When I was visiting Arizona for my seminar, I spent a lot of time with Ginger and her flock. Her living room is full of foraging trees for her expansive flock of rescue parrots. She has a large climbing tree that she custom built for her Congo African Grey Parrot, Ozzy. On several occasions I let Truman loose on this tree (while its occupant wasn't around) and he was absolutely thrilled. He was just climbing all around and checking the different toys out. I'd never seen him get more excited about a playstand. Since it was built for an African Grey, it was the perfect size for a Cape Parrot. Truman navigated his way through the expanse of branches and found toys that he was able to snap with ease.
Toward the end of my stay we had my birds and her (clipped) birds out at the same time. I put Kili and Truman on an unoccupied stand while the other birds were out. Truman was getting bored so he flew over to a seemingly unoccupied tree. However, its Senegal Parrot occupant came charging at him with open beak! It didn't take long for Truman to realize that not only was he unwelcome but that his assailant looked a heck of a lot like the one back home that kicks his butt. He flew off in the nick of time and headed for his favorite tree in the house, Ozzy's. Little did he know, however, Ozzy was actually out on his tree. Truman landed on the tree not far from Ozzy and the two Psittacinae came face to face for the first time.
Ozzy the African Grey on his custom built tree
The stand off ensued. Truman was like "who are you?" Ozzy was even more shocked, "I cannot believe you are on my tree. Don't you know this is my tree? What are you doing here?" For a while the two parrots stood dumbfounded, waiting for the other to make the first move. Eventually, Truman in his playful nature went for a toy and proceeded to play. Ozzy, still staring in disbelief at this uninvited stranger was unsure whether to attack or flee. Truman saw a toy near Ozzy and began walking toward it. Ozzy got a bit defensive and flashed his hooked bill in warning and Truman demonstrated his. In a moment it was all over and Ozzy retreated to a sulking corner of the tree while Truman roamed freely from toy to toy as he wished. This was the first and only time Truman won a fight. He is used to being bullied by Kili but here he did not even have to fight. The skittish Grey yielded his beloved tree to the uninvited guest with a bowie knife for a beak.
Thus I was persuaded to seek a bigger tree back home for Truman. I never bothered buying a large tree for him because at first I did not want it to block of his flight space but later because I got an aviary for him to spend time outside. Kili and Truman each had their own little table top tree at home but never gave much mind to them. One of the benefits of a larger tree that I learned from Ginger is that you can hang swings from them.
I spent some time searching for a ready to go Java tree. But not only are they very expensive, but none are perfect. Since they are all natural trees, there are a multitude of compromises in each. The thickness of the branches, the spacing between branches, the overhang of branches to hang toys from, and the size/shape of it all play major roles. However, after looking at dozens of trees, I realized that the only way to have one the ideal size, shape, and thrill for Truman, would be to engineer it myself. Thanks to Ginger, I realized that building a custom tree is a possibility.
I bought a variety of Java branches meant for mounting in the cage, some swings, and new toys. I also bought a cheap coffee table to mount this tree on to get it elevated without the cost of more branches. From the moment I was picking the branches, I was seeking ones that would be able to join together well. Deciding which branches would connect to other ones posed the biggest challenge. I had to find ends that would mate with the limbs of other branches and align it so higher branches could serve as toy hangars for lower ones. The tree also had to fit a specific contour of the space I had set aside for it.
Unlike most trees/stands for sale, I bolted an extensive series of stainless steel eye screws throughout the tree. This stand was engineered from start to finish to be a parrot dreamhouse. Large eye hooks suitable for mounting entire swings were factored into the original design. The tree was partly built in my workshop but then had to be completed on location because it would not fit through the door. What was extremely difficult was that I could not build further branches until prior ones were mounted but I needed to see the prior ones to know where the further ones would end up. So there was a lot of back and forth work assembling and disassembling the tree in order to be able to put everything together.
It took the greater part of a day to complete assembly of this deluxe custom built foraging empire. 4 swings and 11 toys completed the expansive mosaic of climbing locations for the parrots. Unlike the random branching of natural foraging trees, this one is layered in a way that guarantees the parrot can access every level. If Truman can't get to a specific branch from another, he can always climb up a toy or swing to get there. This may not be a huge tree, but it's highly accessible and efficient.
This morning I took Truman out to see his tree for the first time. He was like a little boy on Christmas morning. He ran around from perch to perch to try each toy. His eyes were running wild and he couldn't decide what part he wanted to play with first. Ironically he laid greatest preference to the two cheap toys I built for him myself rather than all the ones I paid good money for.
Kili was a bit weary of jumping straight on the tree at first. She watched from a safe distance but later decided to join. I put her on a perch at a distance from Truman and she proceeded to check things out as well. The tree is big enough and convoluted enough that the birds can play at opposite ends without the proximity to fight. Kili preferred some of the thinner swings and rope perches while Truman searched for tougher things to destroy.
