Accessories Into Necessities
Pet-bird retailers and consumers can start to envision bird cage accessories as much more than just a simple perch or water cups inside the cage.
By definition, an accessory is something added to something else to make it more useful, versatile or attractive.
Considering the variety of bird products available on the market today, there are more ways than ever to turn a customer’s bird cage from drab to fab with the right avian essentials.
Dog and cat owners have to deal with shed fur. For pet-bird owners, it’s food, toys and shed feathers, the challenge of cage fallout.
Fortunately, many cage accessories are designed with mess management in mind.
Petmate, an Arlington, Texas, manufacturer, offers cage essentials through its JW Insight line that help keep bird-generated debris inside the cage, a feature many bird owners find appealing and necessary.
A top seller from the JW Insight line is the Sand Perch, which encourages birds to perch more toward the middle of the cage rather than at the very edge and is especially suitable for birds that can generate a good amount of debris despite their smaller size, mainly parakeets and cockatiels, said Emilye Schmale, Petmate’s corporate communications manager.
“It’s wider at the base and gradually slender as it extends into the cage,” said Schmale, who added that the perch’s varied widths also help prevent arthritis.
Another product in the JW Insight line is the Clean Cup Feed & Water Cup, which has a transparent, plastic shield to prevent food and debris from falling outside the cage, Schmale said.
“This cup was designed to be clear so that birds do not mind putting their heads inside,” said Schmale. “Bird owners are very aware of the common issues with birdkeeping, and when they find products that address these problems, they are thrilled.”
Products That Stimulate
Pet-bird owners want to outfit their birds’ cages with accessories that are as fun and multifunctional as they are practical.
A climbing net, for example, can function as a perch; it also encourages exercise and play.
Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply LLC in West Hartford, Conn., recently introduced a climbing wall made of a half- to three-quarter-inch-thick coconut husk mat.
“It has nice squares, and I have items hanging off it for birds to chew on while they’re on it,” Tucker said.
Another top seller is Overboard, a hanging perch/toy with a plastic base that can be filled with foot toys that encourage the bird’s natural inclination to push them out and over onto the cage floor, Tucker said.
Wild birds spend 80 percent of their time foraging, which includes chewing items and rooting through materials in a constant search for edibles, said Ronny Uehling, manager of Gardena, Calif.-based Planet Pleasures, a bird toy manufacturer.
“Most of the time, parrots in the wild are chewing up things in their search for food,” said Uehling. “They have to be efficient about it and quickly move on to the next item to chew, so we need to incorporate foraging opportunities into the cage setup.”
To meet that constant chewing need, Planet Pleasures offers a variety of shreddable items, Uehling said.
“We have plenty that you can put in the cage to create a stimulating environment, such as our Shredders, which are woven palm leaves that can be wrapped around perches or tied onto cage bars, or our piñata-style toys that the bird can climb on and chew,” Uehling said.
Perches Can Add to Cage Real Estate
Perches are an important yet often overlooked accessory for bird cages. Many avian cages come with a standard dowel perch that stretches across the length of the cage for access to food and water stations. Unfortunately, many pet retailers and new bird owners mistake this for the end-all, be-all of perching options. Perches can add more real estate within the cage by creating pathways in what would otherwise be empty space. Multiple perches, moreover, encourage movement within the cage and promote foot and leg health by offering varying levels to stand on.
Ian Brown and Richard Horvitz, owners of the Golden Cockatoo, an avian retail store in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said that the key to a happy pet-bird home is creating a housing setup that incorporates a variety of natural wood perches with different diameters at multiple levels in the cage to encourage chewing and good, strong feet.
In many cases, perches constitute a product category many stores neglect to promote.
“A lot of stores don’t have a nice variety of perches; they don’t want to take up that space,” Tucker said.
She recommends supplying bird cages not only with perches of different diameters, but also having a flat-style perch where birds can spread their feet, a concept that was an inspiration for Greenfeather’s Sqwatters perch, a flat perch in which enrichment items, such as foot toys or dry treats, can be placed.
Tucker also said that people neglect to offer a place where the bird can have privacy within the cage, which is why she created the Sleeper, an over-the-perch cover.
