Variety is key here. The parrot’s feet will be gripping a perch for much of the day, so different widths and textures (the rougher the better, including some stone or concrete perching spots) will help keep feet and toes exercised and flexible. If the perches and ledges in your parrot cage are rough, you won’t need to worry about extra pedicure; although retailers do stock ‘pedi-perches’, and some salesmen will tell you that these are essential for keeping a parrot’s nails trimmed. Parrots in the wild don’t need to buy pedi-perches – the wood, rock and bark provided by nature does that.
Parrots like this White-Fronted Amazon need a variety of perches
Although variety is a good thing, a cage should never be over-crowded with perches. The parrots need lots of flying room, and a cage set up as a perch-punctuated obstacle course isn’t going to make the birds happy.
In the context of bird perches, ‘homemade’ simply means finding different types of sticks and branches and giving it a bit of a clean. Any wild-sourced wood should be scrubbed first, with hot water. No detergent is required, just water and a vegetable brush. Some owners clean their sticks in a very dilute bleach solution (100ml bleach to 2 litres water). If you do this, rinse the stick thoroughly afterwards. Pouring boiling water over the stick will kill any microbes, though, so the bleach really isn’t necessary.
A happily perched Yellow-Naped Amazon
Always make sure the perch is completely dry before introducing to the cage – in the absence of direct sunlight, 20 minutes in an oven at 90C (200F) will do the job. Giving it a blast in the oven will also ensure there is nothing left alive either outside or inside the wood.
Over time a twig-perch will need to be replaced, usually because the parrot has chewed his way through it. Larger species will make very short work of a softwood perch.
Perches for Large Parrots
Macaws and other large species will need sturdy branches rather than twigs. Any bird kept for long periods outside the cage will require an external perch too - the kind of thing you see in zoos or larger pet shops. You can make one of these yourself; although many pet suppliers sell them, to make your life easier. Many of these perches come with food and water bowl fittings, with a waste tray beneath to catch all the mess.
White Cockatoos and other large species need sturdy perches
Safe Wood for Perches
If you’re sourcing your own ‘wild’ sticks, you need to avoid any wood that might be toxic. It’s best to stick to native tree species, mainly because not all ornamental woods have been tried and tested in parrot cages. The following list includes native European tree wood that’s definitely okay for pet birds:
- Crab apple
- Mountain ash (rowan)
Parrots spend much of their time on perches, so these need to be parrot-friendly
These common non-native species are also safe to use:
- Douglas fir
- Grape vines
- Rubber plant
- Tree fern
Lots of other woods are probably perfectly safe to use, but why risk it? The list above includes species that most parrot owners will be able to source easily.
A Maximilian's Parrot puts a perch through its paces
Most shop-bought perches are made from untreated pine, of the kind used in dowels, and this is fine. But avoid fresh pine, which has a sticky resin. Balsa wood is safe, but won’t last very long as a perch: even the smallest of parrots will chew through it very quickly.
Unsafe Wood for Parrots
The following common wild, garden and parkland species have been implicated in parrot health problems, so don’t use any of these as perches:
- Box elder
- Horse chestnut
- Witch hazel
Masked Lovebird varieties
Avoid any treated woods unless obtained from a reputable pet dealer. Driftwood found on a beach will always be tempting as a cage ornament, but because you can’t always tell which species the wood came from, nor the toxic things it might have been in contact with, it’s best to avoid introducing it to cages.
Positioning Perches in a Cage
Parrots like to roost or rest in a relatively high spot in the cage, feeling much safer looking down on the world rather than having things moving overhead. It’s therefore a good idea to have more than one of these roosting perches, or, if you have a smaller cage rather than an aviary of bird room, to have the cage sufficiently high so that the positioning of the perches is less of an issue.
Alexandrine Parakeets comfortable on a perch
Rope Perches and Chain Perches
Although smaller species can have problems with rope, snagging their toenails, anything of cockatiel size or larger will get a great deal of fun and stimulation from a rope perch. Any man-made fibres should be avoided, as these can be pulled loose but not chewed through (at least, not by smaller parrots). This can lead to loops and snags that can catch legs, beaks or even necks. The same applies to chain or wire perches - avoid anything small enough to snag toes or large enough for heads or legs to get caught.
Red-shouldered Macaw, (Noble subspecies) on a chain perch
Opt for natural fibres, and, if room allows, provide rope perches – and swings, ladder, etc – of different widths and lengths. Many shop-bought ones come with a wire core, enabling the perches to be bent at interesting angles.