Cockatiel Advice and First Aid 101

Cage Setups and Toy Safety

All about your parrot's living arrangements and toys




It’s always best to buy everything you need and set it up before you bring your new cockatiel home. So here’s a little tick List that will help make your life easier and your bird settle into its new home quickly!

New cage - It’s always best to buy the biggest cage possible for a cockatiel, cockatiels are very acrobatic and love to climb, swing and forage. Buying a good quality cage from the start will save you a lot of money, cheap cages are often NOT made with non- toxic material and develop wear and tear on them very quickly, so you end up buying twice sometimes more.

Cuttlefish and a good quality mineral block are needed as part of your permanently in your birds cage.

Perches- Please note that the Dowler perches in cages are only meant for temporary use, manufacturing companies themselves will admit this. Natural wooden perches that are of different sizes and widths are best for your parrot’s foot health. Stay away from sandpaper perches or any perches that “claim” to keep nails short. These types of perches cause terrible foot conditions which lead to infections such as Bumble foot and do nothing for their nails. Rope perches should be avoided as they can fray causing injuries and can impact crops when ingested.

Bowls - These should be always stainless steel, glass or ceramic. Plastic bowls harbour bacteria because they are porous.

Toys - These should be 100% parrot safe, please avoid buying toys without a safety label on it (Claiming that it is animal or bird safe)  If you find that the toys have no safety label on them, this often means there has been safety checks and many are made with toxic materials.

Seed and pellets should be of high quality and pellets should be organic brands such as Harrison’s or Roudybush these are considered high quality by vets and are organic.

Night lights- Cockatiels and night frights go hand in hand they need some light source at night to prevent night frights!

Note: parrots need 12-14 hours undisturbed sleep a night to remain healthy!

Cage paper - NEVER use sandpaper liner as stated above sandpaper causes terrible sores on feet, the best paper to use is plain printing paper or butcher paper, newspaper can be used too but make sure it’s made with soy ink.


The golden rule is bigger the better, the cage needs to be at least three wing spans (wing tip to wing tip) wide. Please remember to take into consideration all the cage furniture when looking at cage space. It's very surprising how small the cage space will become once all accessories are inside. Parrots need a lot of room to climb, swing, forage and play. A too small cage can lead to behavioural issues such as screaming, feather plucking and depression to name a few, as well as health issues such as obesity.


It is very important to have the correct bar spacing, if bar spacing is too wide or too narrow for the species of bird, many injuries can occur such as wings, heads, legs and beaks can get trapped. Below is a guide for the correct bar spacing.

SMALL PARROTS: Budgies, Cockatiels, Conures etc. - ½ to ¾ inch

MEDIUM PARROTS: African greys, Amazons etc - ¾ to 1 inch

LARGE PARROTS: Large Cockatoos, Macaws etc -1 to 1 ½ inches


These cages are cruel for many reasons, but I'll list a few reasons which are nowhere near exhausted!

  • It is extremely rare to find a round cage made of "stainless steel" which is a SAFE metal, in which case the birds are enclosed in a cage made of unsafe metal which leads to heavy metal poisoning.
  • Round cages are usually made cheap and tacky and because of their awkward design it makes cleaning correctly virtually impossible! Dirty cages can lead to bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Round cages are psychologically cruel to birds. Birds climb round and round unable to make territorial reference points, leaving the birds feeling unsafe, stressed and depressed.
  • Round cages leave birds with poor plumage. Because of their shape birds are in constant contact with the cage bars so feathers are left in bad condition.
  • Round cages are not accessory friendly, because they are and out dated and of a bad (cruel) design manufacturers no longer make accessories for them, making it difficult to attach natural wooden perches, cuttlefish, stainless steel bowls etc.
  • Round cages are often never made with correct bar spacing leading to many injuries such as wings and heads getting stuck in cage bars and small birds escaping.

AUTHORS NOTE: These cages are cruel and should be NEVER be used! They look pretty with a potted plant in them for decoration, but that is the only thing that they should be used for.


