Back in the early 1990’s when I first considered bringing a parrot into my home, I remember my strong feeling that it was cruel to house parrots in cages. I still feel this way! I still wish that every parrot could live out its life in the wild. But since they are here with us in captivity, since this is not likely to change and since I love them, I have tried to find a way to “cage” them that feels at least somewhat humane.


Before I even embark on housing, I want to address flight. I am well aware of how difficult it is to allow parrots to fly in captivity. I am aware of how much trouble it is for human caregivers to ensure that our birds fly every day. Sometimes it is simply not possible to manage a parrot in the home without clipping. Sometimes older birds or injured birds cannot fly. Sometimes birds are afraid to fly. Sometimes our homes are too small. And almost always, parrots in particular act like they’d rather not fly.

Regardless of all of the above, all birds need to fly. If they can’t, then so be it, but that does not make it OK. Their bodies are designed to fly throughout the day, and it is not humane to eliminate their opportunities for flight based on all the numerous reasons why daily flight is inconvenient to achieve.

My experience has shown me that while there may be cases where birds really can’t fly due to damaged wings or debility, it is almost always possible to get them flying. Sometimes a partial clip is needed, but we can still get them to fly. Sometimes the birds have terrible phobias of flying, and baby steps are needed. But whatever the obstacle, I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to help them fly every day, much in the same way that we offer them food and water.

With small birds, they will pretty much fly on their own as long as they have been trained to navigate the house. A partial clip can be helpful, but usually smaller parrots will learn to keep themselves exercised as long as they are allowed plenty of time outside of cages. With my smaller pet parrots, I set up toy-laden play areas at fairly high levels or hanging from the ceiling so that they can fly from one play station to the next, rather than trying to land on the toaster or the edge of a frying pan.

With larger parrots who don’t want to fly, I start by simply getting them to open their wings for a moment each day. After maybe a month of that I will try to get them to flap a time or two on my hand. Then after a couple of weeks I will increase to a few more flaps. And so forth. Until eventually I get them flying from one place to another. Every day I take ten or fifteen minutes to fly my larger parrots from one end of my house to the other, onto a place where they like to perch. Then I take them off the perch, go back to the starting place, and let them go again. In addition, I try to make them fly everyplace they go. If it’s time to go from the cage to the kitchen, I send them off my hand to fly rather than carrying them from place to place.

Keeping parrots in our homes humanely is hard work – there really is no way to get around it. But it does make an enormous difference to their health and well-being if we help them to fly.


I have been fortunate in that I and my lifelong partner, John, were able to design and build our house ourselves, and John did most of the carpentry for us. I have often wanted to write a book called “A Bird Could Eat My House” because this was the guiding principle we used in our home construction. Everything we used for building materials was nontoxic so that if one of the birds got into anything (which they do every single day!), they would survive. Wood surfaces are treated with non-toxic coatings (Safecoat AFM Naturals Oil Wax finish), walls are made of non-coated pine or clay.

One of my favorite things about our house is the fact that we built aviaries into nearly every room. The aviaries are as big as possible, floor to ceiling, and contain either small birds like finches and canaries, or small parrots. We made wooden panels for each aviary, then filled each panel with powder coated 16 gauge 1 inch by 1/2 inch wire which we had custom cut for us by KW Cages. Each aviary is covered with screw-in 20 watt Vitalites or Ottlights and set into cone type fixtures with cords or else the bulbs are screwed into closet-like fixtures in the ceilings.

For larger parrots, where wooden aviaries would not be feasible, we use 8 foot metal octagons made by Corners Limited.

Perches in both the wood and metal aviaries are made of natural maple, apple, willow or white pine, and secured with non-fraying rope. I like to place branches at good distances to encourage flying.

Floors are covered with tarps and then scattered with bath towels under each area that is likely to collect droppings. Towels are frequently shaken out and washed:) When using towels, it is essential to make sure that no threads are showing as loose threads can cause foot injuries.

My breeding cages for finches and canaries are simple construction KW cages made from 1 by 1/2 inch wire mesh, measuring 36 inches wide by 18 inches high and 24 deep. Cages that are smaller than this do not appear to allow birds to maintain healthy breeding condition, so I consider three by two feet as a minimum size. I breed only one pair per cage and use all natural materials for creating an interior breeding landscape: fluffy, clean grass hay for the floor, branches for perches, and lots of seeding grass heads hung around the wire in bundles.


The majority of aviaries that I have visited in my life have been dirty. Some of them were so dirty it made me cry. I have often wondered how it ever became acceptable to force birds to stand on perches, play with toys, eat from food dishes and drink from water bowls that contain fecal material. It is entirely unacceptable and inhumane to allow birds to endure such conditions, despite how frequently it occurs.

I thoroughly clean all my aviaries, cages and play stations at least once daily. I never willingly allow birds to eat or drink from contaminated food or water bowls (unless by mistake). To clean, I use dish soap plus 6 drops of Nutribiotic grapefruit seed extract per ounce of soapy water as a disinfectant. If I find that a bird has clearly consumed fecal material, then I will offer a mild antimicrobial for one week: 3 drops of grapefruit seed extract per 8 ounces drinking water as the only water source.


I offer baths to all my birds regularly. My finches and canaries have access to bath water at all times. For the parrots, I usually offer spray baths between two and seven times weekly, depending on who enjoys which type of schedule.

Birds truly need bathing opportunities in order to maintain the integrity of their feathers. If birds are afraid of bathing, I will start extremely slowly by simply spraying a spritzer into the air nearby. I never like to exceed the level of exposure that a bird is comfortable with, so each day I will spray the air until this action causes no stress, then I will move closer and spray near them, wait until they can handle that, and eventually end up teaching them to love a spray bath.

It can take a year or so, but it is well worth the effort to see them finally indulging in all the silliness of bathing birds.


Birds are highly dependent on sunlight to maintain their health and psychological well-being. I try to take my birds outdoors on every day where weather complies. For small birds, I take them onto my deck in travel cages and sit with them in the direct sun. For larger birds I use outdoor aviaries which you can see below. They don’t have to be out longer than about half an hour to receive the daily benefits of sunlight, but more may be appreciated. In summer, I usually bring a cool-water spritzer to sunbathing sessions as birds can overheat readily in unfiltered sun. I particularly like to take sick birds outdoors, as I feel that direct sunlight has healing properties which can’t be achieved with other methods.


Lainey Alexander

GOULDIAN AVIARY (18 feet long, 8 feet high, 4 feet wide):

COCKATIEL AVIARY (5 feet high, 4.5 feet wide, 2.5 feet deep):

FINCH/CANARY AVIARY (12 feet long, 8 feet high, 4 feet deep):

Below is an aviary that is simply an entire room for a mixture of finches, canaries and small parrots.

GROUP ROOM AVIARY (20 feet long, 12 feet deep, 8 feet high):


I always attach a sleeping cage to the inside of the octagons for larger parrots; this way they can be covered each night:



WOOKIE OUTDOORS IN WALES (photos by Linda Bestwick):

Breeding cage for single pairs of finches/canaries (36 in. long, 24 wide, 18 high):