Cockatiel Advice and First Aid 101

Cage Setups and Toy Safety

All about your parrot's living arrangements and toys



We all love a bargain especially the ladies, but please be very careful when buying second-hand toys and cages on the internet or from the newspaper etc.

Firstly, if there is any type of rust on the cage then don’t buy it! If your birds eat the rust you’ll be paying hundreds on vet bill trying to save your bird due to heavy metal poisoning!!! You’ll be wishing with all your heart when your bird is pooping blood you saved for a new cage! Secondly, you have no idea what avian illnesses or parasites the previous occupants of the cage were carrying! So the cage will have to be thoroughly washed and disinfected! Thirdly, many old style cages are NOT avian safe; if the cage is older than 2008 , cages were not under the new regulations put in place today that the cages have to be coated with nontoxic materials! Therefore, the materials used may cause heavy metal poisoning! Lastly, some folks to make a quick buck spray the cages with household paint to make them look new! So again will not be avian safe and your bird will be ingesting normal paint and suffer with heavy metal poisoning! In a nutshell, it’s safer to save up for a new cage! eBay and Amazon sell many cages that go on sale all the time , amazon also do lighting deals now that you can watch out for! It is pointless trying to refurbish a secondhand cage for £50 and end up paying hundreds on trying to save your birds life ! All my cages were initially expensive but have lasted me years! I had actually given a friend a cage and it’s still going for her now 6 years later ! You buy cheap you buy twice as they say ...

A lot of second-hand toys come from owners that have lost their own parrots and unfortunately because you have no idea what the parrots may have died from, all toys need to be thoroughly disinfected. (Often its best to save up for new toys than take the risk, as it is very difficult to thoroughly disinfect parrot toys)

There are many homemade toys that can keep parrots entertained until you can afford something new, such as cardboard egg cartons, big beads, and buttons from arty shops, even plain Cheerio’s threaded on a pet’s safe skewer are a hit with parrots.

More safely tips like this you'll find in my book "How the flock do I care for a parrot"? available on amazon.


Here are the main points to consider when choosing what to use when cleaning a birds cage:

  • Basic equipment needed is cloths, disinfectant, cleanser, perch scrubber and drying towel/cloth
  • Equipment should be used for birds only and should be new (not recycled after being used for other things)
  • Lint/fluff free cloths without scents or impregnated with anything are needed
  • A good quality vet approved disinfectant. F10+ (for birds) is recommended
  • Cleansing products, if used, need to be bird safe. Method is a range of cleaning products that are plant based, environmentally safe and bird friendly.
  • Wire perch scrubber for easy perch cleaning
  • Handy: a large blusher brush, which is soft, to brush away seeds etc. That have landed on frame/in cage before vacuuming. This avoids seeds/husks getting stuck to damp cloths and being spread around cage.


Covering your parrots at night is important for a few reasons:

  • It gives them a sense of security; especially new parrots to the home, or young parrots.
  • It teaches them routine, that once the covers are on, it means bedtime.
  • It gives that extra bit of warmth at night, especially to young or older parrots.
  • It helps block out sounds, other distracting movements and lights; such as car head lights from a window, etc.
  • It helps over all to give them a better night’s sleep. All parrots need 10-12 undisturbed sleep a night to remain fit and healthy. 

Cover 3 sides of the cage; leaving one side uncovered to allow air flow, and enough light to come through to help prevent night frights. It’s always advisable to leave on a night light to help prevent night frights, especially with parrots prone to them, such as the cockatiel.


It is very important to cover the cage grate with paper instead of placing the paper below the grate. In doing so, the owner will not only be able to correctly monitor their birds droppings accurately, but small birds have been known to get feet trapped between the grate bars. Cockatiels in particular are prone to night frights, and many have broken legs by getting their feet caught between the grate bars during one of these night frights.Placing paper on top of the grate also allows the birds to have foraging opportunities.

Please remember to change paper in the cage at least once daily to help prevent bacterial and fungal infections.  


Hooded food and water bowls, please always remove the hoods off water bowls many small parrots like budgies / finches have drowned falling in bowl and not being able to get out.

Parrotlets need open food and water bowls, because they won't stick their heads into a hooded food dish!


