Monday, March 21, 2011

Stainless Steel

I am sure most people who have "been in parrots" very long have heard about the dangers many metals pose to birds, and that stainless steel is the safest, some would only truly safe, metal available. Good stainless steel will last a very, very long time, and should not rust easily, if at all. Along with stainless steel, nickel plated hardware and aluminum hardware can also be safe, depending on your parrot and climate. Most people also know that galvanized metal, aka zinc coated metal, is not safe.

Despite that, most manufactures of bird toys, perches, dishes, etc, still use unsafe metals in their products, and therefore, those unsafe metals end up in your bird's cage. Why? Cost. You have to be willing to pay for stainless steel, and though good stainless steel could easily last the lifetime or at least half the lifetime of your parrot, it does cost more. Even nickel plating, although cheaper than stainless steel, costs more than galvanized.

There is hope, though, for those of you that purchase all or most of your products, toys in particular, pre-made. A few bird toy companies are trying to walk the middle line, and use nickel plated hardware. Nickel is the main ingredient in stainless steel, and nickel plated hardware is also safe as long as all the nickel plating is in tact and has not chipped off. However, I find that nickel plated hardware rusts rather quickly for me regardless of whether my birds ever touch it, due to the high humidity in the southern climate. Be careful, though, galvanized metal is very shiny before it oxidizes, and many of the larger companies will use nickel plated quicklinks, but will allow the toy base, so well covered when you buy the toy, to be made from galvanized metal. And as soon as chomper tears away a few of those toy parts, he is left with that lovely base to chew on. Of course, this is ignoring that the galvanized metal does oxidize and start flaking, defeating the need for your parrot to remove the toy parts to get to the zinc. Contacting the company is the only way to know for sure. Also as a note, if the response you get from the company is rude, and they often are when you seem to be implying they aren't using the very best simply by questioning what they do use, I recommend avoiding purchasing even safe products from them. Completely up to you though. I just don't like rude people.

Aluminum is also new on the market, and so far seems to be thought as safe as stainless steel, although I would not trust it with a big metal chewer. However, I have not seen anyone making anything with aluminum hardware save for some quick links you can buy separately, so that really doesn't help you much.

Bird toys made exclusively with stainless steel, or stainless steel and nickel plating, are not as hard to find now as they used to be, though. Often, these stores will also customize their toys to include only stainless steel if that is what you prefer. Oliver's Garden, Nalani Toys, and Grey Feather Toys are three stores that are both fragrance and chemical free and use only safe metals, mostly stainless steel as well as some nickel plated. There is also the much larger ScooterZ company, that uses almost exclusively stainless steel. For safe perches, The Bird Safe Store is good for wooden ones, and My Safe Bird Store has both the old standard comfy perches, as well as some new boings I am really intrigued to try.

I decided several years ago that when any of my cages needed replacing I would replace them with stainless steel, both for the bird's safety and because it is far less wasteful than buying several cages over the bird's lifetime. However, please be aware if you are thinking of going this route that stainless steel quality varies greatly, so you really want to do plenty of research before putting down that kind of money!

I really think no bird should have any zinc hardware in, or on, their cage, as zinc toxicity in worst cases can lead to death. Obviously, it is expense to replace, but I think getting rid of it should be the definite goal. What metal you replace it with, whether it is stainless steel or nickel plated, or even aluminum, is completely up to you, as you know your parrot best.

My Aussies (budgies, tiels) do fine with nickel plated, as they never touch it, but I much prefer (quality) stainless steel as it will not rust so quickly, if at all. Their cage is not stainless steel, but I have noticed Linus starting to chew on his some, though, so I am getting a bit nervous. My ekkies have only stainless steel hardware, but their cages are not stainless steel, and neither does any chewing or anything even remotely like it on their cages. Chester, however, needs a new one, at a very in-opportune time, so I am trying to decide what to do about that. The quakers have only stainless steel, and are in a stainless steel cage, which is exactly what they need given their destructive tendencies!

Living in the south, and the coastal south at that, I am able to find stainless steel hardware very easily at most hardware stores. That is were I get many of my quick links, washes, nuts, bolts, etc, as well as some more unusual finds that are extremely useful! You can also find all of this online, either from a bird or hardware store, depending on the object in question, if you are not able to fine it locally.

In the above pic, you can see a small sampling, or what I grabbed out of my hardware box for the pic, of some stainless steel items found at the local hardware store. And yes, the washers are stainless steel, but they are quite beat up, and this made them reflect the flash to appear white. Odd, but in person they are shiny silver, with many, many scratches. The two objects in the top of the pic, the U-shaped ones, are an awesome find. Just attach to the cage with a knotted rope end in each "U"; instant "junglewalk"!

Above is a simple incredible, if massive, bird toy. I am simply in love with it! It is a 3' long piece of 1/4" threaded rod. Stainless steel, cheap, and one of the best toys ever. I am sorry I don't have a pic of it un-filled, but I didn't feel like taking it out just for the pic, so this is the best you get. As you can see, Claudia (for this is her cage) can chew on this toy from all manner of places, and chew on it from all manner of places she does! Bottom perch, swing, perch right beside my head and not in pic, and just hanging from the roof or side of cage. I had to get all of my mish-mash of acrylic pieces to fill it up! I also strung some lovely foraging pieces on it, wood with holes, loofa slices, etc, so it works wonderfully as a foraging toy, as well. Claudia has to stretch all the way across from the back of the cage, sometimes doing a split, to chew out the treats!

