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Avian Marketplace: Perched For Profit

Posted: July 19, 2013, 11:30 a.m. EDT

Beyond the wooden dowel, the newest roosts of rest are natural and more active.

By Laura Doering

A cage without perches is like a home with no place to sit or sleep, and retailers can sell themselves short by assuming that perches and swings need no explanation.

A single perch will not offer everything a bird needs, according to Terry Gao, owner of Caitec Corp. in Baltimore.

"You really want to know the purpose of what the bird owner wants,” said Gao, adding that perches come in many forms, because birds and their owners often develop their own ideas of a perch.

Birds Perched
Customers should understand the security, enrichment and foot benefits that perches offer. iStock/Thinkstock

"It depends on how you define ‘perch,’” he said. "We have other products like ladders, which also can be perch places.”

Ladders can be run horizontally to create a bridge or vertically to create a climbing perch, for example.

At FeatherNest, an avian-only retail store in Williamsburg, Va., owner Barbara Hobbs pointed out that many cages come with a single perch—typically a dowel or one made from plastic that might or might not be the correct size for that particular bird species. As a result, new bird owners erroneously might believe that a single perch will meet their birds’ perching needs.

"They’ll buy a cage that has a small plastic perch and think that’s OK,” Hobbs said.

"People don’t realize that they shouldn’t leave the dowel perches in the cage when they buy it,” said Dona Austin, owner of the Mega Bird Store in Cocoa, Fla. "They can keep the dowel perch as a backup but offer multiple perching options like rope and manzanita. I always suggest multiple perches, because birds need to keep moving their feet. A lot of bird owners don’t know what they need.”

According to Hobbs, parrots need multiple perching options that offer different textures in order to maintain foot health.

"Manzanita or java wood branch-type perches are good for soft-billed birds, such as canaries and finches,” she said. "Larger birds especially need graduate textures.”

It’s up to the retailer to ensure that customers make educated buying decisions when it comes to a topic as important as perching.

"Retailers need to educate themselves about proper perch size for each species and the types of perches that work well with each type of pet bird and share their knowledge,” Hobbs said.

Know Perch Placement
Austin said retailers should educate customers about proper perch placement to help them avoid common mistakes.

"One thing I didn’t know when I first got into birds is that perches should not overlap, otherwise the droppings will fall onto the lower perch and you’ll have constant cleanup,” she said.

Hobbs added that many bird owners do not know that their birds need a perch placed high in the cage as a perch spot to sleep on at night, and retailers might miss an opportunity to educate their bird customers about offering their pets a nighttime roost.

"One perch needs to be high in the cage to create a spot for the bird to sleep [because] it is very stressful for birds to sit low in the cage,” Hobbs said.

Natural Perching
"It’s been known for a long time that birds prefer natural perching surfaces,” said Rich O’Brien, owner of Manzanita Burlworks in Borrego Springs, Calif., whose company offers perches and play gyms in natural red (bark-on) manzanita and sandblasted manzanita. "Bird owners—and their birds—by far prefer sandblasted manzanita.”

Many veterinarians recommend sandblasted manzanita because of its texture, O’Brien said, adding that it is easy for a bird to grip, and there are no oils that could potentially harm a bird.

Another reason for manzanita’s popularity said industry insiders is that it can better withstand the mighty parrot’s beak.

"Owners of larger parrots like manzanita because it is harder for larger birds to chew it up,” O’Brien said, adding that owners of small birds like manzanita perches and play gyms because they offer a more natural aesthetic.

"Smaller birds are not chewers in the sense that macaws and other larger birds are,” he said. "It’s not as important for small bird owners that the manzanita is hard; they like the look and that it helps maintain foot health.”

Hobbs said she often recommends Polly’s Cholla Cactus perch to her customers.

"It’s all-natural and sundried, and it can go in the dishwasher,” she said, adding that for softbills, such as canaries and finches, she suggests manzanita or java wood branch-type perches.

Austin has noticed natural perches increasing in popularity, as more bird owners become aware that birds need more than a single dowel perch in the cage. Her store often suggests dragon wood as a strong, natural wood perch.

"Dragon wood is similar to manzanita but not as slick,” she added.

Parrotopia Sandy Perch Products in Grants Pass, Ore., is going more natural, said JoAnn Stuckey, international manager. She said that the Parrotopia Jungle Fever perch is made from abeca, a stronger fiber similar to natural wood.

"It also has blocks on it so birds can play and chew,” she added.

Active Perching
Not all perches are designed for sitting still; after all, wild birds bounce and climb from tree branch to tree branch, which certainly are not fixed structures. Pet parrots benefit from perches and swings that encourage activity and work the bird’s feet, according to avian experts.

Coiled boing perches are designed to bounce as the bird moves about, and some tabletop perches, such as Sweet Feet & Beak’s Tweeter Totter rocker-styled perch, are designed to move or bounce while the bird uses it.

Tabletop perches can serve as training perches as well as a place for a parrot to spend time near its owner away from its cage. Caitec recently launched The Percher, which can be used as a handheld perch or a freestanding tabletop perch to allow a bird to perch and be trained. The Percher is made up of a perch, a cone, a handle and a base that twist and lock together for multiple configurations.

"You can take it anywhere, like to your office or home, and it is helpful for new bird owners who might be afraid of being bit,” Gao said.

A Reason to Stock Up
Retailers recommended reminding customers that perches are not meant to last forever. Parrots are inclined to chew, and a determined parrot can chew its way through its perch or otherwise render the perch unsafe by chewing up its components, industry insiders said.

"I love rope perches, but you have to watch them for fraying and replace them when necessary,” Austin said.
She recommended offering parrots adequate chew toys to deter those that have a habit of destroying their perches.

"People need to replace perches from time to time,” Austin said. "I love calcium perches, which are made to be destroyed, because they also offer enrichment.” <HOME>


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