  • A cage is the first thing owners buy when getting a bird, but unfortunately manufacturers make them more appealing to the customers than actually thinking about the animal living in it! I’ve seen hamster cages in the shape of princess slippers, castles, and emoji ‘, how on Earth do they expect a little creature to live its whole life in these horrific plastic dungeons? It’s very cruel indeed!
  • With so many cages to choose from what are the right ones to go for? BIGGER is always BETTER! Rule of thumb a cage should be 3 times the birds wing span tip to tip, 3 times its wing span is recommended by experts as the “minimum” for any bird.
  • The shape of the cage is very important too, one must think of how a bird is going to climb, swing, forage and play! The length of the cage is much more important than the height of the cage because birds fly horizontally not vertically!
  • Please insure that you NEVER ever use cages without the NON TOXIC coating, exposed galvanized wire will give your parrots heavy metal poisoning.
  • You can get PVC coated cages which has a thin layer of plastic coating, please note these cages are for small birds with soft beaks like finches and not meant for birds that chew, they will chew away the plastic and expose the wire underneath!
  • One of the safest cages is the stainless steel cages, but they are pricey, if you can’t afford them then make sure your cages are made from Non-toxic power coated.
  • Round cages are one of the worst cages you can get and please NEVER use them they are psychologically damaging to a bird it causes heightened stress and confusion.  A bird housed in a round cage can have multiple behaviour problems like self-mutilation and feather plucking.
  • Avoid cages with scroll work or other designs, birds can get toes and feet stuck in scrolling.


Biofilm is a collection of organic and inorganic, living and dead materials that settle on the surface of an object. When you feel the surface of the inside of a pet’s water bowl and you can feel it sticky and slimy, well that’s biofilm. And it is a collection of bacteria that can make your pet very sick. This is why it is extremely important to wash food and water bowls daily. This kind of bacteria can cause microbial infections such as urinary tract infections, bladder infections and inner ear infections. A parrot’s water should be changed at least twice a day regardless if it looks dirty or not to prevent bacterial infections.



Often owners make the mistake of allowing their birds to share ONE bowl of food, what they don't realise is that the dominant birds get the goodies (the best pick of the favourite seeds and the best bits of the fresh food) leaving the others to pick at the scraps. Birds follow a pecking order!

A parrot cage should have three to four bowls, providing you have the correct number of birds per cage ( overcrowding can lead to all kinds of behavioural issues and disease) there should be two bowls for dry food such as seed and pellets , one bowl for wet food and one for water.


The best perches for parrot's feet are natural wooden perches of all different shapes, sizes and widths. If you are going to use natural branches from outdoors, please ensure that the trees have not been sprayed with any chemicals. All outdoor tree branches need to be cleaned and disinfected before use. Pet shops and online pet retailers sell natural wooden perches which can be attached to the cage and are ready to use.

Here are some examples of Safe wood perches:

  • Apple
  • Ash
  • Bamboo
  • Beech
  • Bottle Brush

Here are some examples of Toxic wood that should never be used as perches:

  • Apricot
  • Avocado
  • Cedar
  • Chestnut
  • Eucalyptus


Sand paper perches are one of the worst perches for parrot foot health. They can create extremely painful sores that can lead to infection. It is untrue that they keep nails trim, because the sandpaper perches are so rough and painful on a birds sensitive feet, the bird does not grip strongly enough around the perch to wear down the nails.

Sand paper perches are often made with toxic glue that keeps the sand to the paper, which of course is toxic to the bird that chews on them. All in all, sand paper perches have absolutely no place in a parrot cage.

Dowler perches that come with new cages are one size and one width, because of this, pressure sores can develop on the parrot's feet which can lead to infection. Dowler perches should be for temporary use ONLY.

Plastic perches are very unnatural for parrots they are very slippery and very uncomfortable and can result in falls especially in wing- clipped birds.

Rope perches unless washed frequently can harbour bacteria which can result in bacterial infections. Birds often get nails caught in them causing painful injuries. Parrots can easily ingest the cotton fibres which can lead to crop impaction.

Metal perches like Dowler perches are one width and one size causing painful pressure point sores. Metal perches of course become freezing in winter and can cause frostbite in birds.


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. So many people have lost their birds to heavy metal poisoning where they have bought a cage second-hand and unknowingly to them the previous owner has painted over the cage with normal house hold paint which contains zinc!

It’s best to buy cages when on sale rather than second-hand unless you know for certain the product is legitimate! Please remember when buying second-hand cages they should be completely disinfected regardless of how clean or new they look.

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.



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.  


(This additional article was written by Katie Madison)

The best cage liner to use is plain unprinted paper or unwaxed butcher paper.

Lining the bottom of the cage enables speedier clean up and keeping your parrot healthy by maintaining a bacteria free environment.

·PAPER- Ideally, print free white paper, but definitely paper. It is a good economic option, recyclable when used (in most areas), allows for happy foraging and most importantly, allows you to get a clear view of droppings, enabling monitoring of health – what are they like, is there a high proportion of urine, is it too loose and so on. Poop changes can be the first sign of a problem and can mean it is caught early.


·PAPER PULP/PELLETS – you are unable to monitor droppings on this material. Some parrots have been known to eat the pellets. It does not allow foraging on the cage bottom. They become airborne. Unless you are going to sieve through them each time, you will be missing food particles and droppings, leaving behind a bacterial problem. You would need to completely change the whole lot each clean, which would not be economical.

