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Why We Use and Recommend Our Acrylic Cages by Terry Beaudoin

Over the years we have seen an upsurge in the number of companies producing and selling acrylic bird cages. Along with these cages have come numerous criticisms from reliable sources. And rightly so, we feel that the bulk of the acrylic cages manufactured today are of very poor quality. Unfortunately some critics have included "all acrylic cages" in their reviews of these inferior products. We would like to use this opportunity to explain why since 1987 we have been designing, exclusively using, and selling acrylic bird cages.

THE PROBLEMS: Here is a list of comments that we have heard from both customers and authorities when first discussing acrylic cages.

Ventilation Most acrylic cages made have a few holes drilled in them for ventilation and are inadequately ventilated, this can cause respiratory problems in birds. Our cages have slots machined into each side and the top. On average these slots take up 40% or more of the sides and nearly 50% of the top. In using them since 1988 we have never experienced a problem with over heating, condensation or any health problems that could be associated with improper ventilation.

Climbing Even when they see the many horizontal slots in our cages many people wonder whether their birds will be able to climb the cages and get proper exercise. This can be answered in two ways. First, birds can climb these acrylic cages quite easily, once accustomed to the cages they can hang up side down from the top and swing from side to side. Secondly, if a bird's cage is outfitted with the proper perches and toys and it has an external playgym or tree, it is not as important for them to use the sides of the cage to climb on.

Scratching or Damaging the Cage It is impossible for a birds beak or nails to scratch or break the properly sized high grade acrylic used in our cages. Scott, a close friend and knowledgeable bird owner, houses 'Lou', a Greenwing Macaw, in an acrylic cage. Since 1993 he has been constantly biting and pulling on his cage and has never damaged it. Our Hyacinth Macaw, Mateo, has now lived in one of our cages since 1999. The only way he has ever been able to damage it (we have now found out how to prevent this) is by laying a sharp object, usually a piece of stainless steel he has broke off of another toy) in the lower part of his beak (called "padding" the beak in Hyacinths) and then rubbing it again and again in the same spot at the end of one of the slots - creating a slight groove. Again, it did not break and a metal cage finish would have been further damaged! By redesigning how the slots lay out in our XL Aviary and larger size cages as well as making sure Mateo does not have access to stainless steel bolts (from one of his puzzle toys) of smaller diameter than 3/8" (he breaks one quarter inch stainless steel metal bolts regularly) we have stopped this. Metal toys and fasteners in the cage can scratch it, however if they are properly placed and used scratching is easily avoided. Most scratching is easily buffed out using a readily available compound (Novus #2 or #3 polish) designed for this purpose - you may contact us if you are in need of some of this.

Cleaning Many people have voiced concerns that the cages would get dirty too easily or would be difficult to clean. This is a situation that to a person who takes minimum care of their bird or is unconcerned with the safety of it's environment may seem true. Acrylic cages do show droppings, down, food and dust easier than metal cages do. Are they dirtier? No, they only show the dirt that is there. A metal cage has bars, corners and framing that conceal the dirt. The cage may look clean but it is not. If a concerned bird owner can see the amount of 'dirt' that is on their cage they can clean it, and therefore have a healthier environment for their bird. Metal cages have numerous corners, connections and cross pieces. When these are viewed under a microscope we can see a rough, jagged landscape of surfaces that can harbor bacteria, waste and other potentially harmful substances. Dr. Branson Ritchie's book Avian Viruses: Function and Control has a wonderful illustration of this. Not only is it difficult to get these areas visibly clean it is nearly impossible to get them biologically clean. An acrylic cage has very few corners or connecting areas, those that it does have are much smoother and consistent than in a metal cage. Also the fact that the acrylic cages are made up of smooth flat surfaces instead of bars or grates allows the wiping down of one solid surface instead of cleaning many separate bars. In this way the amount of time it takes to keep our birds in a clean, healthy environment is greatly lessened. We use and recommend Oxyfresh Cleansing Gele' (we are an authorized Oxyfresh Distributor) to clean any of our acrylic products - (cages, carriers, gyms, feeders & waterers, etc..) as well as any other cages, crocks, perches, toys or whatever else you might need a safe cleaner for. We use it at a dilution rate of 1 tablespoon per 32oz(1 quart) of purified water.

Structural Integrity and Material Safety There are concerns about these cages standing the test of time and holding up during emergencies. A respected author recently questioned whether acrylic cages would hold up during an earthquake (she's from California). Our acrylic cages are very made using only the highest quality materials and workmanship by a local company. When they are delivered to the store they come in the back of a pickup. A blanket is put down to protect the cage but no other protection is used, We have never had one fall apart or crack or receive any other damage during transport. They are constructed of the highest grade acrylic and the few seams are made with the same technique that is used in higher quality acrylic aquariums. These aquariums have been used for decades throughout the world and have held up to the pressure of the water they contain as well as outside forces.

