It is a cool, crisp morning, and I lean back contentedly into the chair in the corner of my birdroom, sipping coffee. In front of me is a series of interconnecting flight cages, filled with crowds of busy, happy young Red Factor canaries.
The air is filled with the sound of their songs, squabbles, and chirps, while they themselves zip about their home feeding and playing. They look like a drift of autumn leaves tossed by a playful wind as they alternately rise and spin madly about for sheer fun, or descend in a series of spiraling curves to feed. Many of the bolder birds seem to almost throw themselves where they want to go; they fly with such force and enthusiasm.
I think of the smaller cages and flights, so many young birds are restricted to growing up in and sigh. Too many of these youngsters go on to spend most or all of their lives in similarly small cages. Many of the owners of these small cages cite convenience, lack of money, or lack of room for the reason. I had even heard people say “Well, I tried a larger cage, but he/she/they just sat there and didn’t use the space when they had it, so I got rid of the great unwieldy thing.”
In my opinion, many of these people have drawn their conclusions prematurely. The fact is, a jump from a small cage to a medium-to-large flight cage is scary to many birds, particularly at first, and most especially if the bird is already adult and has never seen such a space before.
Many people never realize that to use and allow your bird to use, a flight cage, first you must properly understand just what a flight cage is, and how it differs in care and function from a regular cage.
Generally speaking, a flight cage is simply a cage large enough to allow the occupants to achieve flight – therefore the name, flight cage. A small flight cage can be as small as two feet or so cubed; with 3/16″ spacing of the bars a cage like this is known as a `finch flight.’
Myself, I don’t think the designers of such a cage ever really watched a finch of any sort fly; although tiny, they are masters of the air. Their speed, maneuverability, and agility make a much larger space look barely adequate for the gyrations they are capable of performing.
In all honesty, most of the larger birds are capable of some rather amazing aerial antics as well, but the requirements of a four or five-foot wingspan demand an area in proportion to the size of the bird; a macaw needs to flap his wings very few times to fly twenty feet, after all!
Occasionally I have had a dog or cat person answer an ad for a flight cage thinking they will be buying a cage for a dog or cat to travel the airlines in. Even though their confusion does not always abate much when I gently explain to them that they would be buying an oversized bird cage, I feel it is my duty as a bird person to enlighten them. Birds have flight cages, and dogs and cats have travel cages. Much simpler.
Robbie BobbinsUsually flight cages are used to allow the birds access to exercise. The larger the area, (relative to the size of the bird, of course) the more exercise the inhabitants receive as long as the interior of the cage is arranged to allow the maximum birds use of the space. This is the one single most important aspect of cage design, and it is often the one first sacrificed to human convenience.
Another often over-looked fact, especially concerning breeding birds, is that the hens need to exercise the muscles they will use in laying the eggs. Even hens which are kept only as pets have this need, as they can and often will lay eggs whether or not a male is present. These muscles run the length of the bird, from the keelbone to the sternum, and are the same muscles which power the wings.
For this reason, I make my hen flights as tall and as wide as possible, reasoning that the higher the hens are encouraged to fly, the more exercise they will get. After all, it takes much more effort to fly up six feet than it does to fly across the same six feet.
Some species of birds need to live in flight cages, or they will not live long. Most of the more exotic finches, such as the lavender breasted waxbill, and the red-cheeked cordon bleus are included in this category, as are most softbills, such as the shama thrush and the Pekin Robins (pictured here – this is “Robby Bobbins”).
There are times when putting a bird into a flight cage is the last thing you should do. For example, if you take a finch or canary which was raised and kept solely in a small cage, particularly if it is more than a couple of years old, and put it into a large flight cage, you will risk losing the bird to confusion, exhaustion, and stress. This is especially true if there are other birds already living in the flight who are used to and comfortable with the arrangements.
If, on the other hand, you gradually acclimatize the same bird to the idea of more space by moving it gradually up the scale to ever larger cages, it will usually adapt readily and easily.
Never Use A Cage Like This! It is extremely important never to release a single bird directly into a flight cage which already has inhabitants without a period of introduction.
