Caged birds – introduction

Information about the physical and behavioural characteristics of caged birds.

There are 41 species of native birds that may be kept in captivity without a scientific or native animal keepers licence. A list of these 41 species can be found in Birds you don’t need a licence to keep.

All other native birds may only be kept if the owner holds a licence from Wildlife Licensing. Native birds must not be taken from the wild, including those 41 species.

Varietal range difference

These guidelines are suitable for the variety of birds commonly kept as caged pets such as budgerigars, canaries and finches.

Schools should research species prior to acquisition and select a species that is suited to the school environment and resources available.

Image: The Major Mitchell’s cockatoo may only be kept if the keeper holds a licence from the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Image: Budgerigars have been bred as pets for many years. The wild budgerigar is always green. Other colours have been successfully developed over many generations of captive breeding.

Basic requirements

  • Accommodation designed to suit the birds’ physical characteristics and behaviour
  • Space enough to fly, roost and elude other caged birds
  • Shelter from draught, direct sunlight through windows and a capacity to control temperature, ventilation and lighting
  • Protection from menace or intimidation by predators
  • Feed and water to provide essential nutrients
  • Protection from disease
  • Regular surveillance to detect problems.


Birds rely heavily on their vision to find food, identify and escape predators and find mates. They have much sharper eyesight than humans and are very sensitive to fast movement and movements from above as they see this as a threat.


Birds have very accurate hearing, using it to identify prey, predators, stake out their territory and find mates. Birds also use their voice and hearing to communicate with other birds in the flocks to find mates and alert one another of danger. Birds will be very sensitive to loud and high-pitched noises and may become agitated if exposed to these for extended periods of time. Birds have a very strong flight response and so will respond, taking flight if exposed to loud noises.

Behavioral characteristics

A caged bird is normally alert with an erect carriage. Normal behaviour also includes courting and yearly moulting. Courtship is a mating ritual between birds which usually involves hopping, headshaking and other movements to attract a mate.

Birds are naturally timid animals with a very strong flight response to danger meaning they will make every attempt to escape danger rather than attempting to fight. This must be taken into consideration when handling birds, as they will retreat from a handler if they view them as a threat. Caged birds that have been handled frequently throughout their life will be much more comfortable with being handled than birds that have had minimal handling. Once birds are accustomed to handling they will often be quite inquisitive animals and may even approach their handler for attention.


In general, birds used in schools have been extensively handled and should be quite comfortable with people handling and grooming them. Birds should never be kept in isolation as they are very sociable animals and thrive off both social and environmental enrichment and find comfort in being in close proximity to other birds. When entering an area where birds are caged always consider their wary timid nature and approach them slowly and quietly.


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