On a related note, we infrequently have people ask whether our 'plastic' cages are safe for the bird. Often these people are worried about the chemicals or fumes related with plastics. Acrylic itself is safe for birds, not only is it too hard for them to chip, or scrape or break but it is also inert, - if they were to ingest some it would pass through their system unaltered. There are no chemical residues on the cage or in the seams. The chemicals used to seal the cage evaporate away as they are used leaving only the acrylic itself behind. Again these methods are used with acrylic fish tanks, if there was any harmful residue it would quickly kill the fish exposed to it. And, unlike metal cages, there are no dangerous welds, solders or finishes. In particular, with the recent information on lead and or zinc toxicity from many metal cages it is nice to know that this is not a possible worry with an acrylic cage. Please take a look at the veterinary article by Dr. Tammy Jenkins in our Educational Articles Section:

This is the safest 'finish' available on any cage. Only medical grade stainless steal starts off as safe and resilient, and with time even stainless steal can pit and rust. Which relates to the longevity of the cage. An acrylic cage properly made and cared for could theoretically outlast any bird. It will not rust, peal or tarnish, the best metal cages will rust often within a few years. We have a number of acrylic cages over seven years old that are still in use and looking as good as they did when they were new. 'Merlin', Terry's Dusky Pionus, lived in the same cage since 1980. His cage looks as good as the day it was made.

Those are the major questions we receive about the cages. We have used our acrylic cages since 1987. We have slowly improved on our design until settling on a style of cage that we feel is superior to any others made. This is not a 'fad' cage or a flash in the pan design. We aren't jumping on the bandwagon and trying to make some quick money off of a neat looking cage. In fact, we make less money selling a customer an acrylic cage then we would on an equivalent metal cage. The local company that manufactures our acrylic cages makes almost no profit off the cage due to the high cost of quality acrylic and the time consuming 'handmade' manufacturing process. We offer these cages because we feel they are the best. When we sell one of our baby birds we are much happier sending it home in an acrylic cage then in even the best of metal cages.

They are the best cages available, however, our acrylic cages are not perfect. Here are a few of the considerations or drawbacks of these cages.

Carelessness Though your bird can not break the cage, you could if you are careless. Just like a metal cage, acrylic cages were not designed to be dropped, aggressively pulled on or hit. Though they will not shatter and form dangerous jagged edges, (which metal cages can possibly do.) they can crack or break if mishandled. They are not fragile and hold up perfectly to normal use. All it takes is showing a little care and common sense when working with the cage. We have many customers whose children are responsible for the care of the acrylic cage and they do just fine. If damage is done to the cage it can be repaired much easier and safer than a metal cage could be and often there are no visible signs of the repair.

Cleaning products It is possible to ruin the look of the cage by using harsh chemicals to clean it. Chemicals that would damage the cage are also dangerous for the bird and should not be used. As mentioned earlier - we use and recommend Oxyfresh Cleansing Gele' (we are an authorized Oxyfresh Distributor) to clean any of our acrylic products - (cages, carriers, gyms, feeders & waterers, etc..) as well as any other cages, crocks, perches, toys or whatever else you might need a safe cleaner for. We use it at a dilution rate of 1 tablespoon per 32oz(1 quart) of purified water.

In the case of a cage that has been neglected, or cleaned with abrasive or harsh cleaners and damaged, it is possible to use some of the industrial plastic cleaners to restore the acrylic to it's original clarity. If this must be done only acrylic safe products should be used, such as Novus products. The bird must be removed, the area well ventilated and afterwards all residue should be washed away. There is an excellent article available in the educational section of our site entitled: "Parrot Island Acrylic Cage and Carrier Care ", which details exactly how we take care of our acrylic cages on a day to day basis. Access We do not recommend that you allow your bird to climb on the outside of an acrylic cage unsupervised. Stronger beaked birds or persistent birds could possibly damage hinges or latches that they can not reach from inside the cage. We have always recommended against allowing birds free access to the exterior of their cage, whether metal or acrylic, as it almost always causes problems with cage dominance and territorial aggression in birds.

Even considering these few drawbacks it is still easy to see how wonderful these cages can be. They have many other good points beyond the ones we have covered. Here are a few more of the reasons why we recommend our acrylic cages.

