide a little bit of hiding cover. Since it is a cage rather than a carrier, all sides are exposed, so it's not bad to give a little hiding. The first time I tried to put the food bowls in, it was really difficult because the plastic was not yet stretched. It's a good thing I tested them prior to putting food or water in because the first time they wouldn't budge until they snapped in all at once. After a few uses, they go in ok.
In conclusion, the Kings Cages Aluminum Travel Cage is the best travel cage on the market I could find appropriately sized for medium parrots such as African Grey, Cockatoo, Amazon, Eclectus, and Cape Parrot. It is not approved for air travel and I wouldn't recommend it for that anyway. A plastic carrier is still more suitable for short outings (under 3 hours), but this kind of travel cage has many uses. It's a nice cage for a parrot traveling by car frequently. A travel cage is great if you plan on spending overnight outings away from home with your parrot, but it can also be very convenient to have at home. At home it can serve as a temporary cage during cage cleaning and can also be used to cage the parrot in other rooms (like during cooking or in the presence of guests). This model definitely affords the most convenient feeding solution. The slide out poop pan and grate are nice but not really required in such a small cage. It would not be that much more difficult to clean through the door. However, since these features don't add any significant weight, it's great to have them. I would rate the cage 4 out of 5. Here's a quick summary of the pros and cons:
-Sturdy/reliable -Grate -Food doors -Aluminum (light and non-corrosive) -Carry handle -Fits on car seat -Adequate space for medium parrots -Safety door latch and magnet like on big cages -5/8" bar spacing -Selection of colors similar to cages -Looks very nice
-Expensive -Heavy -Plastic food cups -No secondary lock for food cups -Top handle perch not built in -Unsuitable notched perch -High pressure on bottom feet of cage can cause dents/scratches to surface
Stay tuned for more articles about this travel cage about how to train a parrot to go into carrier, the parrot's review of it, and videos of the travel cage in use.