We talk about the 60/40 rule a lot. In the wild birds spend 60% of their time looking for food and 40% of their time trying not to be food. Because they are birds the most threatening predators are other (predatory) birds like hawks, eagles and raptors in general.
Much like if we were to bring a prehistoric person into the 21st century there are certain concepts your bird may not grasp quickly. One concept your bird doesn’t understand is “glass”. Putting your bird by a large picture window is fine but you have to be aware that if there are Hawks or other birds of prey in your area that can be seen from the window by your bird it can be deathly frightening, because they don’t understand they are protected by the glass.
Birds are also flock animals and are usually found in groups and trees with heavy foliage. One of the first things we do when we move into a new home, apartment or dorm room is put covering on the windows. We like our privacy. Once we retire at night and go into our bedroom, we pull the shades or close the blinds. Parrots feel the same but to a multiple of 10. Parrots are prey animals. In other words they assume they may be attacked at any minute, the ADT security system in your house notwithstanding.
We try to help bird companions with behavioral issues day in and day out. Because we are not veterinarians we cannot offer medical advice but we do know and understand how a bird’s environment can impact it’s behavior both good or bad. One of the first of a long list of questions we ask somebody who comes to us with behavior issues is, “How many toys do you have in the cage?” Some will respond with “the cage is loaded” but not surprisingly the majority of responses that we get are “4 or 5, I keep putting them in and the bird just destroys them or is afraid of them”. Sigh.
We want you to think of bird toys acting as the canopy of leaves of the tree your bird would be living in in the wild. When we talk about the privacy canopy we mean you should have so many toys in the cage that you can’t see the bird. That’s because your bird doesn’t want to be seen. Don’t take it personally but your bird’s natural instinct is to expect a hawk flying through your front door any minute.
It’s best to line the perimeter of the upper one third of the cage with toys. All 4 sides, leaving much of the center open for your bird. You don’t necessarily have to use bird toys either. You can weave newspaper or paper towels or palm leaves through the bars in one corner of the cage or one side of the cage. It’s important that at least the back of the cage is against a wall, again for a feeling of privacy by your bird.
By providing this privacy canopy in the birdcage when your bird does come out its more likely they’ll be calmer and more receptive to your interaction. When you let them out of the cage, it’s best to just open the door and let them “feel their way.” Install a perch on the inside of the cage door, for as birds will be birds many of them will gravitate to the top of the cage door. (Want help keeping the floor clean when they perch on the cage door? click here) And that’s okay, because it lets them feel as though they’re out of the cage but still on their cage reinforcing a sense of security.
We want you to have a long and happy interactive relationship, not an adversarial relationship with your bird. By helping mimic their natural habitat the best you can, the payoff will last for years which is a good thing because some of these birds in your home will be around for half a century or more.
And just because you have finches, canaries (oy – that’s whole other set up) or a bunch parakeets you’re not off the hook especially if you have mixed sexes. Believe it or not the bird world is much like the television soap operas of today. The guy always wants the girl but she’s not always ready and the ladies sometime like their privacy..
We have to be sensitive to this and so when you have a small cage or when you have an aviary filled with small birds you need to create varied areas where these smallest of birds can get a little privacy. Fluffy toys or some fake plants can provide shelter when your smallest of birds just want to be left alone for the moment.
written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing
your zygodactyl footnote