Cleanliness Not only are the cages easy to clean but they make it much easier to keep your house clean. When your bird bathes, plays with his wet food or is molting most of the mess stays in the cage and it is not splattered on the floor and walls surrounding it. Nothing could contain all of the mess and still be safe for the birds, but our cages come very close. Because of this we recommend a very specific care and cleaning schedule - anyone purchasing an acrylic cage is specifically trained before they take it home. In our store we work very hard at keeping things clean. We are always rewarded for this by comments from impressed customers. All of our birds are kept in acrylic cages. The store stays cleaner and their cages are spotless. As previously mentioned - there is an excellent handout available in the educational section of our site entitled: Parrot Island Acrylic Cage and Carrier Care, which details exactly how we take care of our acrylic cages on a day to day basis - just click on the above underlined link in blue.

Feather Condition When a bird climbs in a metal cage its feathers can be damaged by the bars. This can result in a ragged looking bird. In an acrylic cage the smooth sides and slots allow the feathers to slide along undisturbed resulting in a bird with much healthier feather condition.

We have seen and heard of numerous cases where birds have injured themselves in metal cages. While this usually occurs in the lower quality economy cages it has even happened in the better metal cages. Birds have gotten feet, beaks, wings and feathers stuck in the joints of cages. There have been cases of birds getting their identification band stuck on a bar of their cage. We see very frequent cases of young cockatiels beating their wings bloody during night frights in a metal cage. These and other dangers either can not happen or are at least greatly reduced in a properly made acrylic cage.

Also, as was mentioned earlier there is no finish on an acrylic cage. In a metal cage there is always some sort of finish and/or welds- some are downright deadly, such as solder, and should be avoided. A recent conference of avian veterinarians has recognized zinc poisoning from poor quality metal cage finishes and some toy parts to be a serious health risk. To our knowledge no one makes a finish that is impervious to a birds beak. Galvanizing, enamel, chrome and brass finishes all can easily be removed and consumed by birds, as can the dangerous welds in many cages. The high quality metal cages typically use electrostatic powder coating paints on their cages. They are safer and stronger but they are not strong enough to resist a persistent bird of even the smaller hookbill species. Though we believe them to be safe, we do not know how dangerous these finishes might be in the long run and when they deteriorate or chip the underlying metal may be a problem.

Because of the ease of cleaning, the awareness of when it is dirty, the lack of uncleanable areas and no possible toxicity, it is possible to keep your bird in a healthy environment. Most birds spend their entire lives in contact with rotting feces and food. These birds are constantly having to fight off the dangerous bacteria, mold and fungi that grow in these conditions. If they do not get sick directly from the environment their immune system is so depleted that their resistance to other disease is lowered and their bodies virtually wear out. They die of 'old age' long before they are even out of their prime. In our acrylic cages it is possible to avoid this, in fact it is easy to avoid it. In all metal cages it is difficult and in some impossible.

Many owners have told us of how they feel that their bird is much more at ease in an acrylic cage. An unobstructed view without looking through bars does seem to be enjoyed by most birds. The birds we keep as pets are 'prey' species - this means that they are a food source for predatory animals in the wild. These birds rely mostly on their vision to save them from those predators. This may explain in part why birds seem to do so well in these cages. We have had many more problems getting birds that are raised in acrylic cages to adapt to metal cages than the other way around. A not unimportant fact is that most people seem to be more comfortable with the openness of the acrylic cage as opposed to the 'jail like' bars of a metal cage.

In summary we would like to point out that we believe there are some very well made metal cages available. However, having used both stainless steel and acrylic cages we strongly recommend the acrylic. We wrote this article mainly to answer some criticisms that we have seen aimed at 'all' acrylic cages. As we have stated, we agree that there are many bad acrylic cages out there, just like there are many horrible metal cages made. The acrylic cages we use and recommend are as superior to those poor quality acrylic cages as the best electrostatically powder-coated, or stainless steal cages are to the economy galvanized and painted metal cages that are still being sold. We have been extremely satisfied with the acrylic cages in every aspect, and in fact we almost look forward to talking to someone who is against them because once they see them and understand how and why they are designed they usually change their opinion.

Finally, we are also very proud of the fact that several of the local avian veterinary specialists use our cages for their own pet birds as well as recommend them highly to their clients. Sally Blanchard of the Pet Bird Information Council and editor of the Companion Parrot Quarterly (fka --Pet Bird Report) uses one of our cages in her office for her famous Caique ''Spikey Le Bec.'' Sally refers to how much she likes these cages in the ''Adventures of Spikey Le Bec'' segments in Issue #40 from July, 1998 also in Issue #46 from February, 2000 as well as a wonderful review in Issue #47 on P.88. We are currently (September, 2003) designing a special acrylic cage for Sally for a Bare-Eyed Cockatoo she adopted that has had to have a leg removed. This cage will be a much safer and better environment for this bird to live in, as it will have a number of customizations to help the bird comfortably climb, move and rest in the cage.

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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