·CAT LITTER – again, cannot monitor poops properly. Any food dropped on it is immediately spoiled. Many are scented, an absolute no in the cage environment. Many contain clay, which is very bad for the respiratory system. The clay versions contain silica, which is cancer causing when inhaled. It cannot be recycled. Cat litter that clumps and expands when damp is dangerous if ingested (can swell to 15 times original size) and has an additional additive which is cancer causing when inhaled. Silica gel cat litter is dangerous from fumes and ingestion dangers.

·SAND – similar problems to those listed above, it can adhere to food, is difficult to keep completely clean and is heavy and messy to put in and out. The need to change it all frequently to ensure nothing is missed makes it expensive. It cannot be recycled.

·SAWDUST – as above. In addition, you do not know if the wood it is made from is a safe wood. Sawdust when inhaled causes respiratory difficulties and is known to scar human lungs causing irreparable damage. A parrot’s respiratory system is much more delicate.

·WOOD SHAVINGS – as above. Often, these are made from woods that give off a scent. These woods are toxic, and even the scent will irritate the skin and respiration system. No scent is needed in a well-maintained cage. If the poop smells, the parrot needs the vet!

·PUPPY TRAINING PADS – these contain scents to attract a dog to urinate on them (humans may not be able to smell it, but animals/birds can). These scents are ammonia (toxic) and pheromones, which are synthetic. The pad is made up of super absorbent polymers, which are tiny beads that swell to 500 times their size when in contact with liquid. These can easily be swallowed whilst investigating this plastic ‘thing’ on the bottom of his cage. In addition, these are non-recyclable and, like disposable nappies, can take 50 years to degrade.

AUTHORS NOTE: this list is not exhaustive of materials available to use, but covers the main principles involved with each.




Small birds such as: Finches, Canaries, Parrotlets, Parakeets and lovebirds.

PERCH DIAMETER: 3/8” to 3/4“

Medium birds such as: Cockatiels, Conures, Lories and Senegals.

PERCH DIAMETER: 5/8” to 1 ¼”

Large birds such as: African greys, Amazons, Macaws and Cockatoos.





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 route, 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 and 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 as all parrots to remain fit and healthy need 10-12 undisturbed sleep a night.

Cover cages on 3 sides and leave one side uncovered to allow air flow and enough light to come through to help prevent night frights. It’s advisable to always leave on a night light to help prevent night frights especially with parrots prone to them like the cockatiel.


You can buy the best cages on the market bigger always better of course but if you don’t DRESS them correctly you’ll end up with a cage that is bad for your parrot’s health and potentially very dangerous.

First off ... perches are the most important part of the cage, so make sure you have the CORRECT perches. Choosing a perch is like picking the right shoes, if uncomfortable, too narrow, too wide, ones that rub we end up with painful and blistered feet. It’s exactly the same with birds , as parrots have no choice but to stand all day long perches have to be correct or they will end up with painful feet that can lead to infection, arthritis and other ailments. Natural wooden perches are the best perches you can buy and all different sizes and widths are the best!

When putting in perches make sure they aren’t placed directly above each other, you’ll end up with very dirty perches and if you have more than one bird in the cage no doubt one will end up pooping on the other.

Toys and more toys, we all get excited with parrot toys, I think it’s the only time us parrot mums and dads enjoy spending a large sum of money on an item only to enjoy watching it getting ripped to pieces ha-ha! Many people make the mistake of FILLING the cage full of toys, this can be so dangerous. In an emergency you have to fight your way through the toys to get to your bird. If the bird spooks like cockatiels for example that are prone to night frights they will injure themselves badly on all the toys!

Three to four toys ONLY are recommended in the cage and then rotated weekly with other toys. When positioning the toys make sure they are not blocking access to food or water bowls , the entrance of the cage and the birds are still able to fly and climb effortlessly without knocking into the toys !

Swings are another one that often blocks parrots ability to fly and move around freely, so make sure you position them so they don’t interfere in activities!

Food and water bowls should be placed in the cage windows and NOT on the floor , if you find you having to place food bowls on the floor that aren’t being used for foraging or a treat then your cage is way too small!

Water bowls should always be placed on one of the highest windows to avoid being pooped in. Stainless steel bowls are recommended and are best as plastic is porous and it doesn’t matter how much you clean it, it holds onto bacteria.

Toys should be checked daily for imperfections to avoid accidents and choking. Please ensure all toys are animal safe and that it actually specifies that at the back of the box.

 NOTE: If packaging does not specify parrot safe or small animal safe, you know that they may NOT have gone through any health and safety regulations, and by law the company is not liable as you are giving at your own risk!

