Part IV: Cages and Cagewire
by Doug Bedwell

Cage sizes and styles are often as different as the people who make or buy them. There is no consensus on the "right" size cage for breeding lovebirds. The principle that "Larger is Better," probably holds true, but there is enormous disagreement on how large is large enough. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my experience is with indoor aviaries in the American Midwest. Obviously an outdoor aviary can accomodate larger cages, and in most situations the available space will place some limits on cage size and design. See the article on The Aviary for more on this topic.

I do not colony breed my birds. I set up my caging so that every breeding pair has its own separate cage. There are many advantages to this system. For one, there is no question as the the parentage of chicks that are produced. This is important for several reasons. When I am working with color mutations, it is easier to keep track of which chicks carry which recessive mutations. Also, when I am breeding successive generations, I am able to avoid uneccessary inbreeding. Another advantage of the one pair per cage system is that it reduces the potential for violence in the aviary. Tempestuous birds can’t get into fights withl each other if they are in separate cages.

A disadvantage of the one pair per cage system is that it takes more room, more cages, and requires more maintenance time than a colony situation. Still, I feel that the advantages of a one pair per cage system greatly outweigh these inconveniences.

My breeder cages measure 30" long x 14" high x 14 inches deep. I have two six inch square doors on the front. A water dish hangs on the inside of one door, a seed cup on the other. Having the cups on the doors provides two advantages. First, it makes maintenance simpler, since I rarely have to actually reach into the cage. Secondly, by hanging the dishes so that they are closed in the door, I can make it (nearly) impossible for a feisty bird to pull them down and dump out the contents.

Now, I’m certain some of you are thinking "30 inches long? That’s TINY!" While others of you are probably thinking "30 inches long? That’s HUGE!" All I can say is that this size cage has been successful for me. I know breeders who keep their birds outdoors in cages 6 feet long, I know others that use breeding cages less than half the size of mine. I like a 30" cage because it is a manageable size for an indoor aviary, but still provides room for the birds to actually FLY from one end to the other. Certainly the birds have several perches and toys to climb on and around, but lovebirds are excellent flyers, and having enough space to fly is, I feel, beneficial to their health in both the short and the long term.

If you plan to make your own cages, it is important that you get suitable wire. I make my cages from 1"x1/2" steel wire mesh. Some books will tell you that 1"x1" wire mesh is "ideal" for lovebirds. Do not believe them. A lovebird can get its head through a 1" square hole, though it cannot get its body through one. In that sort of situation if a bird becomes startled and tries to get away quickly it can very easily break its own neck in the wire. Birds can also get themselves lodged in the wire, or bruise themselves struggling to get out through an opening that is just slightly too small. It is very easy for a lovebird to seriously injure or kill itself on cagewire that is too widely spaced.

Another underpublicized danger to many birds is the zinc coating used to galvanize most wire mesh. Most wire mesh is galvanized by "dipping" the steel mesh into molten zinc. This process is called "galvanized after welding" because the wire is welded into a mesh first, then galvanized. This creates a thin coat of zinc over the entire mesh, seams and all. This sort of wire poses a threat to birds, because the zinc coating can crack and flake off of the steel wire, and be ingested by the birds. It is very possible for a bird that chews on its cage wire to ingest a lethal dose of zinc in a very short time.

The type of wire to use for building breeding cages is what is called "galvanized before welded" wire mesh. In this type of wire, the individual steel wires are electroplated with zinc before they are welded together. This leaves a microscopically thin layer of protective zinc on the wire. This layer is actually bonded to the steel, and will not flake off like dip galvanizing, and does not pose a threat to birds.

If you are purchasing wire for birds, inspect the type of wire you are buying. If you can see where the seams in the mesh were welded, it’s galvanized before welded wire. If you can’t see the seams or the welds, you are dealing with dip galvanized wire, and it is probably better avoided.

If you really want to minimize the time you have to spend with your daily cleaning and feeding routine, and price is not an object, then purchasing cages is probably the way to go. Most of the cages sold in pet stores are alright for birds in a pet situation, but really aren’t ideal for breeding. Breeder cages are available in a variety of sizes, can be stacked and secured together into large racks and will typically be expandable, so that you can connect two or more small cages together to make a larger cage. Also, unlike most pet cages, they will be designed to accomodate a nestbox.

Good quality breeder cages are available by mail order from a number of different aviary suppliers. Many of the vendors advertise through the major bird magazines. Price, size, and quality vary widely, so take some time to shop around. I would recommend that you try for cages that are at least 24" long and 12" square, and larger than that if at all possible. Although cages become more expensive as they get larger, you will be rewarded with stronger and happier birds.

In addition to your breeding cages, you will want to have some larger "flight cages" to house groups of birds that are not in breeding situations. I will typically house juveniles together, because juveniles tend to get along better than adult birds. I do know breeders that segregate their flights by gender, which may reduce the potential for conflict as well. I do not sex all of my birds, and will usually put a group in a flight together and let their behavior tell me which are hens and which are cocks. In either event, a larger flight will give your non-breeding birds a larger flight space, and an opportunity for more social interaction than in a breeder cage. I have several flight cages in a range of sizes, but 30"x30"x24" is probably about the average size. Again, some breeders will have much larger cages than this, others will have smaller, and others will have no flight cages at all. I have found that flight cages are a convenient way to house and care for a larger number of birds, especially juveniles.

“So take your time when shopping for a bird cage. Shop around your local pet store or search for bird cages online.”

TOPICS:
Do I Really Want To Do This?
The Rules
Cages & Cagewire

 
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