Birds For Dummies
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Gravity being what it is, even a creature made for flying spends a lot of time on his feet. And considering the need to keep wings trimmed for safety, pet birds spend even more time on their feet than their wild relatives do. Which makes what's under those feet — perches — very important. Perches give our birds something to stand on, something to chew on, something to rub and groom their beaks on, a vantage point from which to survey their domain, and a secure home base to rest on.

Three things to remember when it comes to perches: safety, variety, and destructibility. Safety because . . . well, that's kind of obvious. Variety because a wide array of shapes, sizes, and material can go far in keeping your bird's feet healthy as well as helping him stay busy, fit, and free of boredom. Destructibility? Perches, in particular, are appropriate targets for demolition. The need to rip the snot out of something is of paramount importance, and besides, it's only natural!

An ideal perch is not too smooth, not too hard, not too soft. Excessively smooth perches may be hard to maintain balance on — and in a wing-clipped bird, that lack of traction may result in a bad fall. Perches that are too hard are difficult to chew up and have fun with, and perches that are too soft get destroyed too fast.

Here's what's out there in the perch world:

  • Wood: Plain pine perches come standard with nearly every cage, and there's nothing wrong with them per se, except . . . you can do better for your bird. One way is to harvest your own wood for perches, and another is to vary the sizes and shapes of the perches you buy. Some ready-made dowels are available in different diameters along the length of the perch, and these at least add some variation on the boring old theme.

  • Rope: Great foot feel! Rope perches give your bird something decent to hold on to and also provide some boredom relief because rope perches are good playthings. The neat thing about rope perches is that you can just throw them in the washing machine or dishwasher when they get dirty. The downside to rope is the possibility of your pet catching a toe in a worn and frayed part of the perch. Also, your bird may chew and swallow strands of the rope, which can cause problems as well. You have to watch closely and discard the perch when the rope gets stringy.

    Rope perches can be really expensive if you buy them ready-made for use with birds. You don't have to, though. Check out untreated cotton rope at a boating-supply outlet and make your own perches. By exercising your creativity, you can save money, have fun, and "do right" by your bird!

    One kind of rope perch rates warrants endorsement: the stiff rope coil. These perches combine the best elements of rope, a swing, and a bungee cord, all of which provide exercise for your bird. Absolutely fantastic for overweight birds!

  • Mineral: Almost every bird should have one mineral perch, also called a concrete or cement perch. The rough texture feels good underfoot, and the surface is great for helping to keep nails blunt and beaks clean and well groomed (birds like to wipe their beaks against the rough surface). Make sure the size of perch you select is large enough to allow normal weight-bearing and provide some abrasion of the nail tips at the same time. A concrete perch that is too small will not necessarily help blunt nails, unless it meets the tips of those nails. Some birds with particularly strong wills and jaws may decide to chew up, destroy, and eat the concrete, though, and those characters should not have this particular perch.

    Don't confuse a mineral or concrete perch with those covered with sandpaper. If you have a sandpaper-covered perch (some cages do come with them), toss it and replace it with a mineral one. Sandpaper coverings on perches can cause more problems than they're worth, giving some birds foot problems, on top of providing no real benefit for the health of the nails or feet of the birds. Would you want to stand on sandpaper in your bare feet? Neither does your bird.

  • Plastics: Two kinds here, acrylic and PVC, both popular because of their sturdiness and relative ease of cleaning. Of the two, acrylic is a better choice because it's virtually indestructible. Remember, though, that having a perch to chew up is important to most parrots. If you use plastics, add other chewable perch options to your bird's environment. PVC too often and too easily ends up in pieces in a bird's stomach and can cause some medical problems, as well as slippery footing and boredom. Plastic perches are often too slippery to be comfortable (particularly for heavy-bodied and wing-clipped birds), although some manufacturers compensate for this problem by abrading the surface of the perch. You can do the same with a little sandpaper if you want to offer a plastic perch.

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