While we think of them as “feet”, the bird’s foot more closely resembles the human hand — a complex system of independently mobile digits, interconnected in a web of tendons and ligaments that allow very articulate movement, gentle enough to tip-toe between a freshly laid nest of eggs yet strong enough to grip a tree branch while suspended upside down with full body weight pulled by the force of gravity.

Parrots and parakeets in the wild spend 8-10 hours a day actively searching for food, a skill that requires maneuvering through all levels of the forest from the thin and flexible twigs at the highest point of the canopy to the sturdy middle branches of the understory. While it is sometimes possible to fly from one forest layer to the next it is often more productive to climb, avoiding really thick foliage that may damage one’s wings and snacking on insects found along the way. During this day-to-day activity the parrot’s feet have regular opportunity to compress into a fist, tightly wrapped around a tiny outer branch, and then in the very next motion extend completely flat to perch on a wide branch close to the trunk, a rock, or the ground. This continual extension and compression exercises the foot muscles, keeping them limber and able to do the job for which they are intended throughout the bird’s life.

Now think about your own pet parrot, or those you have seen in pet stores. With food readily accessible these birds spend their days circling a cage, routinely reaching for the same perches again and again without variation. They spend much of the day sitting in a single place, only to then repeat the same pattern. Compared to their wild cousins it can be a rather uneventful life and over time may result in chronic issues with their feet caused by lack of mobility, stretching and strengthening.

While we cannot perfectly replicate the freedom of the wild, we can use the physical needs of wild parrots as an example to improve the quality of life for our feathered companions.

Providing perches that require your bird’s feet to use their full range of motion is the first step toward avoiding arthritis and related chronic mobility issues.

Providing perches that require your bird’s feet to use their full range of motion is the first step toward avoiding arthritis and related chronic mobility issues.

To get started, choose two perches from each category below. You will rotate these six perches in the cage each week, interrupting the regular pattern your bird uses to get around the cage and providing visual interest.

  1. A flat platform perch that allows the bird to extend his feet completely flat.
  2. A mid-width perch that your bird can rest comfortably on with his feet covering 70-80% of the diameter. Lilac branches from The Flock Shop come in varying single width diameters to make this an easy choice!
  3. A super skinny perch that allows your bird’s foot to wrap into a tight fist. For small and medium birds (up to, and including, Quaker / IRN size) we recommend Manzanita branches, and for larger birds an apple wood branch is suitable due to its increased stability. The apple wood have a thicker main branch with spindly twigs coming off in random directions. Large parrots in the wild will hold the thick branch with one foot and reach for a twig with the other foot, allowing them to stretch further for the tasty new growth at the end without risking the branch snapping. Quite clever!