The housing needs of pet birds vary a great deal, so it’s important to check your chosen bird’s requirements before you bring it home. Most birds can be housed indoors or outdoors, but either way, fresh air and sunlight are important, and beware of drafts, dampness, toxins and predators.
Budgies, canaries and cockatiels are the best pet birds for an indoor environment. When it comes to cage selection, bigger is better and rectangular cages with vertical metal bars are best. The cage should be strong enough to prevent damage caused by your bird (parrots are the worst culprits) and keep out external threats, such as cats and rodents.
Inside the cage, provide a variety of perches, as well as a ladder, swing and a couple of toys to keep your feathered friend entertained, especially when you are out. It’s a good idea to vary the toys and buy a new one from time to time. But don’t clutter the cage, or you might restrict your pet’s ability to move.
Your feathered friend will also like a bird spray bath (mornings only) and enjoy being outside in the sun, but ensure it has protection from direct sunlight. At night, cover the cage because, like us, birds need their sleep and to feel secure.
Small indoor and patio aviaries are a cross between a large cage and a small aviary. Usually a wire and metal construction with more door openings, a covered roof and a heavy base, they are great if you have limited space – for example, in an apartment or a retirement village – or when you want to keep between three and six birds. Always keep the patio aviary out of drafts or weather extremes – this is where their relative mobility, as they are usually on wheels, can be handy.
A patio aviary is ideal for sociable birds like the Roller canary, Zebra finch, Bengalese finch, or even a small Grass parakeet such as the Turquoisine or Bourke. Remember, though, that if you get a pair of any one type of bird, by instinct they will breed! Try to get same-sex birds at the beginning, but if this isn’t possible, you’ll need to provide nesting facilities in the breeding season (early September to December in most cases).
Nothing can beat the colour and song that birds in an aviary bring to a garden or backyard. A secure, draft-proof shelter is essential for protection from the elements and predators. Your aviary should also be north facing and close to the house, but not against fences or beneath overhanging trees. A rectangular shape is best because birds tend to fly horizontally, not vertically.
Wooden or metal-framed aviaries range in price from $150 to more than $1000. Alternatively, you could build your own – getting the whole family to help in the design and construction process can be great fun. If you’re going DIY, use the best materials you can afford, with sturdy square mesh for the sides and clear plastic sheets for the roof. A concrete base with wire underneath will help keep rodents at bay.
Parrots are best kept in metal-framed aviaries and generally do not mix well with the smaller straight-beaked species. If it’s colour and a variety of song that you want, canaries are best, while others that mix well include Zebra finches, Goldfinches, Red Polls, Bengalese finches, Grass parakeets and Gouldians.
Depending on the species, your birds will probably enjoy the odd toy, but don’t hang anything in the way of their flight path. Shrubs or small trees planted in tubs will be a winner with your birds, as they can provide shelter, a source of food in the form of insects, a place to nest and branches to perch on. Provide shallow dishes for bathing, and keep seed and treat dishes off the floor.
If you’re in any doubt about which birds to house together or have questions about suitable aviary design, check in with your local bird club or pet shop.
Cage & aviary tips
Provide perches of different diameters. Thinner perches are ideal for a bird to sit confidently and preen itself, while thicker perches or branches provide entertainment and challenge. Ensure they are not placed over seed or water containers, or you’ll risk contamination from your bird’s droppings.
Toys provide your pet with mental stimulation, but remember that parrots can cause damage to the toy or themselves if the product isn’t strong enough to withstand constant gnawing, has any traces of lead in the paint or is made from treated timber.
As well as fresh food and water daily, make sure your bird has regular access to grit, which aids digestion, and cuttlefish for calcium. Treats such as a millet spray, seed bell, seeding grasses, rariki, broccoli or apple are always appreciated and arranging these above perches or near the top of the cage/aviary will encourage exercise.