Tips And Materials For Do It Yourself Bird Projects

Tips And Materials For Do It Yourself Bird Projects

 November 30th, 2009
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Blue and gold macaw, Military macaw

So many people I know are learning how to build things for their birds – from foraging trees to play gyms to outdoor aviaries.  Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe we’re just tired of paying extreme prices for the things we know are necessities for our birds, and can build ourselves.  I thought it would a great time to do a post about safe building materials and construction.  Here are some general guidelines to use:

Always use parrot safe woods and lumber. Remember the obvious: birds love to chew on wood and won’t be able to resist nibbling on the wooden parts of your project. When using natural branches from the bird-safe list provided in the link above, be sure to select trees that have not been sprayed with pesticide, fungicides, herbicides or any other kinds of chemical treatment.  Also be aware of molds and fungus that might be present in the bark.

If you are uncertain of the type of tree or bush you are considering using for your project, take a branch to your local nursery for identification.  Before you install the new branches, clean them first.  There are a few different methods you can use:

  • Wash and scrub the branches down with hydrogen peroxide or Grapefruit Seed Extract (also known as GSE).  Rinse and dry well.
  • Fill your bathtub with water and add 1 cup of bleach and let soak.  Be careful to rinse thoroughly and dry well.
  • Bake the branches (my favorite method) in a 200/250 degree oven for an hour or two.  This will kill any fungi, bugs and larva.

Harder woods like manzanita are more durable and branches can be purchased on line and in some specialty bird stores.

When using 2X4’s, or other types of lumber, always use wood that has not been pressure treated.  Pressure treated wood has been infused with chemical preservatives that are driven deep into the wood to make it able to withstand the elements.  Only use plain pine lumber for the safety of your parrots.

Camelot Macaws, Blue Throated Macaw

Always select the safest metals and parts for your project. Nickel and stainless steel are the only metals that are safe to use around birds.  The rest contain heavy metals that are toxic.  Galvanized nails contain zinc.  This also includes part used for hanging toys such as eye screws and chains.  These parts will all be investigated, chewed on and tortured by your playful parrot.

Never use glues or paints. Toxic!

PVC piping can be used in your project, however, it is very slippery if used as-is.  There are a couple of ways to create a better surface:

  • Wrap the pipe in vet wrap or tightly wound 1/4″ natural fiber rope.  Your parrot will have fun chewing through it, however, and it will have to frequently replaced and maintained.
  • Sand the PVC to give it traction.  It is very important to note that this has to be done right to avoid jagged strips of plastic that can injure your birds feet or that can be chewed off and swallowed. PVC is toxic if ingested, and can become impacted in the crop or intestines.  I made a large perch for my umbrella cockatoo out of PVC and created a fun and safe play area.  To sand the PVC perches I used a very course grained sandpaper just enough to create ridges in the plastic and then used a finer grain to file down any rough spots.  Before you put the pieces of the stand together, run the sanded areas over the inside of your arm (where the skin is tender) up and down and back and forth like a violin bow.  If it is comfortable to you, it’s ready for your bird.

Make sure the construction is solid and the pieces fit tightly together so there are no places where birdie toes, tongues or wings might get caught.  DO NOT fill gaps with putty, insulating foam or any other product made for filling holes in general construction.  It is a much better idea to remove the branch and reshape it to a better fit.  Be careful not to allow the tips of any nails or screws to protrude.

Make the base wide and heavy – especially if you’re making something tall, like a bird tree.  Birds can play pretty rough, and they can easily topple something that becomes top heavy with their weight and activity.  If you have a large bird, this is one of the most important considerations of your project.


Buy a large clay pot from a nursery or Walmart. Fill it with quick drying cement. Find a large branch (maybe 3″ or so in diameter) from a safe tree or use a length of 2X4 and stick in the middle of the cement and let it dry upright.  Attach smaller branches to the “trunk” at different angles and levels. Voila! You just made a play tree for your bird!

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7 Comments on “Tips And Materials For Do It Yourself Bird Projects”

Lars Andersen  11/30/2009 12:40 pm

The link to safe woods doesn’t work

Jamieleigh  11/30/2009 7:43 pm

I fixed it, thanks for the heads up.

Leanne  12/01/2009 11:08 am

Great post! I especially liked the part about using a large clay pot & cement a large branch into it! Good idea! I found pine branches all different sizes and widths, in our local mountains, and brought them home. I added extra perches and then stood it up in a metal christmas tree holder. the branches are all secure but every couple days I check to see the base stays in place, just in case. Your method is much easier in the long run, there’s not as many worries. Thank-you!

Virginia Hachey  12/04/2009 9:21 pm

I was going to use plaster of Paris, much easier to use. Would that be a no-no?

Patty  12/04/2009 10:06 pm

Hi Virginia, Plaster of paris is a fine, safe choice. Have fun!

Connie Vasquez  12/09/2009 3:34 pm

I’m looking into constructing a walk-in style indoor aviary. I am thinking about using dog kennel style panels that have been pwoder coated, 8 guage for my Macaw with 1″ spacing. My avian vet suggested I make sure the powder coating is low in zinc of course. He said I should find a material that is under 50ppm zinc and to make sure the powder coating is electrostatically applied. I hope this info helps others…

Patty  12/10/2009 3:54 am

Hey Connie,
Thanks so much for the info. Here is a link to an article written by a guy learned about this the hard way and nearly lost his cockatoo: This should answer any questions about testing and how to read the results.
By the way, the aviary sounds GREAT!