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Perches for Birds

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

General Information

When a bird is not flying, it is standing. It is rare to see a bird laying down or sitting. That is why perches are very important. Birds use perches for standing, climbing, playing, rubbing, cleaning their beaks, chewing, and entertainment. Perches vary in size so that birds can firmly and comfortably grip or grasp them. Perch diameter should match bird size. Birds should be able to wrap their toes around a perch to grasp it, not just stand on top of it with their toes spread open wide. If a perch is too big, a bird can fall or slip if they cannot grasp it properly. If startled, birds are less likely to slip off or fall from a perch that they are able to grasp tightly. Perches that vary in size, provide more exercise opportunities and allow birds to choose what is comfortable. Birds can get sore feet if their perch diameter is the same all of the time because they are constantly putting pressure on the same areas on the bottom of their feet.

What are the best types of perches to use?

Perches serve not only as places for birds to stand on 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 being disposable items.

Wood branches or natural wood make the best perches because their varying diameters allow birds to distribute pressure to different areas on the bottom of their feet. Natural manzanita wood perches are commercially available for birds. Branches from non-toxic trees (see list below) outside can also be used as perches. These, however, should be washed and disinfected by heating them in an oven at 200°F for 30 minutes as the wood might contain microscopic fungus and insects that can be harmful to birds. Some types of wood can also contain oils that can be toxic to birds if chewed on. 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 value for birds that like to chew. Perches that are chewed up and splintered need to be replaced. Sandpaper perch covers are not recommended. These can cause irritation and sores to the bottom of birds’ feet.

Rope made of hemp or untreated cotton, can make a great perch and soft, braided rope perches are a comfortable option for birds, especially if they are older and have arthritic feet. Rope made of natural hemp or cotton rope can also provide a softer surface which 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 entangled around a birds’ toes or can be easily swallowed. When in this condition, rope perches should be removed and replaced. This is especially a problem with synthetic fiber rope and nesting materials which should never be used. 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 texture to and aid birds in safely wearing down their beaks and nails. However, concrete perches should not be the only perches used in cages. These can be abrasive to the bottoms of a bird’s feet, resulting in irritation and sore formation. 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 which is why plastic perches 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 chew them and potentially swallow the pieces.

How often should I clean a perch?

Perches should be cleaned when they are dirty as they may get food or feces on them during the course of a day. Perches can be washed and scrubbed with detergent or disinfectant and should be rinsed thoroughly before using them again.

What are some safe trees for perches?

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