“It hangs down over the perch like a cabana, and because it is cut into strips, the bird can peak out of it if it wants to,” said Tucker. “What makes it a great cage accessory is that the bird can have that hiding ability but not chew up the bottom, like some birds do with traditional bird sleep huts. Some birds even play hide-and-seek in it.”
When it comes to properly bolting a perch to a cage, simply placing it so it rests across the diameter of the cage is not the only option, and all too often, perches actually are placed in the wrong locations.
“It is important to educate consumers about how and where to place a perch in their bird’s cage,” Schmale said. “Birds naturally want to be up in the highest position available within the cage, but keep the bird’s height in mind so they should not have to hunch when on this perch. And always make sure that there is perch access to the food and water stations.”
Common mistakes Golden Cockatoo’s Brown and Horvitz have observed include not offering enough levels of bird play and foot stimulation, especially in regard to textured grooming perches.
“Many people are given bad information regarding the placement of the sandy or grit [grooming] perches; they should never be the highest perch in the cage due to the damage they can do to the bird’s foot pads,” Brown said.
A grooming-style perch should be used as a stepping perch—from the food perch, and then to the grit perch on the way to the top roosting perch, for example—Brown added.
One Size Does Not Fit All
When shopping for accessories, bird owners also need to keep their birds’ individual needs in mind; not every cage setup is conducive for every bird.
“What you give to an Amazon parrot that likes to chew things up would not work for a mechanically inclined bird like an African grey, which wants to figure things out and explore it,” said Planet Pleasures’ Uehling. “Other species such as cockatoos hang upside down, and as long as their beaks can reach things, they are happy as clams. You really have to customize the cage to the species of bird.”
Uehling recommends that retailers strategize with bird owners to customize the cage based on the bird’s personality.
Some parrot species, such as African greys, are primarily ground foragers and appreciate a clean surface on the cage bottom or on a ledge to forage on, while other parrot species, such as lories, are primarily arboreal foragers and prefer enrichment opportunities in the upper area of the cage, he said.
With the right eye for accessories, retailers can help petbird owners not only maintain a cleaner cage, but also create play and foraging areas and comfy retreats within a cage.
The result is often a healthier, happier pet, which, in turn, makes for a positive pet experience for the owner and a repeat customer for the retailer.
|Selling the Cage|
When parrots were first kept as domesticated pets, the cage was only thought to be a means for preventing a bird from flying away or otherwise getting loose and wreaking havoc. Fortunately, cage standards have come a long way, as they currently offer features that result in healthier pet birds and happier owners.
Here are six cage features that make great selling points.
1. A removable bottom tray allows for the bottom of the cage to be removed and the debris to be dumped directly into the trash. It also makes it easier to scrub or hose down the cage bottom, which is typically the messiest part of the cage.
2. The wheels on the foot of the cage simplify moving it from one location to another, especially for large cages that are too heavy to carry.
3. A cage with a built-in playtop offers an additional spot for the bird to hang out on, much like a separate, stand-alone playstand would, but without taking up additional space. Some cage playtops have their own pullout tray, which makes keeping this area clean much easier.
4. Outside-accessible feeding stations eliminate the need to reach inside the cage to replenish food and water. This is especially helpful for birds that tend to be territorial around the cage or for fully flighted birds, and it can make a caretaker’s or pet sitter’s task of feeding a bird much easier and safer.
5. A flared cage skirt incorporated into the cage’s design directs debris back into the cage instead of onto the floor. The slanted skirt essentially causes food bits, chewed-up toy parts and other debris to slide down into the bottom of the cage. Another mess manager is a grate at the cage bottom, which can keep a bird from chewing on the cage liner or accessing debris that has fallen onto the cage bottom.
6. A slide lock on the door handle or pin that drops in place behind the door to outside-accessible food bowls can add an extra line of defense to foil a feathered escape artist. Similarly, some cages offer a mounted metal triangle-shaped hinge on the inside of the cage and a metal hinge on the outside of the cage for an extra escape-proof element. If the bird manages to open the door lock, these hinges prevent the bird from pushing or pulling the cage door open.—Laura Doering
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Pet Product News