I’ve often said the perfect size cage for a Green Wing Macaw is 30 acres. Many birds can and do suffer miserably in cages. There are ways we can offset the majority of the stress for our captive birds — but many of us do not.
Full transparency — I’m a companion to one Senegal parrot and four budgies. That in and of itself does not make me an expert. What makes me an expert in my 15 years of interacting with tens of thousands of captive bird owners while operating the Windy City Parrot website
I teach cagescaping (how to set up bird cages) to individuals in their homes and at bird clubs. For the past 10 years writing my blog I spend 20 hours a week doing research on parrot behavior and husbandry.
Much as stress has to do with episodic memory — you can read about that in this eloquent blog post entitled How do animals perceive their world in zoos and aquariums?
As somebody else mentioned in this thread now is not the time or place to get into clipping or flighted debates. Birds have been flying for 99 million years, literally and they only stopped flying when humans got involved in the 20th century
I want to focus on recent research that indicates birds are much smarter than we ever thought with three times the neurons per square centimeter of brain versus mammals, especially man and monkey.
Without getting very technical, we know that the nidopallium governs migration and during migration spatial sensory stimuli actually grows making the birds smarter in real time — something called neuroplasticity
Our Senegal Peaches has two open bowls of food and 2 foraging boxes in our living room and bedroom. 90% of the time she gets her nutrition from the foraging boxes not the open bowls of food in her cage and the nightstand.
There are no open bowls of food in the Rain Forest or the Serengeti Plains of Africa. Our birds have been hardwired to be gatherers. To spend the day either searching for food or trying not to be food.
There are so many easy ways to keep our birds busy, entertained and enriched, but we blindly walk on by and justify our bird’s happiness with the purchase of expensive counter-intuitive bird pellets (and yes I sell them thank you).
The biggest problem is light. Everyone gets it wrong including the veterinarians — a bird doesn’t synthesize more vitamin D because it’s receiving ultraviolet light — if there’s a veterinarian reading this that believes UVA and UVB enhance the production of vitamin D3 (which helps a bird’s body process calcium better) I would like debate the subject in a public forum — live.
I hope to have solid research from reputable sources available to the public by this fall. But it’s not just the D3 thing we’re getting wrong.
All living organisms have circadian rhythms controlled by circadian oscillators located within your brain triggering things like spurts of melatonin. We humans living in North America get SAD during the winter because of the short light cycles during fall and winter.
Light cycles actually change throughout the year in North America. As most captive birds have come from (as I stated before) the Rain Forest and Serengeti Plains which are closer to the equator providing roughly 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours in sunlight.
Because we don’t address the light cycle issues with our pet birds the majority of them are all suffering from the human equivalent of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I’m convinced this is stressing our birds out far more than we give the issue credit for.
The erratic light cycles we subject birds to stress them out more than any cage you can put them in. Birds know precisely more accurately than a Rolex the time of day. Although they don’t know the day it is they do know that for six months year they’re not getting nearly half the daylight they need.
This can easily be fixed with a full-spectrum bulb placed no more than 6 inches over the top of the bird’s cage on a timer so the bird wakes up and goes to sleep in the cage when the light goes on and off indicating the beginning and end of the day.
Beyond lighting, the view from a cage can be frightening for many birds. Move a painting on the wall which is nothing for you but can stress out your bird for weeks, the same holds true for new pieces of furniture.
On the flipside we have four budgies whose wings I haven’t gotten around to clipping for training purposes thus they have not left the cage in months. I watch these birds for hours a day and they are happy. They’re always talking amongst themselves while always active and always interacting with one another. So as somebody else mentioned in one of the other answers species has something to do with this.
The higher functioning birds. Psittacines will probably be more freaked out over time than the smaller birds with smaller brains like budgies and canaries.
The country of India has banned the keeping of their native bird, the Indian ringneck — but there are some really big captive aviaries in India.
We need to look at a bird’s environment holistically. If the bird sees its cage as someplace that it’s comfortable and secure to enter at night and to sleep and occasionally grab some food and water, that birds will be less stressed.
If a parrot is in an undersized cage with a single tube bell in the middle and nothing else to do other than stare at four walls and the cage does not back up to at least one solid wall providing privacy — that bird will probably be stressed it’s entire life.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing
Your Zygodactyl Footnote