Along with the perfect size cage in the ideal location in your home, your cockatiel will need a few cage accessories. These include food and water dishes, perches, and toys.
Food and Water Dishes
You want the dishes to be easy to clean and heavy enough so that when your bird perches on the edge, they will not tip. Cockatiels seem to enjoy food crocks, which are open ceramic bowls that they can hop up on the edge of and pick and choose what they will eat during the day. Be sure to buy shallow dishes that are less than one inch deep to ensure that your bird has easy access to her food at all times. When buying dishes for your cockatiel, be sure to pick up several sets so that mealtime cleanups are quick and easy. Never buy plastic dishes, because the pores in plastic can harbor bacteria even when the dishes are washed daily.
When choosing perches for your pet’s cage, try to buy at least two different diameters of materials so your bird’s feet won’t get tired of standing on the samesize perch made of the same material day after day. Think of how tired your feet would feel if you stood on a piece of wood in your bare feet all day, then imagine how it would feel to stand on that piece of wood barefoot every day for ten or fifteen years. Sounds pretty uncomfortable, doesn’t it? That’s basically what your bird has to look forward to if you don’t vary her perching choices.
The recommended diameter for cockatiel perches is five-eighths of an inch, so try to buy one perch that size and one slightly larger (three-quarters of an inch, for example) to give your pet a chance to stretch her foot muscles. Birds spend almost all of their lives standing, so keeping their feet healthy is important. Also, avian foot problems are much easier to prevent than they are to treat.
You’ll probably notice a lot of different kinds of perches when you visit your pet supply store. Along with the traditional wooden dowels, bird owners can now buy perches made from manzanita branches, and PVC tubes, rope perches, and terracotta or concrete grooming perches. Manzanita offers birds varied diameters on the same perch, along with chewing possibilities, while PVC is almost indestructible. (Make sure any PVC perches you offer your bird have been scuffed slightly with sandpaper to improve traction.)
Rope perches also offer varied diameter and a softer perching surface than wood or plastic, and terracotta and concrete provide slightly abrasive surfaces that birds can use to groom their beaks without severely damaging the skin on their feet in the process.
However, some bird owners have reported that their pets have suffered foot abrasions with these perches, so if you choose to use them, watch your pet carefully for signs of sore feet (an inability to perch or climb; favoring a foot; or raw, sore skin on the feet). If your bird shows signs of lameness, remove the abrasive perches immediately and arrange for your avian veterinarian to examine her.
When placing perches in your bird’s cage, try to vary the heights slightly so your bird has different levels in her cage. Don’t place any perches over food or water dishes, because birds will contaminate food or water by eliminating in it.
Finally, place one perch higher than the rest for a nighttime sleeping roost. Cockatiels and other parrots like to sleep on the highest point they can find to perch, so please provide this security for your pet.
No Sandpaper, Please
To help your bird avoid foot problems, do not use sandpaper covers on her perches. These abrasive sleeves, touted as nail trimming devices, really do little to trim a parrot’s nails because birds don’t usually drag their nails along their perches. What the sandpaper perch covers are good at doing, though, is abrading the surface of your cockatiel’s feet, which can leave her vulnerable to infections and can make movement painful.
Choosing the Right Toys
Cockatiels need toys to occupy their minds, bodies, and beaks. Accept that your bird will chew on any toy you buy, and that you will eventually have to replace it. When selecting toys for your cockatiel, keep a few safety tips in mind.
Is the toy the right size for your bird? Large toys can be intimidating to small birds, which makes the birds less likely to play with them. On the other end of the spectrum, larger birds can easily destroy toys designed for smaller birds, and they can sometimes injure themselves severely in the process. Select toys that are designed for cockatiels and small parrots when choosing toys for your pet.
Is the toy safe? Good choices include sturdy wooden toys (either undyed or painted with bird-safe vegetable dye or food coloring) strung on closed-link chains or vegetable-tanned leather thongs, and rope toys. If you buy rope toys for your cockatiel, make sure her nails are trimmed regularly to prevent them from snagging in the rope, and discard the toy when it becomes frayed to prevent accidents.
Unsafe items to watch out for are brittle plastic toys that can easily be shattered into fragments by a cockatiel’s busy beak, lead-weighted toys that can be cracked open to expose the dangerous lead to curious birds, loose link chains
that can catch toenails or beaks, ring toys that are too small to climb through safely, and jingle-type bells that can trap toes, tongues, and beaks.
Cockatiels enjoy the following types of toys: chewable wooden items, ranging from clothes pegs (not clothespins, which have springs that can snap on a bird’s wing or leg) to thread spools; wooden ladders, sturdy ropes or cords to climb on; bells to ring; knotted rope or leather toys to preen and chew on; and mirrors to admire themselves in. Be warned, though, that if you give a single cockatiel a mirror toy, she may bond to the reflection she sees and consider the bird in the mirror a more interesting companion than you!
As an alternative to store-bought toys, you can entertain your cockatiel with some everyday items you have around the house. Give your bird an empty paper towel roll or toilet paper tube (from unscented
paper only, please) to chew. Let her shred subscription cards from your favorite magazines or chew up some clean computer paper. Give her a Ping-Pong ball to chase. String some Cheerios on a piece of vegetable-tanned
leather or offer your bird a dish of raw pasta pieces to destroy.
When you’re introducing new toys to your cockatiel for the first time, you might want to leave the toy next to the cage for a few days before actually putting it in the cage. Some birds accept new items in their cages almost immediately, but others need a few days to size up a new toy, dish, or perch before sharing cage space with it.
Although your cockatiel will spend quite a bit of time in her cage, she will also need time out of her cage to exercise and to enjoy a change of scenery. A playgym can help keep your pet physically and mentally active. If you visit a large pet supply store or bird specialty store, or if you look through the pages of any pet bird hobbyist magazine, you will see a variety of playgyms on display. You can choose a complicated gym with a series of ladders, swings, perches, and toys, or you can purchase a simple T-stand that has a place for food and water bowls and a screw or two from which you can hang toys. If you’re really handy with tools, you can even construct a gym to your cockatiel’s specifications.
As with the cage, the location of your cockatiel’s playgym will be an important consideration. You will want to place the gym in a secure location in your home that is safe from other curious pets, ceiling fans, open windows, and other household hazards. You will also want the gym to be in a spot frequented by your family, so your bird will have company while she plays and supervision so she doesn’t get into unsafe situations.