Cage liner paper should be above the grate to avoid parrots getting legs, feet stuck between the grate bars. Many parrots have broken legs this way! Cage paper should be changed daily to avoid bacterial infections.


The wood below is listed in order from the softest wood appropriate for smaller parrots to harder wood which more appropriate for larger parrots. If wood is too hard then a smaller parrot may find it difficult to chew, and if too soft a larger parrot may destroy it in seconds. So it is advised to supply toys and perches made from wood that accommodates each species of parrot.

  • Balsa
  • Basswood
  • Cholla
  • Poplar
  • Ash
  • Elm
  • Maple
  • Walnut
  • Apple
  • Birch
  • Dragonwood
  • Manzantia
  • Java wood
  • Ribbonwood


(This is additional article was written by Katie Madison)

  • Here are the main points to consider when choosing what to use:
  • 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.


PARROTS ARE THE RODENTS OF THE BIRD WORLD! Parrots are often referred to as the rodents of the bird world, in the wild they gnaw and shred chucks of bark off tress, visit clay licks, gnaw on sandstone cliffs and feed on fruit and hard nuts etc.

A parrot has an over whelming desire to gnaw just as much as any rodent. This is why they chew on everything that they can get their beaks on! Unfortunately many parrots aren't given the opportunity to gnaw, cages are made of mental, thin Dowler sticks given as perches and they are provided with impractical plastic toys to play with. This is one reason why parrots start feather plucking.

So many parrots are rehomed because they chew on furniture or other precious items. This can be all avoided if only owners were more educated on the needs of these birds.

Parrots need to be given the opportunity to gnaw. They need to be provided with appropriate wooden perches of different sizes and widths for good foot health as well for chewing and naturally wearing down their beaks. They need to be given fresh safe branches to swing and climb on and toys should be wooden not plastic. Enrichment is the key to a happy parrot!


To help prevent cage territorial behaviour, it's a good idea to have multiple play stands or T-stands around the home! This way the birds don't form a strong territory bond with its cage or with one play area.


A lot of people use bottles instead of bowls for water in parrot cages, while this practice is believed to be much healthier and cleaner it can also be very dangerous to your parrot’s health. People tend to change the water less frequently when water is in bottles which ends up with the water becoming stale, unsanitary and can make your parrot very sick.

Bacteria can build up in the bottles tube if not cleaned correctly which can lead to bacterial infections. Parrots have also been known to die from dehydration when the tube gets clogged up or the little ball at the end of the tube fails to work to let out the water.

If a bottle is your choice of a water vessel for your birds, please clean it correctly with a bottle brush and check that there is correct water flow a few times a day. Water should be changed regardless at least twice daily weather in a bottle, tube or bowl.


Parrots don’t like change, any changes to their cage or environment should be done slowly and changes in behaviour noted. When introducing new toys it’s a good idea to hang the new toy outside the cage first for a day or so or place it on the floor of the cage so it’s at a distance until your parrot shows no signs fear of it.

If change is done to quickly it can cause behaviours such as biting, depression and feather plucking this is particularly important to do for African greys.



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!


(This additional article was written by Katie Madison)

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.


.Sand paper perches - causes sores on feet, which can lead to infection.
.Sand paper lining- causes sores on feet, which can lead to infection.
.Dowler perches- one size, one width can cause pressure point sores.
.Metal perches- can lead to frostbite.
.Plastic perches- slippery and uncomfortable can result in falls.
.Rope perches- nails can get caught & cause injury.
.Rope toys- parrots can ingest the fibres leading to crop impaction.
.Happy huts- parrots can ingest the fibres leading to crop impaction.
.Any metal toys- heavy metal poisoning.
.Plastic toys- plastic is made with petrochemicals which is toxic.
.Ink paper- ink poisoning.
.Metal clips- heavy metal poisoning.
.Locks- heavy metal poisoning.
.Mirrors- cause hormonal behaviour, mercury poisoning if chewed on.
.Grit- can lead to crop impaction.
.Toxic plants- poisoning.
.Plastic bowls- harbours bacteria, made with petrochemicals.
.Corncob bedding-harbours bacteria, fungus and mould.
.Kitty litter- harbours bacteria, fungus and mould.
.Sawdust- too dusty can lead to respiratory infection.
.Hay- too dusty can lead to respiratory infection and eye injuries.
.Toxic wood-poisoning.
.Teddy bears- breeds bacteria, toy eyes are stuck with toxic glue or pins.
.Scented tissues-poisoning, respiratory issues.
.Jewellery- heavy metal poisoning.
.Small animals such as hamsters, Guinean pig's etc. - exchange of bacteria from one animal to the other which can cause illness, some animals such as reptiles carry salmonella.

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