Article published September 2002
One of the most regular questions I am asked by newcomers to canary keeping, is a standard stock cage design.
In the UK, almost to a man, established canary breeders tend to use cages of a box design. They are simplicity itself to make, and the owner needs only rudimentary woodworking skills and a minimum of tools to complete the task. Remember, drilling and screwing beat nailing every time, and a little wood glue here and there will help ensure a secure finished product.
Why a box cage?Why a box cage? Firstly, the cages can be arranged around the available wall space of the bird room, to gain maximum light and utilise the accommodation to its full potential. Using a standard design enables the breeder to fit the cages in a uniform manner, which pays dividends when feeding and caring for the stock. Assuming access to the bird room is from a door placed on one wall of the building, then the facing wall and both side walls can be used to house cages, forming three sides of an oblong or square, with cages arranged in a U formation. From your canaries viewpoint, the box design guards against draughts, whilst a cage front need only be fitted to the cage, minimising the chances of the bird damaging its feathering if contained in an all wire, open cage design.
Firstly, let us consider the size of the cage.
Cage fronts are made in a variety of standard sizes, usually 12,14,16 or 18 inches long by 12 inches high. By placing two or three cage fronts alongside each other, the bird keeper can construct what is known as a double or triple breeding cage. Each cage front is separated from the next by the insertion of a removable slide, allowing the cages to be broken down into individual units, or extended to form a larger flight or breeding cage. The larger breeds of canary require a larger cage, so that cages equipped with 18 inch cage fronts are generally favoured by Yorkshire canary breeders for example, whilst Glosters or other smaller breeds of canary may be housed in slightly smaller 14 or 16 inch cages. The reason for this is so that the birds can comfortably move within their cages and stretch their wings, and when perching can roost comfortably without catching their tails on the cage walls.
A cage depth of 10, 12 or 15 inches is again fairly standard, with 12 inches being perhaps the most popular depth. Factors to consider are the available light, because the deeper the cage, then generally speaking the darker it will be for the inmate. Also, considering that for at least a proportion of the year, cages will serve either as breeding cages, flight cages or weaning cages, it follows that at those times they will house more than one bird. The extra two inches of depth from 10 to 12 inches will make an amazing difference to the well-being of the birds, in these various multi-occupancy situations.
Free standing or built-in units.Cages can be built as free-standing units, and hence are removable, or can be fitted into the birdroom design. Points to consider for freestanding units are the size and weight of the cage, and where they can be moved to, for cleaning, repainting etc. There are some excellent purpose built cage units available on the bird market today, and all will fulfil the fancier's need.
Having used both stand-alone cages and 'fitted' cages, my preference in my current bird room is for fitted cages. The majority of my cages are built in an L shape along the rear and far end wall of my room, arranged in four tiers. This arrangement suits my current circumstances, with the only draw back being that I need to paint the cages 'in-situ'. On the plus side, I no longer have to man-handle cumbersome cage units or racking etc. When you consider the number of cages used by established fanciers today, this factor alone makes for a compelling argument for fitted cages.
Basic Cage design.Back to the design. The choice of cage building materials is a matter for the individual, but most cages are constructed out of plywood, or melamine. Both will provide many years of use if properly treated and maintained, whilst MDF board now provides a viable material for the rear of the cage unit.
The important point to remember is that simplicity is the key. Cages need not be over elaborate, and indeed, the fewer nooks and cranies they contain, the better, from the cleaning and maintenance viewpoints.
When considering the overall length of the cage, you need to take the length of the cage front itself, and allow a small gap at each end, plus the thickness of the wooden sides. In addition, allow for one and a half inches between individual cage fronts, if your intention is to produce double or treble breeding cage units. This caters for a dual batten from the top to the bottom, with a spacer, into which a slide can be inserted. This is used to divide the cage unit from a double or treble breeder to two or three single cages. My preference would be for treble breeders to be constructed, as they are more flexible than double breeders, for example housing one cock and two hens, or enabling a hen to be housed at one end, with the cock left to feed the first round chicks through the cage wires, whilst his hen incubates the second clutch of eggs.
Overall, the design will depend upon the dimensions of the bird room, and will probably combine both double and treble breeders, to fit the available space.
Cutting lists.The measurements to form the top and bottom of a cage unit read as follows:
Double Breeder (inches)
Add 20 inches for a treble breeder, (18 inches cage front, 1.5 dividers and two spacers at 0.25 each)
The height of the cage is the next consideration. In addition to the cage front, an allowance needs to be made for the top and bottom rails. Consideration also needs to be given to the method of fixing the cage front, and the access to the cage for cleaning purposes.