Hang the new bird high the flight cage within a smaller cage so it can easily see most or all of the area in the flight. After a day or two, when the original occupants seem to have lost most of their curiosity, and the new bird seems relaxed and calm, open the door of the smaller cage and give the new bird access to the flight cage. Don’t remove the smaller cage until everybody has settled in comfortably, often a period of days, or sometimes a few weeks. Keep a close eye on them to ensure that there are no battles over territory.
All birds should undergo a period of quarantine of at least three to six weeks and have a thorough health check before being allowed near an already established flock.
Never keep a sick or ailing bird in a flight cage. It will use far too much of its energy just getting about, which will greatly reduce its chances of survival. Even a bird by itself will not thrive in a flight cage if its health is compromised in any way.
Remember also that some birds will not (or cannot) use a flight cage. A cage-bound bird becomes terrified when placed in a large open flight, in much the same manner a human victim of agoraphobia will react when dragged into the open. These birds are victims of a psychological disorder, and this should be recognized. It takes time and much care to rehabilitate a bird like this, again, much the same as with people.
Birds fly back and forth. Any proper flight cage will incorporate this fact into its design. While some birds can `helicopter’ quite well, most birds need to fly back-and-forth at least a little to gain height.
A flight cage tries to be as good as living outdoors It will always take them a while to adapt to a new environment, and it is only fair to allow them plenty of time to do this before deciding to remove them from the flights. It is important, too, that perches be easy to access via short hops as well as longer flights, at first at least, to aid the birds in learning to cope with the extra space. Food and water, of course, must always be easy to find, accessible, and plentiful, or those on the lower end of the totem pole will suffer.
There is no reason a flight cage cannot be as, if not more, convenient than a small cage. They don’t get dirty as fast as a small cage, and they require much less fussing to clean and service, especially if care is taken in the design and the arrangement of perches, drinkers, and feeders.
They can be very visually appealing as well, but some of these designs appear to forget that the occupants of the flight should be the visual focus! Just as with an aquarium, a good flight cage will provide an environment in which the birds can be comfortable, as well as showing them off for your own pleasure and delight.
In many cases, lack of money or space does not need to be such an inhibiting factor either. Homemade flight cages, if built with care, can look as good as commercially made ones but will cost much less, dollar-wise, while having the advantage of being able to be designed to fit and complement the space available.
A good flight cage should be as long as possible, while the width needs to be at least several inches more than the outspread wings of the bird or birds which are to inhabit it. While the taller flight cages may not always be possible, they should be as tall as circumstances allow.
Remember when designing a flight cage for your birds that you will need to be able to access all parts of the cage easily, both inside and out, both for cleaning, and in case you ever need to catch any of the inhabitants.
There should be relatively few main perches to allow as much space as possible to be left for flying. Usually, a perch on either end near the top, and a lower perch in the middle are adequate. Swings or toys should be positioned to not block the flying space. Short one-ended perches are useful as sleeping perches and for in between locations where a long perch would take up valuable flying space.
Doors should be kept low to discourage escape, as startled birds usually fly upwards. Best is the double-door system, where the first door must be closed before the second can be opened.
Food and water dishes are also best kept low, to reduce mess and to allow ease of access for the caregiver. Problems can develop if these dishes are not changed and washed every day, and disinfected regularly.
The day draws to a close, and once again I can be found in my seat near the flights. The birds have just finished their late afternoon songfest, and most are now busily munching down their dinner. A few are already up on the high perches where they will spend the night and are concentrating on getting their feathers in order.
Their favorite perches are a series of individual sheltered perches, at the top of the flight, where each bird can have space all to itself without having to argue over it – once they’ve gained possession in the first place, that is! Canaries love to squabble, it seems…
So ends another long day of my life, and I chuckle quietly as I relax, watching the birds, thinking of all the people who’ve told me that they can’t see how I manage to handle everything I do and still stay so relaxed and calm about it all. Those same people are often the ones who also tell me that a canary is ‘just a bird’ or that one person’s recycling can never make a difference.
To them, there will always be a secret to my success. Me? I plan on enjoying my birds forever, if possible. How else would I ever cope?