Perches for Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

General Information

When a bird is not flying, it is standing. It is rare to see a bird lying down or sitting. For that reason, perches are very important. Birds use perches for standing, climbing, playing, rubbing, cleaning their beaks, chewing, and entertainment.

In their natural environment, birds perch on branches of varying sizes. Perch diameter should somewhat match the bird’s foot size. The bird’s toes should wrap three-quarters of the way around the perching surface on a perch of the proper diameter.

If a perch is too big, the bird cannot grasp the perch properly and may fall or slip. If startled, birds are less likely to slip or fall from a perch that they can grasp tightly. Perches that vary in size provide more exercise opportunities, and allow birds to choose what is comfortable. Birds can develop pressure sores on the undersides of their feet if their perches are all the same diameter, because they are constantly putting pressure on the same areas of their feet. Pressure sores, injuries from splinters, or cuts from chewed wood or plastic perches may lead to bumblefoot, a serious infection on the underside of one or both feet.

What are the best types of perches to use?

Perches serve not only as places for birds to stand, but also as objects on which to chew. Chewing is a normal behavior that is enjoyable and beneficial, especially for parrots. For this reason, bird owners should consider perches as disposable items.

Wood branches make the best perches because their varying diameters allow birds to distribute pressure on different areas of their feet. Natural manzanita wood perches are commercially available for birds. Branches from non-toxic trees (see list below) found outdoors can also be used as perches. These, however, should be washed and disinfected by heating them in an oven at 200°F (93°C) for 30 minutes, as the wood might contain microscopic fungus, bacteria, and/or insects that can be harmful to birds. Some types of wood also contain oils that can be toxic to birds if they chew on the wood.

Providing birds with non-toxic, washed, and disinfected branches such as apple, elm, ash, maple, or willow can be both functional and attractive in cages. Wood perches may help wear birds' nails down more effectively than perches made from softer materials. Wood perches also provide entertainment for birds that like to chew. Perches that are chewed up and splintered need to be replaced to prevent splinters from causing injury to the bird’s foot. Sandpaper perch covers are not recommended, as they often cause irritation and sores to the bottom of birds’ feet.

Rope that is made of hemp or untreated cotton can make a great perch. Soft, braided rope perches are a comfortable option for birds, especially if the bird is older and has arthritic joints. Rope made of natural hemp or cotton rope can also provide a softer surface that is easy to grip and great for parrots to chew on.

Rope perches must be monitored carefully. They can become tattered when birds chew on them, causing rope strands or fibers to get tangled around a bird’s toes, and they can be easily swallowed. When in this condition, rope perches should be removed and replaced. Loose strands can get caught around a bird’s toes or foot, leading to a serious injury. This is especially a problem with synthetic fiber rope and nesting materials, which is why these types of rope perches are not recommended by avian veterinarians. When rope perches get dirty, they can be cleaned in the washing machine or dishwasher.

A single ceramic or cement perch may be used along with other perches to provide a roughened, sturdy, textured surface and to help birds safely wear down their beaks and nails. However, concrete perches should not be the only perches used in cages, as they can be abrasive to the bottom of a bird’s feet, resulting in irritation and sores. If a ceramic perch is placed in front of a food bowl, typically a bird will visit it, stand on it, eat, clean its beak on it, and then leave.

Plastic perches are sturdy and easy to clean but can be slippery and provide less texture for gripping. Larger birds may chew and splinter plastic into sharp pieces, so they should not be used with large birds. PVC pipes are stronger and are safe for some birds to chew on, but some larger birds may be able to chew them and potentially swallow the pieces. PVC perches are usually just one diameter and, as mentioned above, may cause pressure sores on the bottoms of the feet.

How often should I clean a perch?

A clean surface is essential for healthy feet, because birds constantly stand on one or more perches in their cage. Perches should be cleaned when they are dirty, as they may get food or feces on them during the day. Perches can be washed and scrubbed with detergent or disinfectant and should be rinsed thoroughly before being used again.

What are some safe trees for perches?

A branch from one of the following trees can make a safe perch for your bird.

apple crab apple peach apriocot dogwood pear arbutus larch pine (not with sticky sap) ash madrona plum beech manzanita poplar birch mulberry thurlow cactus wood papaya vine maple cottonwood

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