Perches for birds come in an increasingly wide variety, and many people give very little thought to what sort of perch they buy for their bird. When you get a new bird you learn so much new information that something like your bird’s foot health and the importance of proper perches can fall right to the bottom of your research list (You don’t have a research list? That must just be me.) never to return.
The humble bird perch is actually an incredibly important piece of bird furniture, it has a huge impact on the health and happiness of your feathered friend! You can buy perches that attach to a cage, or you can buy large freestanding perches to place around your home, but whatever you choose, makes sure it’s safe perch for your bird and healthy for their feet.
I’ve put together an infographic to give you a quick introduction to the topic, but be sure to keep reading after the picture for some more in-depth information on how a bird’s foot works and how to keep them healthy.
About Bird Feet
Have you ever wondered how a bird sleeps perched in a tree without falling over? If I decided to sleep in a tree with nothing but my grip on a branch to keep me there, I would fall out the first time I started to doze off! The answer is actually a perfect demonstration of just how cool a bird’s foot is.
The way a bird’s foot works is an amazing piece of evolutionary engineering. A bird’s leg has four main bones. They have a femur with a Tibia and Fibula just like you do, but they also have a bone called the Tarsometatarsus directly underneath their Tibia and Fibula, which is the bone that makes up the part of a bird’s leg that’s easiest to see.
The cool thing though, is how these bones interact with the foo their connected to by a series of tendons. When a bird’s leg is straight, it can open and close its foot at will the same way you would open and close your hand.
When a bird’s leg is bent like it is when they are perching on a branch, the bones lock together and the tendons cause the toes of a bird’s foot to clamp shut. Some of the tendons even have minute projections on their underside that close together like a ratchet!
All of these biological mechanisms come together to securely lock a bird’s foot to whatever they’re perching on, making it almost impossible for them to fall, even when they’re asleep. The bird’s foot won’t unlock from the perch until they straighten their leg, unlocking the entire mechanism.
Don’t be fooled by the name that sounds like it should belong to Albus Dumbledore’s clumsy cousin, Bumblefoot is a serious, and sometimes deadly, condition that is very common in captive birds.
Bumblefoot is a condition that causes dark circular scabs on the bottom of a bird’s feet. The condition then causes redness, swelling and irritation and can lead to a thickening of the skin, lameness, ulcers on the feet, and eventually death if left untreated.
The worst part about Bumblefoot is that it’s easy to prevent! If you take proper precautions you can keep your bird from ever experiencing Bumblefoot, although certain factors like age and obesity do increase their likelihood of developing the condition.
This is where the importance of perches comes in because one of the most important things you can do to protect your bird’s feet is to make sure they have numerous different kinds of appropriate perches to sit on.
I’ll go into my recommendations for perches in the next section, but here in the Bumblefoot section, I’ll tell you that you should avoid using smooth plastic or wooden dowel perches as your only perch. The smooth surfaces of these perches are not natural for a bird’s foot, especially if the dowel perch is the only one they have available. A wooden dowel perch can be safe in your bird’s cage (if it isn’t splintery!) as long the bird has access to a variety of other perches as well.
In the previous section, I told you about how a bird’s foot clamps onto a perch. That means that your bird’s foot will have a constant even pressure on it with a dowel perch, unlike with a natural branch. That constant pressure can cause the skin to start thinning on the bottom of the foot, which can eventually lead to Bumblefoot as well as cracks, sores, and infections.
If a bird’s feet aren’t taken care of properly and they develop Bumblefoot it can lead to amputation and even death. Proper perches are one of the main ways you can protect your bird.
One of the other important causes of Bumblefoot is unsanitary cage conditions. Like with any pet, providing a clean livening environment is the best form of preventative care.
So What Kind of Perch Should You Use?
The subject of perches for birds can get a little contentious in some circles. Everyone has different experiences and opinions, and in the right circumstances, almost any perch can be dangerous. Generally, though the safest perch you can buy for your bird is one made out of natural wood like Bottlebrush, Dragon wood or Grapevine. Wood perches naturally vary in diameter along their length, letting the bird exercise their feet, they also have the added benefit of being safe for your bird to chew on.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re buying perches is that you need to create a varied and interesting environment for your bird. Although wood perches are my favorite, you can get perches made from other materials for variety.
Before buying a perch make sure to do a bit of research to makes sure the perch is safe for your bird. Ideally, you would have at least three perches, but make sure you at least have more than one perch in your cage or aviary, and make sure the bird has perches of varying diameters and textures to choose from. Keep in mind that larger birds like an African Grey will need perches of a much larger diameter than something small like a Canary.
Many birds really enjoy rope perches but some of their people don’t agree. Rope perches have the potential to be dangerous if the rope gets old and loose or there are a lot of stringy fibers hanging off it. You can help minimize the risk of rope toys by trimming any frayed or loose pieces often and replacing the toy when it gets too old.
Another area that many bird people disagree on is grooming perches. Grooming perches are made of concrete, sandpaper, sand or pumice. I would recommend that you generally avoid sand or cement perches, they can be too abrasive and cause damage to your bird’s feet. Some birds have also been known to eat the sand off of grooming perches, leading to an emergency vet trip.
With concrete perches, you also run the risk that the concrete wasn’t cured properly, which can give your bird lime burns on their feet if the perch gets wet. To be safe, I would just avoid sand and concrete perches.
In fact, I think you would hard-pressed to find an avian vet who would recommend a grooming perch for your bird, they mostly recommend regular trimming instead. If you are set on a grooming perch, I would recommend a safety pumice perch shaped like a natural branch, ir something made of bird safe matirals like the perch number 2 in this product review.
Wood is Good
In the end, you’ll always be safest with a natural wood perch that you purchase from a reputable source. You can use the branches you find outdoors, but you have to go through a few important steps in order to make sure the wood is safe. Certain woods can be toxic for your bird and natural wood tends to be full of bugs and mites you’ll need to get rid of before it’s safe to give to your bird.
As always, if you have further questions definitely contact your local Avian Vet, they are going to be your best resource when it comes to the safety of your bird.
What are your favorite bird perches, let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!