Now with this homebuilt parrot amusement park I am hoping to be able to leave Truman out for longer spans of time. In the past I would inevitably have to put him away because he'd get into too much mischief. By concentrating everything a playful parrot could want on one tree, it will hopefully contain his attention for more time. Today he has spent hours playing and napping in his tree while I took care of other things. Yet, despite his expansive fun house, he still flew over to me from time to time to cuddle. This is an important balance. Truman is able to spend hours having fun independently, yet remains a cuddly people friendly bird.
After visiting Ginger's flock, rescues, and parrot stores on my Phoenix trip, I realized the pressing need for affordable parrot trees. With my experience building training perches, trees, and toys I intend to launch a new line of practical, affordable, quality parrot play stands with the busy parrot in mind. Stay tuned for an announcement about this new line of stands on the Parrot Wizard website. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Kili & Truman in their new custom built climbing tree:
Saturday I went to NJ and bought not only a new cage but all the perches, toys, and supplies for the new Cape Parrot (pretty much everything short of food). Originally I was planning on buying the largest powder coated cage with 3/4" bar spacing. However, someone recommended to me to try Kings Cages (which I had never heard of) so I looked into it and found a similar powder coat cage from them for cheaper. But as I spoke to them on the phone, they recommended that I should go with an aluminum cage instead. Originally, I was expecting to spend $600 for a cage and $400 for a tree. So instead I decided to go with the aluminum cage after all but get a smaller/cheaper tree. It will be much easier to upgrade to a bigger tree than a different cage in the future.
I went to their warehouse to see the cages/trees in person because I had not seen their products in stores before and I had questions about doors and other issues. Maria from Purringparrot warned me that her Cape chewed up the plastic food bowls that came with the cage so I wanted to make sure I could get stainless steel bowls instead. Also I was a bit concerned that the aluminum playtop cage was a bit smaller than the powder coated ones I was previously considering. Unfortunately the cage still comes with the pointless cheap plastic cups but the good news is that for about $50 more, you can get a replacement kit to mount rings in place of the plastic cups to hold stainless steel food bowls. For the kind of price of the cage I think the stainless cups should come standard but at least the upgrade is possible and well worth the money. I was also concerned with the locking mechanisms on the doors because I had problems keeping my Senegal Parrot from getting out of her cage. Luckily the Kings Cages come with a very ingenuitive lock for the front door which requires several motions that would be impossible for the parrot to be able to complete from inside. It needs to be pressed down, twisted, then down again, and twisted a second time completing a 180 degree turn. Also there is a magnet on the front door to keep it closed even if the pin is unlocked. The food doors are also well locked with a pin that is completely inaccessible from inside because of a plate that blocks the parrot from reaching the control.
I got to pick out my own tree from the hundreds available. I decided to go with a smaller table top tree not only for cost saving but also to keep the parrot at eye level when I am sitting down. Many of the tabletop trees were too short but the there weren't any short enough tall trees either. Also I didn't like some trees being too covered in branches to prevent climbing space and others being too bare. After much searching though, I found the perfect tree with a lower and higher area that can be climbed. This way I can hang toys from the top and they can be played with on the bottom. I was told that the downside to a short tree is that the parrot can jump off to the floor. At first I didn't understand what the big deal was but he explained that people buy a tall tree so the bird would stay on it. I replied that to me it wouldn't matter because I'm keeping the parrot flighted and it can fly off whenever it wants anyway. I asked to have the bolt for the food bowl removed because I never feed my birds when out like this and don't want a metal thing sticking out. Once again he suggested leaving it for water but I explained that a flighted parrot can just go back to its cage for water whenever it wants it. :D
I requested a Java dowel in place of the machined wooden dowels that come with the cage so we worked out a deal to get some custom cut for the cage. While I was at it, I picked out some toys and additional perches for the cage. Before I was ready to pay, I was asked if I really need the playtop for the cage because there was also a dometop available. I had not even considered the dome top (and I usually thought the dome was cutting off space that a square top could have been). He explained to me that it would actually provide more room. And since I don't leave my parrot to play on top of the cage anyway, I did not worry about missing the playtop anyway. This worked out perfectly because the dome added some space to compensate my fear of the cage turning out smaller than others I had considered.
The prices were good and I ended up buying everything I need for the new Cape within my originally planned budget. So now I can just sit back and wait for the bird knowing I will be ready for it whenever it is ready to come home to me.
The cage came in two boxes and I had many accessories so it filled practically the entire car.
That's my brother helping me unpack the cage parts.
Assembly was actually incredibly easy.
Then I got the tree together.
All it involves is securing one bolt so it's really easy.
So here's the new dometop aluminum cage for my upcoming Brown Necked "Cape" Parrot.
For 2 out of 3 perches I replaced machine doweled with natural Java but I left one dowel in and saved the 3rd Java for later.
Here is the stainless steel cup and holder to replace the junky plastic cup.
Here are the replaced food bowl rings with stainless steel cups.
All of the additional perches and toys.
I haven't decided on a place for the tree yet but for now I'm keeping it out of the way so Kili can get used to seeing it but not go on it.
