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An incredibly talented local artist painted a wonderful rain forest mural for a play room in my day care last spring. Thinking how nice it would be to enhance the effect, I thought about integrating a bird display with the mural. My first attempts involved hanging the stuffed birds you see in the upper corner. Lame, definitely lame. I thought, what about real birds? I had read about a day care in Italy that created a focal point for parents and children in their entryway around a pair of caged birds. They spoke at length about how the kids had studied the birds extensively, how the birds gave them months of material in terms of drawing and science investigation and provided a quiet transitional nook for parents, teachers and kids. But what kind of birds?? The hooked beak birds in the pet shop looked quite capable of flying away with a few of our smaller kids. And they definitely made more noise than a room full of head start kids! My staff was already muttering about the anticipated mess the fruition of this project and its inhabitants would certainly bring. I started to research options extensively. It was somewhere between the canary and doves web sites that I stumbled onto to Now these were birds! And actually natives to rain forests! My staff was groaning audibly now. . What about a cage?? I hate cages. The birds flying freely would truly enhance the effect, but was a little too 3D, even for my tastes. More research. I found steel cages, glass cages, acrylic cages, cages out of netting and bamboo, cherry, maple, brass and string.

I wanted to put the birds in our entryway, but this is Michigan, and those little guys were gonna need long johns come January. Cage builders warned me not to go too big or the birds would become suicide aviators. Visions of spinal collars around little rain bowed necks and Popsicle stick backboards laced with dental tape haunted me. I finally settled on a 18 x 24 x 24 acrylic cage that was, as the designer promised me, “like looking at a picture.”

My first two birds settled just fine, but after adding a few more, it started looking like student housing. More research.

I happened onto several reptile supply sites, where I found some truly amazing things. The idea that someone would pay 14,000.00 for a cage for a snake, took my breath away. But it was beautiful and I got to thinking about modifying the design for birds.

Wandering through more reptile sites lead me to a company that would supply me with the components of my choice and design, I would just put them together. Bingo! A few hours of drawing and calculating gave me a plan. I placed an order. My staff collectively sighed with resignation as they always do when a “What if we. . .. “ project of mine approaches critical mass!

The components and the weekend came. The birds (there were six now) watched with much head cocking and tweet-tweeting, curious to witness me creating a cage around myself. I had decided initially on a solid wood back panel and side panels, with Plexiglas sliding doors for the front as I planned to use the cage as a room divider between our foyer and the playroom with the mural. After constructing that, I decided to replace the wood back with Plexiglas so the birds could be seen from both areas and just replaced the wood back panels with plexi from the hardware. The top is pegboard. This is very useful to thread twine through to suspend structures. I could either put lighting inside or out.

I chose to use a wire screen centered in the pegboard, that was framed (36” x 12”) in so I could place a 36” light fixture above the cage, leaving as much room for the birds Inside as possible. I ordered a light fixture that could accommodate a fluorescent natural spectrum (no seasonal affect disorder for these guys) as well as 2 incandescent bulbs. I have recently added another incandescent natural spectrum bulb on the inside, just because my overhead setup didn’t seem to provide all that much light. The 2 incandescent bulbs I use are moonlight simulating bulbs which are also heat emitting – I leave them on all the time in the winter and off during the day in the summer. They illuminate the cage with a shimmering dark purple light at night. I keep a thermometer and hygrometer on the wall inside the cage to keep an eye on humidity and temp and all seems very stable, even during drop off and pick up times, when the doors open and close like it was the after Christmas sale at the mall.

I also ordered a variety of accoutrements to make the place seem more like home. I installed a waterfall, cliff rocks which stick with Velcro to the sides and strung vines in varying diameters and thickness from top to bottom. The waterfall sound is quite calming and adds humidity in the furnace season. The branches are manzanita wood which I drilled holes into and mounted to the wood sides of the cage.

A trip to the craft store for silk vines and a few tasteful orange and purple lilies and iris for color and I was quite pleased with life from inside the cage.

I hung feeders for seed and supplements to keep them out of the poop zone. I hung nesting boxes of different styles so they could get away from it all - they even got a hanging veggie tray!

And hey – what’s a bachelor pad without a hot tub??

Move in day was exciting. It took awhile for them to get comfortable enough to land on the cliffs and to build up their endurance, but now they do touch and go maneuvers going back and forth for several minutes at a time. They love the houses and play inside and outside of them squabbling over nesting material and domains, harmlessly.

I placed all the lights on timers to simplify things. I also purchased bamboo roll up shades, which I planned to install on the front and back of the cage for draft and or light reduction, but haven’t found it necessary to do that.

About once every six weeks I take out all the vines and branches and wash them. I catch all the birds and put them in the small cage, so I can clean all the windows and rocks. About once a week, I clean the greenery under the favorite vines and replace the bedding material as needed – I use a pelleted grass fiber, which seems to be the equivalent of kitty litter and works very well.

Everyone thinks the birds are wonderful. The kids, the parents and even my staff!. We call it the Boy’s Club - it now houses 7 studly little guys who entertain us with their happy dances and songs. And of course, I am thinking about building another one.

The End!

Here are some specifics:

Cage size
5 ft high x 4 ft wide by 2.5 ft deep.
If I did this again, I would make it wider (6 ft instead of 4).
I like the height because I can get in there and clean and catch birds easily.

Lights (Pet Warehouse)
1 natural spectrum fluorescent
2 moonlight incandescent
1 natural spectrum daylight incandescent

Manzanta branches can be bought in all sizes from The Black Jungle people – fascinating collection of all kinds of rain forest wood. I pruned mine down because they were so dense, the birds were flying around them.

Where I got the stuff:

Pet warehouse the reptile division

Cages by design

Black Jungle Terrarium Supply

The mural was painted by
Katherine Larson


Check out my web site bird show (this will take a while to load unless you Have a fast connection, be patient) this article in a slide show – just for fun!
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