PARROT PERCH PREFERENCES BASED ON WILD PARROT PERCHING
By Sally Blanchard
Parrot perches are an important part of a companion parrots life. Of course, in the wild, parrots sit on many different sizes, shapes, and textures of perches. The can be as wide as a twig or flat and too wide for their feet to go around. They can be smooth or have rough bark. They can be softwood or hardwood. Perches can move and bounce or be perfectly solid without any motion. They can be horizontal, vertical, or somewhere in between. They can be fairly straight or have lots of curves and bumps in them. They could have branches and leaves on them. Most of all there is not a perch that is a piece of straight, smooth wood in the wild. Nor are there plastic, rubber, or cement perches. I believe that parrots should have at least 3 perches at different levels - preferably one across the middle width of the cage with two others going from front to back. They shouldn't be the same diameter or the same texture. Some parrots, especially older ones, love a platform perch that can be hard to find but are available. Remember that most companion parrots are pretty much on their feet all day and need variety in perching for the comfort of their feet and legs. A swing would be nice too but most parrots prefer it to be fairly high in the cage and of course, a variety of toys are essential so the cage needs to be large enough to house these essential accessories.
Have you ever wondered why your African often sits on the smallest available perch in its cage when there are a bunch of appropriately sized perches available? Many years ago someone told me that African greys were clumsy birds, but I never believed it. I have lived with 4 greys in my life. Two of them were temporary birds in need of a good home and the other two were or are lifetime companions. They never seemed clumsy to me. To the contrary, they were quite acrobatic. When I saw my first videos of wild greys, I understood a lot more about them. It appears that greys live in fairly large flocks and are very social birds. There are areas where the greys feed on calcium-rich grasses in very shallow pools. When a flock flies into the trees near these pools, the individual birds seem to land on whatever branches they can get a hold of. Sometimes more than one bird lands tries to land on the same perch so one of them has to change its mind very quickly to land on another perch. That perch may actually be a twig off of a branch other greys have occupied. When the displaced bird grabs a twig, the whole branch shakes and everyone has to hang on tight. The grey that landed on the twig has to go through all sorts of gyrations to hang on. The fact that the bird can hang on dispels the myth that greys are clumsy. No clumsy bird could exhibit that much acrobatic skill. Once everyone is settled in the tree, about half of a flock feeds on the grasses on the ground while the other greys hang out in the tree branches above. After a while, they switch off so all of the greys get to feed on the grasses below. The birds in the trees are on the outlook for predators and an alarm call from one bird will send the whole flock flying off. African greys also like to spend a lot of time hanging upside down and this behavior can also be observed in videos of their wild behavior. They also seem to like hanging off of those itty bitty branches. Perhaps it is so they can forage better in the trees, but I think after living with greys for over 40 years, that there is a very strong element of play in hanging off of the small branches. I think greys need a much wider cage than a tall cage because they like to spend time both on lower branches and on higher branches. While they seem to like those thin branches, I would still provide them with a variety of various diameters of perches.
Caiques live in the tree canopy of the rain forest. This is really quite similar to living on the ground since many of the leaves of the trees of the canopy are matted together forming a flat wide surface. This is why caiques are so famous for being pedestrians rather than good fliers. They generally hop and climb to get from place to place or, if they do fly, it is often for shorter distances than many other rainforest parrots. My caique, Spike, really enjoyed playing on the floor of his cage but he could be a very messy bird so I had to change his paper frequently. He also has two platform perches in his cage with a toy hanging above each one. This allows him to play on his back with the toy above him, which is one of his favorite ways to play. He also loves to bathe in a shallow pan with sopping wet greens in it. This too makes a lot of sense since the matted leaves in the tree canopy often contain shallow pools of water.
For the most part, Amazon parrots are treetop species but not in the canopy like the caiques. Contrary to popular belief, many Amazons are not deep rainforest birds. When I was in Costa Rica many years ago, the Amazons I saw were in areas with trees along rivers and wetlands or in sparsely treed areas dotting grasslands. The only time I saw Amazons on the ground was in wet areas where they came down to bathe. I never saw them feeding on the ground, although I would imagine under certain circumstances that they would. I have seen many feral Amazons of various species and they were usually hanging out from the middle of a tree to its top. A feral flock close to the San Francisco Airport was so high in the eucalyptus trees were so high up it was difficult to find them even though you could hear them quite well. I think that companion Amazons do well in a cage that has some width but has fairly high perches. My Amazons will go to the floor of their cage if they have changed their mind about a food morsel they threw there and then decide they actually want to eat it. Other than that and paper shredding during the breeding season, I rarely see them on the floor of their cage. They are usually on the top perch of their cages.
There is quite a variety with macaws as far as their perching preferences and generalizations are difficult to make. As far as being ground dwelling and/or arboreal, I think that Macaws are difficult to label in this regard. Only a few are relatively specific as to where they like to perch or hang out. For example, the very first Red-fronted macaw I ever saw seemed to be very flat-footed. This was way back in the early 1980s not too long after they were discovered in the wild. There was no way to discover much about them since it was before the Internet. I finally did some research and discovered that they nested in crevices in cliffs. Then it made sense to me that they have a flatter foot. I think that a parrot that naturally spends a lot of time on flat surfaces needs a wider than a tall cage and really appreciates supervised time on the floor. They also would enjoy spending time on a platform type of perch. The Hyacinth macaw also spends a lot of time on the ground in the wild, but they also spend a lot of time in trees. Mateo is a Hyacinth friend of mine and he loves his floor time. If you think that caiques are good floor hoppers, then you have to see Mateo. Somehow or other he succeeds in looking goofy and majestic at the same time.
Various cockatoo species have a variety in perching situations. The Bare-eyed and Rose-breasted cockatoos of Australia spend a lot of time on the ground and really enjoy supervised floor exploration. Both species are gleaners so the floor should be very clean. I advise putting a sheet on the floor and putting some treats and toys on the sheet. This not only makes it cleaner and more fun but can also help the caregiver to provide acceptable boundaries for the bird to play in so it stays out of trouble and out of danger. Both of these cockatoos do well with a wide cage and they will most likely want to spend time on the floor of the cage. They also may prefer to be fed from a shallow dish on the bottom of the cage. The Moluccan, Umbrella, and Sulfur-crests are definitely arboreal birds but will come down to the ground to forage for food.
Knowing even a little bit about the habitats where our companion parrots wild counterparts live can help us to understand a great deal about their environmental needs. Some companion parrots will really enjoy playtime on the floor while others will prefer spending time on a play gym hanging from the ceiling. The treetop species do better in a cage with both width and height, while parrots that naturally spend time on the ground like a wide cage with platform perches and a clean cage floor to play on.