Gravity being what it is, even a creature made for flying spends a lot of time on its feet. That is why it's a shame that too many bird lovers give perches too little thought, forcing their pets to spend their lives on the plain wooden dowels that come as standard equipment with most cages.
The good news is that poor perch selection is easy to remedy, with lots of choices in specialty bird shops as well as bird-supply catalogs and websites.
Remember three things when it comes to perches: safety, variety and destructibility. Safety because, well, that's kind of obvious. Variety because a wide array of shapes, sizes and materials will help keep your bird's feet comfortable and healthy. Destructibility? Perches, like toys, are appropriate targets for the demolition urges that help keep birds busy, fit and free of boredom.
Here's what you'll find when looking for perches:
Wooden dowels: There's nothing really wrong with these standard-issue perches, but you can do better by your bird. While it won't hurt to leave a wooden dowel in the cage, take out the extras and add variety to your bird's environment.
Rope: Great stuff! Rope perches are both comfortable and entertaining.
They're easy to clean, too. Just run them through the washer and dryer, or put them in the top rack of your dishwasher. One kind of rope perch – the bouncy coil – is truly wonderful, combining the best elements of a rope, a swing and a bungee cord. These coils are great fun for your bird, and help to keep "perch potatoes" more active.
The downside to rope is the possibility of your pet catching a toe on a frayed part of the perch or swallowing loose strands of the rope. Watch closely and replace these perches when the rope gets stringy.
Mineral: Almost every bird should have a mineral perch, also called a concrete or cement perch. The rough texture feels good underfoot, and the surface is great for helping to keep nails blunt and beaks clean and well-groomed (birds like to wipe their beaks against the rough surface).
Skip the sandpaper: Sandpaper perches are uncomfortable and have been known to cause foot problems. They should be replaced with a mineral perch. Read the packaging material to choose the right diameter for your pet.
Plastic: Two kinds of plastic, acrylic and PVC, are popular because of their sturdiness and relative ease of cleaning. If you choose acrylic, be sure to add other chewable perch options to your bird's environment. In general, acrylic is better than PVC, because the latter can too easily end up causing problems in a bird's stomach. (PVC perches can be great for supervised use, though.)
Tree branches: Most fruit and nut trees (almond, apple, prune and all citrus) are fine to use, as are ash, elm, dogwood and magnolia. If you can get your pruners on some manzanita, go for it – it's a hard wood that can stand up to a lot of abuse. Leave the bark on all branches for your bird to peel off.
Cut the branches to fit in the cage, scrub with soap, rinse well and air-dry. Be sure to break off and discard any insect pods before putting the branch in the cage.
Check all perches regularly, looking for wear and safety problems. Think of perches as replaceable cage furnishings, helping to fight boredom and keeping your bird comfortable and healthy. The extra labor and cost involved in keeping a fresh variety of perches in the cage is more than offset by the benefits of good perches for your bird.