This pic is just to show you how I attached the rod to the cage, and how I kept the pieces on it. I find a simple nuts works fine with my ekkies (a wing nut they could un screw) but if your bird can and has a particularly fetish for removing nuts, obviously this would not work!

And finally, my very favorite stainless steel purchase- skewers. Not from a hardware store, but from a bird store, these simple things are one of the most useful and best investments you can make. I recommend everyone get at least one. You can use them to serve dinner, skewering veggies and fruits whole, or even put cups, or cups made from hollowed shelled veggie like small pumpkins, cucumbers, or peppers, and fill those cups with mash. They make one of the safest toys available when filled with toy parts of your bird's preference. In short, they are simply indispensable. That said, make sure you get a good kind. The only type I can truly and whole-heartedly recommend are the Expandable Habitats ones. I put my skewers through a lot of work, inside, outside, and lots of sticky fresh foods, and these just don't rust, not even discolor! Yes, they cost a bit more, but they are worth every penny. Another fact that seems not so widely circulated is that they do make the skinny1/8" skewers that are perfect for food, so their is no reason to keep using other types that are not as safe. I have tried other types, and found them to discolor or even rust. That said, I am now trying the Scooter Z skewers, and will see how they fair over the long run. So far, so good, but they haven't been through a southern summer yet, so I will wait and see, and will be sure to post if I decide they really are as good, or close enough to be truly safe given the price difference.

The empty skewers. The Expandible Habitats one is on the left; it is a 1/4" one I use for toy parts. You can either attach a quicklink to the loop and hang it that way, or hang it with the ball at the top as it is meant to be used. The ball method was originally developed to prevent large parrots from unscrewing it from the cage, and I imagine it works quite well! The ScooterZ skewer is on the right. It has a very different hanging mechanism.  I do not like it. It doesn't seem to like me. Just isn't as user friendly, you might say.

Now the skewers filled! These were taken out of Claudia's cage. The large red fish is a sample I got from Oliver's Garden, seems to be just the kind of wood she likes, very soft but with crunch!


Coco said...

FANTASTIC POST!! I am obsessive about my metals and refuse to buy any toys that aren't 100% stainless steel, or fully anodized aluminum in some cases (with one exception: my budgie's cage, which will be upgraded to stainless soon). Actually, anodized aluminum, when done right, is even harder and more durable than stainless steel, and depending on the grade of SS, is less likely to rust as well. I do like anodized aluminum a lot. Like SS, however, the quality can vary so it is important to know and trust the company. I like aluminum for cages a lot though.

I know that many people consider nickel-plated safe, but I have experienced first hand that it isn't: my family nearly lost our Hahn's Macaw to heavy metal poisoning by nickel-plating years ago. Being that Hahn's are so small and their beak strength can't compare to that of a large macaw, a 'too, or any large bird, I do not trust NP anymore at all.

It is definitely not easy or cheap to stick to my SS-only rule, but the peace of mind is worth it!

By the way, here is the link to Scooter Z's website:

Meg said...

Thanks! I am glad for your input on aluminum. I consider it to be very safe, but I had heard a few people mention they didn't like it for very large parrots, as it was not as durable. I am glad to hear you don't think that is the case.

I am glad your family's hahns is ok!! This is why I just don't like nickel plating. I always mention it so people that won't or can't pay for stainless steel know of the other options, but I try to just keep to stainless steel. As I said, birds don't even have to chew on them here, they just rust so quickly in this climate!

And thank you for the Scooter Z store! I don't know why it is so hard to find....

Coco said...

King's has said that they don't make their aluminum cages any larger because it won't hold up to the beak of a larger bird, but there is another aluminum caging company, Bennett, that makes huge and beautiful (and absurdly expensive) enclosures for macaws and 'toos that have a fantastic reputation. I don't have any first hand experience with aluminum under a big beak, but I have never heard any stories of anodized aluminum not lasting under a big beak either?

By the way, I do like how thin and well-made the EH skewers are as well! The one thing I'm not crazy about is that their hooks at the ends are not welded shut. That is the one big pro of the Scooter Z skewers, in my opinion :)

Meg said...

I definitely hear you on the unwelded loop at the end of the EH skewers. I have thought about that myself. I have thought about that myself. They are just so wonderful in every other way, though!


i just want to ask!!can i make a cage for my african grey with aluminioum???is it toxic?????and can you give me a safe idea to for a safe material to make the bars???thank you in advance

Meg said...

You can make a cage out of anodized aluminium, Kings cages makes some. If you order aluminium mesh online in the correct strength and spacing you could also use that. I have some cages I bought from a breeder that are made from stainless steel wire mesh, wouldn't be any different to use the right kind of aluminium mesh. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Is anodized aluminium mesh is best for making cockatiel parrot cage.