THE WINGSPAN OF PARROTS
Scott McDonald, DVM and Karrie Noterman Jan 2016
I took this picture last year while hiking at Torres del Paine Ntional Park in southern Chile. It’s an Andean Condor. This bird has the 4th longest wingspan of all birds…of which there are over 10,000 species. Its wingspan approaches 11 feet, or 3.4 meters (340 cm). Do you know what species has the longest wingspan?
I was approached earlier this year by Karrie Noterman, the owner of Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages. She wanted to see if I would be interested in collecting data on the wingspan of as many of the commonly kept psittacine birds as possible. The intent was to publish this information, which would help bird owners choose an appropriate sized cage or enclosure for their pet bird.
I have the advantage that all of my examinations are preformed while the bird is sedated with isoflurane gas anesthesia. In addition I see many, many birds. Over the course of 4 months, I measured the wingspan of 456 birds representing 94 species. Ten individuals were the maximum number of measurements for any one type of bird. In many instances this number is less because of the rarity of the species.
All measurements were taken on anesthetized birds. The wings of each bird were fully extended and the reading was taken from the tip of the longest primary flight feather on each wing. Only birds with intact primary flights were included in this study. Accuracy is within ½ inch total span.
*We often hear or read that the minimum size (horizontal length) of a cage should be 1 ½ - 2 times the wingspan of the parrot housed there. This is important because a bird should be able to totally extend its wings (in the cage) and flap them vigorously for exercise. Remember, however, that the more perches, toys, food stations, etc. placed in the cage, the less space is available for adequate wing exercise.
Larger cages and enclosures are better than small ones. For birds that are out of the cage most of the day, 1 ½ times the parrot’s full adult wingspan is the minimum enclosure size. For those birds that spend considerable time in their cages, 2 times the parrot’s full adult wingspan is recommended. Ideally pet birds should be encouraged to spend time out of their cage, not only for exercise but for social interaction with humans and other birds. However, spending significant amounts of time outside the cage does not justify smaller housing.
“For whatever length of time the bird is caged, the animal should be allowed a certain freedom of movement within its enclosure.” – Karrie Noterman
It is unfortunate, but most people house their birds in cages that are too small. Some people simply can’t afford a large cage or they don’t have enough room. Others may rationalize that a small cage is a place of refuge and safety for their bird.
In the wild, parrots find security from threatening situations by flying away or moving to the top of nearby trees. In captivity, birds will also try to move up and away when scared. Unrestrained pets will try to get to one’s shoulder or head or fly up on curtain rods, ceiling beams, etc. Caged birds will move to the furthest part of the enclosure and/or fly panicky back and forth looking for a way of escape. Small cages do not provide security. Studies have shown that when presented with larger enclosures, even though the birds may be fearful at first, they eventually acclimate and prefer the addition of added space.
Regrettably, many birds live for years in the deprived environment of a small cage. They may become fearful and phobic; some may not even venture out of their cage, even if it’s left open. It can be a sad, depressing life for these birds and we wonder why they develop abnormal behaviors such as feather picking, screaming, and biting.
“In my opinion it is cruel and inhumane to keep birds, as highly intelligent and energetic as parrots, in cages that are so small that they cannot fully spread their wings”. – Scott McDonald, DVM
So what is the wingspan of parrots? They are listed below in the designated categories. Wingspan values listed are an average of all the birds sampled for each species. In general, the more a bird weighs, the longer the wingspan
51 inches Longest individual wingspan (Hyacinth Macaw)
9.50 inches Shortest individual wingspan (Parrotlet)
The large macaws have the largest wingspan of all parrots. Interestingly, all the largest species have about the same wingspan (within 3 inches). A few hybrids are included.
Blue and Gold macaw enjoying the wing room in a Centurion 86” wide x 62” deep x 80” high Walk in Aviary.
Note: The enclosure sizes listed below for each species are readily available cage sizes based on 1.5 and 2 times the parrot’s full adult wingspan dimensions. If you think the cage sizes shown are too small, great, so do we. Provide them larger ones! The cage sizes for the small parrots seem very small. Remember that the ratio of space given to a budgie for 1.5 times his wingspan is the same amount of space provided to a macaw in an enclosure 1.5 times their wingspan, even though the macaw cage seems enormous and the budgie cage seems tiny. The goal of this paper is to give parrot owners accurate data and appropriate perspective!
The recommended cage sizes listed in the right hand column are examples of cages at least “one wingspan” deep by “one and a half or two wingspans” long.
Umbrella Cockatoo enjoying a Centurion 110” long x 62” deep x 80” tall walk in aviary
Golden Conure (left) and two budgerigars (right) enjoying Centurion 35” wide x 28” deep enclosures with ½” bar spacing.
So, which species have the longest wingspan? These are the top 4.