Giving your birds a window view– A fantastic boredom breaker is allowing your birds to look out a window. However, ensure on hot days your birds do have an area in their cage to seek out some shade. If you notice your bird is becoming quite fearful while looking out the window, then move your bird. Birds have extremely good eyesight and may see predators far in the distance which can cause fear and stress. Never place your birds next to an open window, this is the quickest way they can catch a chill which can result in pneumonia.
Telly and music- My birds love cartoons and country music. It’s a great bonding session for you and your bird to sit together and watch a film and share some butter and salt freepopcorn (hmmm, you may want to make your own separate popcorn to flavour it to your liking) Music is a personal preference of the bird; some even enjoy heavy rock music, so you’ll have to experiment with a few selections. As for sounds of nature; this is fine to play as long as there are no sounds of birds of prey as this can really cause fear in your birds.
Bath time- In my book “How the flock do I care for a parrot?” I go into detail on how to bath your bird, so I won’t go through all that here, however, bathing is a fantastic time to bond with your bird whether you shower with your bird or spray bath your bird, use this opportunity to have some fun together.
Teaching your birds tricks- There are many neat tricks you can teach your bird, for example, giving a high five and waving, spinning around, picking up bits of rolled up paper and placing them in a cup or kicking a little ball. All these tricks you can view on YouTube.
Puzzles- The larger birds will enjoy the thrill of working out puzzles or some more complicated foraging toys. This will keep them entertained for hours and keep their minds busy and heathy.
Foraging games for smaller parrots- There are plenty of foraging toys and games which smaller birds can enjoy too, such as filling empty egg cartons with treats, making foraging parcels using butcher paper and a little sisal string, filling yogurt cups with shredded paper and hiding treats, sewing big buttons and beads onto a hand towel; this can entertain budgies for hours. Again, there are many ideas on Pinterest.
Natures toys- There are many natural toys which parrots go crazy for, even more so than store bought toys. Pinecones, apple twigs and branches, chewing off bark from safe wooden perches, safe grasses, leaves, flowers, coconut shells and husks, cardboard boxes etc.


Small birds such as budgies and cockatiels can easily get their heads stuck in the rungs of a ladder resulting in asphyxiation. Therefore, it is important they are supervised during play, especially, when they are still very young. Personally, I do not introduce ladders to my birds until they are roughly 6-12 months of age as accidents can happen so quickly. 



Allowing free flight is one of the best forms of exercise for a bird. Parrots in the wild fly miles a day, while sadly this of course is not an available option for pet birds; the least we can do is allow them as much free flying time as possible. Allowing this is of course fantastic for their overall health and the most natural way of keeping our birds the correct weight. Teaching your bird recall flying is also an amazing exercise for you and your bird to bond and for your bird to learn discipline and respect for their owner. Providing foot toys, natural wooden perches and toys are important to exercise a bird’s foot muscles; as well as naturally keeping beaks and nails trim.  


Once you have established the branches are healthy, from a safe plant/tree, grown in a pollution free area and free of insecticides/pesticides/underground contaminates, the following steps will ensure your parrot can enjoy them in safety:

·Cleanse the outside of the branches (bark) with the usual cleaner you would use for your birds cages. This would include F10, vinegar solution or plant-based dishwasher liquid. Use an applicator that will not leave anything imbedded in the surface. The aim is to kill any mould, fungus or germs on the exterior of the wood;

·Bake the branches for about 30 minutes or until thoroughly dry in a 100°c oven. This needs supervision to ensure nothing ignites/burns. This process is to kill any germs/insect eggs etc. inside the wood. If you live in a particularly hot area, branches can be baked dry in the sun; and

·Once cool, shape to your desired project and let your birds have fun!

AUTHORS NOTE: Some sites suggest soaking in a bleach solution to kill inner and outer germs etc. Please be very cautious with this method. Soft woods will absorb the bleach and residue may be present when your pet is chewing the branches. Further, baking in the oven could then cause toxic fumes to be released from the heated bleach.


If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a million times, “My bird doesn’t play with toys.” While this may be 100% true, sadly, many owners do not investigate the reason why!? Is it because the toys are not species specific? Has the bird never learnt how to play with toys? Were the toys chosen appealing to the owner, rather than choosing toys which are appealing to the bird? Are the toys too brightly coloured and frightening the bird? Are there too many toys in the cage and the bird is feeling overwhelmed? Are the toys chewable or are they made of cheap plastic and cannot be chewed? Have the toys been in the cage so long that they are being totally ignored?

Let’s look at each of these scenarios individually:

Species specific toys- 
Some toys meant for a larger bird are often too big for a smaller bird to play with and vice a versa. They maybe too intimidating for a small bird to play with.

Are the toys chewable?- 
Parrots are regarded as the rodents of the bird world; they have an overwhelming desire to chew. Cheap plastic toys (even for a budgie) will often be ignored due to the fact they can’t be chewed. Wooden toys are the most natural toys for a parrot and are needed to keep beaks in good condition.