For the next few months, I'm going to be keeping Kili's cage closer to me in the living area so that when the Cape arrives, I could have a reasonable quarantine and so Kili doesn't try to go on the Cape's cage. For now I'm hiding the cage in a corner near Kili's area but not on her spot. I don't want her flying back to where her cage used to be out of habit and land on the Cape cage instead. So I will keep the Cape slightly to the side of where Kili used to be. It's really important that Kili doesn't try to claim the new cage or tree so I want her to get used to not going on them. I left all the toys and things out of the new Cape cage to further reduce any temptation for Kili to check it all out. Overall I'm quite happy with the new set up and now just anxiously await the arrival of my new addition.
Part II, the Review
Yeah, they don't do a good job of making you feel like you bought something worth the money with the cheap included things. The cage should have been $50 more but come with all of the "deluxe" features standard so you wouldn't feel like getting a cheap quality expensive cage. The good news is you can discard (or use as spares) the wooden dowels and plastic food cups and it is really easy to replace these things with natural perches and stainless cups. Many cages you are locked in using whatever they come with and cannot swap, so basically just imagine the cage as $100 more expensive but including what you would expect with it.
I calculated that the cage is 26,000 cubic inches and the dome top adds another 10,000 cubic inches. That's pretty incredible considering Kili's entire cage is just 10,000 cubic inches. That brings the cage up to 37,000 cubic inches which sounds much more fair to me on a proportional comparison between the 2 species. Senegal Parrot: approx 115g, Cape: 400g. That makes the Cape about 3.5x bigger than Senegal and the cage comes out to 3.7x bigger so it's perfect. I was really skeptical about getting the original version (pre-dometop idea) because 26,000 would mean the cape would be more crammed in the new cage than Kili is in hers and I didn't want that. I don't want the large toys and perches to make the bird too crammed but now with the extra dome, it works out just right. I didn't want the playpen much anyway. And to my surprise the dometop cage is actually a bit cheaper than the playtop one even thought the dome looks like more material and labor to make.
It comes with four feeder doors/cups which I think is overkill but I guess nicer for symmetry. I think I would have still produced just 2 feeders but larger cups than 4 small ones as it is. I usually mix everything in a single bowl for the parrot rather than separating things by bowls. Also I use a water bottle so 2 bowls is definitely enough for me. I suppose for parrots that drink from a dish, 3 bowls is better so they went with 4. I don't have to leave all the bowls in so the extra doors and capability don't really hurt.
As I do not have the bird yet, I cannot give you the bird's review but I can tell you what I think of the cage compared to the powder coat cage I have for Kili. There are many things I like but some that I dislike by comparison. I think the steel cage feels sturdier but the aluminum one is lighter and somewhat more manageable (relative to sizes). The aluminum cage is very easy to assemble, it just snaps in place. I don't think the parrot can disassemble it though because gravity, friction, and shear strength hold everything together. I think there is a high premium for the aluminum material so unfortunately the cage suffers from some poorer quality/workmanship that may go into the powder coat ones. Like I mentioned the food cups and perches for a start. Also it just doesn't appear as neatly built. I'm sure once the bird gets to either kind of cage that's all over. But it just doesn't look the quality of the price you pay for it. I think in the long term it still comes out worth it and it will last longer but it just doesn't look finely produced. For the kind of money they charge, I think they should have upped it a little bit more but made a deluxe quality cage out of the concept rather than a very expensive economy kind of cage.
You can see the poor workmanship in how certain pieces don't come perfectly together without a gap or you can see in the picture that the food bowls are crooked and not level. The feeder doors are much lower on this cage than Kili's but the jury is still out whether I like that or not. Actually I think that will probably end up a good thing because Kili rarely uses the bottom of her cage. This way the parrot can use bottom for feeding and top the way it normally would anyway. The down size to low food bowls is that there is a better chance it will poop or drop things into them. Also the food bowls (plastic and metal replacement ones) are smaller than the ones on Kili's cage but the bird is bigger.
There was one thing broken on the cage when I got it but I didn't bother exchanging cause it was an easy fix for me. On the bottom shelf, one of the screws wasn't holding because the hole for the bolt was stripped too wide and the bolt wouldn't tighten. I have my own workshop so I easily found a screw just slightly thicker that I used to secure into the stripped hole but I can imagine this being a big problem for most other people. Basically the biggest failure of the manufacturer in this case I would say is that they are selling an expensive cage but at economy quality and configuration. I don't think people would notice $50/$100 more as a major increase but would appreciate an all inclusive well built cage for the money. It is hard to match the price of the quality to the perceived value because of the expensiveness of the aluminum. It is still a good cage and I recommended but still to this day I have not come across the "perfect parrot cage" that has every feature you'd want, well made, and still reasonably priced.
Here's a list of things I noticed about it already.
Dislike: -A bit wobbly -Poorer workmanship -Plastic cups -Machined dowels -Food bowls smaller than on Kili's smaller cage
Like: -Aluminum (material, no rust, light weight) -Very big door -Latching systems (both main door and food doors) -Extra space afforded by dome option -Color and options of colors -Seed catcher loops into the inside of cage so everything should fall in -Possible to "upgrade" to stainless food bowls -Bottom shelf -Easy assembly -Size and look