Wandering Albatross 12.0 feet 360 cm 3.6 meters
Great White Pelican 11.8 feet 360 cm 3.6 meters
Marabou Stork 11.0 feet 340 cm 3.4 meters
Andean Condor 11.0 feet 340 cm 3.4 meters
Cage Size Requirements:
The following cage size references are just a few of the many we found echoing our minimum cage size requirements. These recommendations were directly quoted from public websites, printed books, downloads available for free to the public, and in store literature available for free. In other words, openly advertised information intended for the general public, as of Dec 2015. These are the recommendations of the largest pet stores, rescue organizations, veterinary colleges, avian authorities, and popular websites in the country. The vote is in – 1½ to 2x’s is the minimum size enclosure required for your pet bird, with many recommending 3 or 4 times their wingspan or with room for flight. So now it’s your turn! Measure your bird’s cage, then find their wingspan and cage size minimums in the chart above. How do they measure up?
Purdue University, College of Veterinary Medicine:
"When purchasing a bird, consider its wingspan; the cage you house the bird in should be at least twice the bird’s wingspan in width, length, and depth."
"Cages for singly-housed larger birds should be at least one and a half times
the birds’ natural wing span in all directions. Ideally all birds should have cages/aviaries large enough to accommodate flight."
"The ideal size of any bird cage should be equal to at least 3 flight wingspans of the bird."
Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages:
"Birds that spend any significant amount of time in their enclosures, we absolutely recommend twice your parrots adult wingspan. Those that use their cages for sleeping only or are out the vast majority of every day, a minimum cage size of 1.5 times the length of their wingspan can be acceptable. Spending significant amounts of time outside the cage does not justify smaller than wingspan housing. For whatever length of time a parrot is caged, the animal should be allowed a certain freedom of movement within its enclosure."
The Gabriel Foundation:
"Minimum cage sizes: Parrot species need a minimum of 2-3 x the wingspan in width and depth"
Drs. Foster and Smith:
"For larger birds, we recommend at least 1-1/2 times your bird's adult wingspan in width, depth, and height. For smaller birds, a flight cage.
"A cage at least twice the bird's wingspan and twice the bird's height from top of head to tip of tail with metal bars spaced close enough to prevent injury makes a good home for your small hookbill; as with all animals, it is best to provide the largest habitat possible; a flight cage is strongly recommended."
"When it comes to choosing the size of a bird cage, the rule of thumb is to buy a cage that is four times the height of a pet bird, as well as four times as wide. It's not a bad idea, however, to keep in mind that the bigger the cage, the better."
"Cage Size for medium to large size birds, the cage living area (does not include space between floor grate and tray floor) should be a minimum of 1-1/2 times your bird’s adult wingspan in width, depth, and height. This allows comfortable movement and may reduce the risk of feather damage. For smaller birds, a cage should provide the room needed for flying."
Book: The Ultimate Guide to Parrots:
"Take the wingspan and multiply by three. This gives you an idea of the smallest depth the cage should be. Now multiply by 2.5 the wingspan for the minimum width of the cage.”
"Cage Size & Shape
Birds use the width of their cage more than they use the height, and the cage should be twice the width of the bird’s wingspan.”
Bird Cage Portal and Kings Cages have the exact same recommendation on their websites:
"At the very minimum the width of the cage should be 1-1/2 times as wide as your bird's wingspan. When selecting your bird cages keep in mind that essential perches, toys and other fun bird-safe accessories quickly fill a cage. So you'll do your feathered friend a favor by providing him a comfortably large living area that will accommodate all the essential items that make his house an enjoyable "home" in which to spend his time."
Book: A Parrot Breeders Answer Book:
" As a rule of thumb, a cage for a single pet parrot should be at least one and a half times the width of the bird’s wingspan. This is a minimum recommendation. In most cases, bigger is better.”
"A general rule of thumb is that for large birds, the interior living space of the cage should be at least 1.5 times the bird’s adult wingspan – in depth, width and height.”
“Parrot cages should be housed in, at a minimum, an enclosure 1.5 times a birds wingspan in length if they spend only a short amount of time in them. Birds who spend hours at a time in their cages should have twice their wingspan.”
Ebay Bird Cage Buying Guide:
"No matter what species the bird belongs to, though, the cage must be big enough to allow space for walking, climbing, and flying. A good cage, even for a small bird, is much bigger than what most people picture when they think of a bird cage. Exactly how big is big enough varies depending on which expert makes the recommendation, but a width three times as wide as the bird’s wingspan is a good place to start. This means a budgie with a 10-inch wingspan needs a cage almost 3 feet wide on its shortest side.”
Impulse Parrots Pet Store:
" As a rule, we at Impulse Parrots like to recommend that your bird’s cage needs to be at least 2-3 times the width of your birds wing span. This way the bird cage will be plenty large enough for your bird to flap its wings and get plenty of exercise as well as having room for all your bird’s toys.