Too brightly coloured- 
In the wild certain colours mean danger. Parrot see colour in greater depth than humans and some are appealing, while others are not, and some are downright scary. Instead, pastels are better received.

Were the toys more appealing to the owner?-
 Ever walked into a pet shop and saw a toy and your immediate thought was how cute? Manufacturers make toys to catch the eye of the consumer, not always for the benefit of the pet. Unfortunately, unbeknown to the owner, some toys are not pet safe, however, pet shops sell them regardless because they look cute, they know the owner will buy them. Therefore, choose toys which will keep your bird entertained, such as toys they can chew, rip apart and basically leave a huge glorious mess.

Are there too many toys in the cage?- 
Owners often place so many toys in the cage the bird becomes overwhelmed and does not sample any of them. Parents may be able to relate with this point; their child walks into a toy shop trying to pick out one special toy, however, the child becomes so overwhelmed with the vast amount of choices they can’t decide which toy to choose. They either walk away empty handed or chose a toy which they decide they don’t necessarily like when they get home. 3 toys to ever cage is plenty; then rotate the toys weekly.

The bird has never learnt how to play- 
This is often the case with many hand reared birds; some may not have any interaction with their parents and siblings. Therefore, they have not learnt how to play and explore, they would learn these skills when correctly socialised. Therefore, they need to learn how to play with the help of the owner. The owner would have to interact with the toy, showing the bird what it’s used for as you would do teaching a toddler how to play. This time can actually be used as a very good bonding experience with the parrot.


Big buttons and beads
Brown paper lunch bags (un-waxed)
Cardboard boxes
Coffee filters
Dried corn husks (ensure they are parasite free and mould free)
Egg cartons
Grapevine wreaths and willow wreaths; you can attach many toys and treats to these for hours of fun! (ensure they are un-varnished) 
Paper plates
Paper straws
Phone books
Pinecones (they have to be prepared correctly if you are picking them yourself)
Plastic balls for cats (ensure they catnip free as its highly toxic to birds)
Plastic or stainless-steel measuring spoons
Plastic soda pop tops
Popsicle sticks (ensure they ones made for food use only)
Q-tips (cotton buds)
Safe woods
Seagrass mats and baskets
Shredded paper



Pumpkins cut in half and left on the cage floor or hung up makes hours of fun; chewing it up and picking out all the seeds, what’s not to love? Or filling the pumpkin full of other veggie goodies. Cutting a coconut in half (drain water), hanging carrots on a string or slices of watermelon, scoop out holes in a large carrot and fill with other veggies such as green beans and sweetcorn. Cut the top off a sweet pepper and fill with other favourite foods. Halve an apple, scoop out the insides and chop it up small, then add other favourites foods and place the mixture back into the apple. Animal safe skewers can also hold lots of delicious veg and fruit. There are many safe seeds you’ll find listed in my book “How the flock do I care for a parrot?”; parrots are attracted to seed and using healthy seeds are the perfect way of adding enrichment and increasing curiosity when introducing new foods. For smaller birds you can thread cheerio’s onto string or safe skewer and hang it in the cage, make a foraging tray with hidden treats under and between shredded paper. Popcorn is adored by parrots of all sizes and this can be hidden in paper cups and egg cartons.
Feeding- As we discussed above, in the wild foraging for food take a huge portion of the day. Parrots in the wild typically do most of their feeding at dusk and dawn, therefore, we can try and replicate this in captivity by feeding fresh foods early in the morning and then again at night. However, dry food such as pellets and seed should still be available throughout the day. For a picky eater you can offer fresh foods only first thing in the morning; then place seed and pellets back into the cage a few hours later. The birds will be very hungry at this time in the morning, so they are more likely to sample the new foods. Do not try this trick with sick or old birds, or with birds that have any underling conditions. And of course, do not forget to place back the dry foods into the cage.


Hay and straw are often misused for hiding treats for foraging or as cage liner. Both these materials are very dusty causing respiratory irritation which can lead to infection, as well as eye irritation and injury. Hay and straw can harbour mould spores resulting in fungal infections such as aspergillosis.Using these materials as cage lining can harbour bacteria and mould. Paper strips can be used for foraging to hide treats. Plain paper is the only cage liner which should be used, and then changed daily to keep the cage and environment hygienic. In order to read a bird's poop accurately for first signs of illness plain paper is needed. 


A cockatiel

Need Cockatiel Advice?

Contact me to see how I can help you:
Contact me via Facebook Facebook
Find me on TikTok TikTok