THE CAGE

Buy the largest appropriately constructed cage you can afford.

All hookbills (birds having a curved beak, like conures, cockatiels, macaws and parakeets) are natural climbers in the wild. In captivity, these birds must have a cage with horizontal bars to climb on. My personal opinion is the larger the cage, the better. I don't think that there is any such thing as too large a cage. If the bird will be spending several hours a day out of the cage, you don't need the largest cage made. If the bird will almost never be out, buy a cage it could fly in.

In any case, the cage should be large enough that the bird can spread its wings without touching any wall or the roof. My personal favorite is made by Prevue-Hendryx, model #125 which measures 20" wide x 20" deep x 29" high (ask at any pet store that carries a large selection of cages). Be sure the cage you choose has no sharp edges that could cut you or the bird.

Try not to buy a round cage, because the perch arrangement causes the bird's tail to rub on the bars and get worn and ugly. Most round cages are also awkward to fit paper into, and difficult to clean. Whatever cage you buy should be both convenient for you to care for, and healthy for the bird.


Perches

Perches should be of different shapes and thicknesses. Birds stand on perches all day, and if they always stand on the same size perch, their foot muscles will stiffen from lack of stretching. Some birds also will get sores on the soles of their feet from always standing on the same points. The best perches are branches of fruit trees (not cherry trees-they are toxic). Be sure the trees have not been sprayed with anything! Cut the branches, wash and scrub them thoroughly with clear water and Oxyfresh Cleansing Gele or Oxyfresh Dentagene, and bake them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees to kill any insect larva or eggs. Then cut them to fit the cage, and either notch the ends or wedge them between the cage bars.

The perches should be at different heights, one level with the food dishes, and if the cage design allows, one near the level of the cage door. This allows the bird to come out the door easily on its own, when you want it out of the cage. Be sure not to place any perches directly above the dishes, so the bird can't defecate in its own food or water.

Every bird needs a "place of refuge" where it knows it can go to get away from things which bother it. Most birds will come out of their cages whenever the door is opened. Many birds become territorial about their cages, and prefer not to have anything entering "their" territory. This is normal, and OK as long as the bird will come out whenever you want to interact with it, and does not physically hurt you when you MUST reach into the cage.

CAGE LOCATION AND TEMPERATURE

Place the cage in a spot where it is not in direct sunlight, and where heater vents will not blow on it when the furnace is on. The bird should not have to endure temperatures below 60 degrees or above 85 degrees for long periods. If it is very hot, set a fan to circulate room air without blowing directly on the bird (place the fan in the opposite corner and point it straight up, if possible). Air conditioning is fine as long as the bird is not directly in the stream of cold air. Be careful of allowing your bird freedom in a room with a ceiling fan-it could get caught in the revolving blades. If the bird is out, turn off the fan.

You can tell if your bird is too hot-it will slick its feathers down tight against the body, spread the wings slightly, and pant. If it is too cold, it will sit with the feathers all fluffed up, and try to keep its feet covered.

Try to keep the humidity in your home high enough that you don't have static electricity problems. If the air is too dry, the bird's respiratory passages will dry out, and this could easily lead to increased respiratory illnesses (and high veterinary bills!).

COVERING THE CAGE

You don't have to cover the bird's cage at night, unless you live in a home which gets cold after dark. Leave a night light on in the bird's room, so it can find its way to its dishes at night. Cage covers should be made of smooth material (no terry cloth or velour to snag nails), and should come almost all the way down to the bottom of the bars. If your bird tends to get noisy early in the morning (some birds sing to the sunrise), covering it at night will sometimes help keep it quiet a little later. Some birds will have occasional "bad dreams" which will cause them to fall off their perch at night and thrash about. If you hear this happen, quickly turn on a light, and speak soothingly to the bird until it calms down and stops moving about. Reassure it as you turn the lights off.

Most cages are designed with a wire top and a solid base made of plastic or metal. Avoid buying a cage with a base whose sides slope inward-this design makes it easy for the bird to defecate on the sides of the base. This quickly becomes unsightly, and will make extra work for you. Be sure, for your own sake, that the sides of the base are straight up-and-down from top to bottom.

CLEANING THE CAGE

Your conure's cage will eventually need cleaning. Droppings should not be allowed to build up in the cage, as this can cause the bird to become ill from exposure to bacteria. The cage papers should be changed every two or three days, more often if the bird is usually left in the cage. Don't use the colored sections of the paper-the inks can be toxic if the bird manages to chew on them. The grate in the bottom of most cages will help prevent paper chewing, but some birds are very clever in finding ways to get to the paper. If your bird is a paper-chewer, you can also use brown paper bags in the cage bottom.

If there is no grate with the cage, one can be cut from 1 inch mesh hardware cloth (available at most hardware stores). Use wire cutters to cut the cloth. Be sure to carefully file all the rough edges off and thoroughly wash the mesh to remove casting sand and oil before installing the new grate.

When the cage bars or grate get really yucky, you will have to wash the cage. Remove the bird, and put it somewhere safe-a spare, cheap, cage comes in very handy at this time. Take the perches out, and all the dishes and paper. Using very hot water, rinse the cage well. Then take a plastic scrubbing pad (one for Corning Ware works well), and some Oxyfresh Cleansing Gele, and scrub the bars till they are all clean and smooth again. A plastic paint scraper works well for removing stubborn stuck-on gunk, without damaging the finish on the cage. Then rinse with hot water again and again. You must be sure to get all the bleach off!

An alternative for an all-metal cage is to dis-assemble the cage, and take the whole thing to a do-it-yourself pressure hose car wash, and blast the dirt out of it with water. It will still need scrubbing in places, but it is much easier to clean this way (in warm weather, anyway.) Rinse it well to get off all the soap. Do not wash wooden parts or dishes at the car wash. The car wash pressure sprays do not work well on plastic cage bases.

Let the cage dry. While it is drying, scrub the perches with hot water and a scrub brush (NO BLEACH-it doesn't rinse out of wood), and bake to dry them, or use an alternate set of perches while the freshly cleaned ones dry naturally. When everything is clean, reassemble it all and put the bird back in.

You will find that a hand-held Dustbuster vacuum will soon be your best friend when it comes time to clean around the cage area. It is great for picking up feathers, dust, seed hulls, chewed paper and wood scraps!

It is best to have more than one set of dishes which fit the cage openings. They need to be washed every other day, and when one set is dirty, you can switch sets without depriving the bird of food while its dishes are being washed. Extra dishes which can hang on the cage walls are also handy for serving special goodies. If you have a dishwasher, just put the dishes on the top rack, and the bleach in the detergent will sterilize them. If you are the dishwasher, pour some hot water and bleach in the dishes and let them set for a half hour. Then wash with hot water and a cloth, rinse very well, and let dry.