As far as cleaning, there are basically two schools of thought on this. Some cage designs allow for a separate tray to be fitted into the cage, consisting of a plywood bottom and a surrounding ½ inch rail. This tray or drawer is slid out of the cage, enabling the soiled floor covering to be disposed of, and replaced without disturbing the bird in the cage. The alternative is to provide a removable front bar, or remove the cage front and its supporting framework in it's entirety, to undertake cleaning tasks. Again, having tried both methods, my preference is for the latter. It reduces the construction work involved, and at the same time removes the possibility of mite living between the cage tray and floor of the cage.
My current design is to fit my cage front into a top and bottom rail, simply by inserting the extended bars into pre-drilled holes. There is no need to encase cage fronts permanently into wooden frames for added strength, we are catering for canaries, not king kong! There are a number of cage fronts on the market, from pre built steel to punch bar designs, both of which can be painted or chromed, to the latest, plastic cage fronts, available in either black or white, which never need painting. Having used the plastic fronts for about five years, I can testify that they certainly meet my needs, and have saved me hours of painting, over that period.
Whilst on the subject of cage fronts, the basic UK design differs slightly from the continental design, in that the UK design contains feeding access at the bottom of the cage front, whilst the continental design generally includes feeding access at the midway point. Both will work of course, but consider the situation when you are weaning stock, or if you have birds that for one reason or another cannot perch, albeit that this may only be a temporary situation. Under such circumstances, the mid-height feeding stations may prove to be impractical, whilst the lower feeding positions will continue to meet your bird's needs.
Attaching the cage front.Originally, I attached my cage front to top and bottom wooden rails, tops 5/8 deep and bottoms 3 inches deep. This arrangement has the advantage of retaining more cage floor coverings in the cage than lower rails may do, and although I do not provide bottom rail perching, still permits the birds to reach both seed and water supplies with ease. I have successfully kept Yorkshires and Glosters in cages with these cage front dimensions, and both varieties reached the feed pots quite comfortably. Now, I have discovered the delights of bull-nosed glazing bars, made out of white plastic, approximately 2 inches deep, and ¼ inch wide, with one square edge and one rounded edge. Applying this rounded edge to the cage front and the square edge to the top or bottom rail of the cage, makes for a very tidy finish, which again never needs painting and which is resistant to water damage. Progress at last!
Each cage front slots into the glazing bar, whilst the whole assembly fits into the cage, resting on small wooden blocks fitted to the cage dividers and end walls. A simple turnscrew fitted top and bottom allows fast and easy access for cleaning and painting, when the whole cage front assembly is removed.
Cutting measurements are:
Cage Top depth 00.5 inch
Going back to my earlier point of keeping the design simple, fanciers will note that my design does not have central cage dividers running from front to back of the cage, connecting into a spar running the whole length of the cage front. Instead, I am using top and bottom supports for each individual cage front. There are two reasons for this, firstly it reduces the materials needed for each cage, whilst secondly, it allows me to remove the entire cage front for cleaning or painting, whilst the cage divider is held in place merely by the central spacers at the front of the cage. Again, having experienced both designs, I believe I have saved hours in cleaning and painting time, whilst eliminating another hiding place for mite, from my room. For those of you using a tongue and grooved or routed central bar in your cages, consider adding a cover to this design, when the cage is being used as a flight. It will save hours cleaning out bird droppings, sawdust etc, each time cleaning comes around.
Cage Height from the floor.Cages should not be placed too low down, and I believe that the ideal height from the ground is somewhere between 8 and 15 inches. This allows you to view the birds, and clean their cages, without breaking your back. I applaud everyone who purposely only provide three tiers of caging, as each is more readily accessible to the fancier, if positioned correctly. It does reduce the room capacity however, so again, individual preferences come into play.
Built-in cages can be finished off by added blanking plates to the bottom, and top of each tier, making a pleasing effect throughout the room. Cage units on casters is a good idea, or if the preference is for individual cages, then these can be fitted into a frame allowing easy access to each individual cage for cleaning/painting purposes, without disturbing the other cages in the room.
Finally, a word about perching. I prefer a single, twist-on oval softwood perch per cage for most parts of the year, and have a preference for this to be fitted on the lower rail, rather than the middle rail. The birds have easy access to perching at this height, and can gain access to the show cage from it, whenever required. They have confidence using perching at this level from an early age, and possibly reduce potential foot damage because of the reduced height, and hence less effort involved in attaining the perch, as young birds. Additionally, they enjoy added exercise by flying vertically from the perch, returning to it each time, which is not as common when using perching fitted to the middle rail. Again, personal preference, but we all have our little idiosyncrasies don't we - just as our birds do!