Birds are messy! Whether you have one bird or 10, big birds or small, one thing you can be sure that you have in common with every other person who shares their home with birds is the mess. They sling seed and other foods, deposit poop regularly (sometimes in surprising places) and scatter toy parts, feathers and just about anything else they can get their beaks on all over their cages and the surrounding area. I can spend hours cleaning my bird room, have it spotless, and in less than an hour you would never know I had cleaned at all. Still, for the health of my birds, I spot clean daily and deep clean once per week in addition to changing the papers on the cage floor at least every other day.
Sadly, keeping cages clean does not seem to be a priority for a lot of bird owners. With my involvement in parrot rescue and rehoming, I am often on the lookout for useable pre-owned large cages. I do find them, but unfortunately probably 75 percent of these used cages have become not just unsuitable but dangerous for a bird to live in again.
Recently, someone whose bird had recently passed away offered me a cage by a brand known for quality and durability. I was excited about getting it until I saw it in person and found two to three inches of fecal matter built up on the floor grate and even on the holders for the food bowls. When I pulled the bottom tray out, there was more “dirt” that apparently had been there for a long, long time.
I brought the cage home anyway, but as soon as I started cleaning it I realized the only thing that could be done was to have it hauled off for scrap metal, because underneath all those droppings there was rust, and that can be deadly.
Parrots use their beaks to explore and to climb and to chew. When they come in contact with rust, they ingest it. This can lead to heavy metal toxicity, which can be deadly if not caught and treated right away. Even a buildup of dried droppings can easily become aerosolized and then be hazardous to the health of both birds and humans. Mold is another substance dangerous for birds that can grow quickly in a dirty cage.
Keeping the cage clean not only helps prevent health issues, but also prolongs the life of the cage itself. I have cages that are at least 15 years old that are still rust-free and useable because I have been diligent in keeping them clean.
There are some easy ways and even some specialized products to help you keep your bird’s home in tip-top shape, but the easiest involves just warm water and a couple of clean rags. I try to lightly wipe down the bars and perches of each of my cages every day, paying special attention to the areas where food and droppings might collect. Go over the collected material with the rag wet in warm water and then follow up with a dry rag. If you have a bird that likes spray bottle baths in its cage, take advantage of that wet cage to do a wipe down.
You can also use one of my favorite products, birdcage cleaning wipes. Nature’s Miracle and Poop Off both make them, and while I prefer the former, both do a good job of cleaning dried droppings and stubborn, stuck-on food. These products also come in spray form for when you need extra cleaning power. I use the sprays in combination with a toothbrush to get at those stubborn spots. While it is much easier and better to remove the bird from the cage while cleaning, these are bird-safe and can be used while the bird is still in its home. Many avian veterinarians also suggest the regular formula of Simple Green spray. Just make sure not to spray any products on the bird or the bird’s food or toys.
If you prefer to make your own cleaner and can get your bird out of the room while cleaning, you can also use a mix of 50% distilled water and 50% white vinegar. GSE (grapefruit seed extract) is a very effective antibacterial cleaner and great to have around for cleaning things like cutting boards, kitchen counters, and other places that come in contact with food. Just remember that if you make your own cleaner, make sure to use a brand new spray bottle. Never, ever use a sprayer or bottle that has previously contained any kind of chemicals, and never use regular household cleaning products in the cage around your birds.
Once a month, I like to deep clean and disinfect my cages. In the warm months of the year, I put my birds in their travel cages, take their big cages outside, and use Dawn dishwashing liquid, a scrub brush and a sprayer on my garden hose to get everything sparkling clean. I leave the cages with the perches in them out in the sun to dry completely before I bring them back inside and put the birds back in. In the cooler months or when I don’t have help to haul the cages outside, I use a handheld steam cleaner that helps to loosen dried materials and sanitize. Of course, the birds have to be completely away from the cage when using this method.
Cage cleaning is often one of the most overlooked aspects of life with birds, but one of the most important for the life of your cage and the health of your bird and your family.
Jan S. Granai, Kennesaw, GA, Bird mom to: Alice, YoYo, Tex, Hershel, Oliver, Peep, Willie. Chief Education Officer – Papayago Rescue House