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Tips on Painting & Restoring Older Bird Cages

Macaw parrot on swing in bird cageCan of spray paint in a human hand

I think the main reason that people don't try to paint older bird cages is because of what they've heard or read about the harmful effects of lead, zinc and so forth. The point that needs to be made is the most the paints sold in the US for the past 40 years can be safe for human infants -  as long as it's dry.

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Our government really wasn't thinking about our birds - they were looking out for our children. The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that paint sold for use in the home is safe. 

The confusing issue is something called "Flashing". Flashing describes the chemicals that you should be concerned about, evaporating from the paint. These are solvents known as "VOC's" (Volatile Organic Compounds). VOC's are why you need to keep the area you're painting the cage in, well ventilated even when using what are known as safe paints. 

The danger is not in the paint itself but in those chemicals that leave the paint. Think about it, look around an you'll probably see paint on most of the walls in your home that have had no negative impact on your bird(s).

People restore older bird cages for a number of reasons. They might not have the funds to replace a birdcage even though the birdcage they have now is beginning to deteriorate. They might have an older birdcage that is simply irreplaceable like the old California bird cages or the all welded Prevue cages. Big heavy wrought iron enclosures that are not available any longer.

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Some people may acquire a bird that comes with the cage that's too small or old to begin with. Because of its size it may wear quicker than a bigger bird cage. In many instances such as these we know people that have upgraded to a larger birdcage and then re-finished the older original smaller cage and then used it as a sleeping or travel cage.
Remember, preparation is more important than paint
Use a wire brush to remove any loose finishing
Sand all the metal by hand
Use your hand to closely check for metal "smoothness"
Use a (paint) factory recommended primer
The paint you choose

Should not contain lead, zinc or chromate
Is "high adhesion", formulated to bond with the metal surface
Should be high quality, high gloss spray paint
Is hard-wearing
Is fast drying
Many brands will have a picture of a baby crib or a mother holding a child - look for indicators such as these

Before you paint

Remove the bird(s) to a different room or another location altogether
The room you paint in should be well-ventilated
Thin coats are best
Use a backdrop like a large sheet of cardboard behind the cage to catch excess paint
Second Coats
Second coats are not a bad idea
Follow the manufacturers recommendations
Apply second coats before the first coat is fully cured
When you're done

Wait at least a week - proper drying is critical to a hard finish
Warming the cage with sunlight will help the paint shrink tight
Don't cover a freshly painted cage with the bird in it
If your bird seems to be wearing out the paint on the bird cage

Make sure there are lots of interesting perches to climb on
Every parrot cage (for hookbill birds) should have at least 3 textures of bird perches - soft wood, hardwood & rope (or fabric)

Birds love to climb, and paint damage often occurs from birds' gripping the cage with their beak and nails to assist them in climbing up the cage. Aviculturists have reported that, by wiring (We use cable ties) perches or appropriately-sized tree branches onto the inner sides of the bird cages, the birds will be encouraged to climb from place to place by gripping these with their beaks, so that they do not even touch the wire bars when climbing.

Bird Cage Painting FAQ's


I'm concerned about your posted info on restoring cages... according to 2 well-respected avian vet specialists in my area,it is NOT safe to use any type of store-bought paint on a parrot cage-powdercoated is the only acceptable method. These vets have no reason to push powdercoat other than genuine care about bird safety.

My sources: Dr Fern Van Sant,DVM-she has published articles on zinc toxicity and other topics-owns avian practice in San Jose,CA

Dr Michael Murphy,DVM-head vet at a specialist practice in Monterey,CA 

Just wanted to let you know. - Sue and birds Bodhi & Chipper

Hi Sue

Thank you for contacting us

We appreciate the feedback. Prevue Pet the worlds largest manufacturer of bird cages PAINTS many models right here in Chicago and has assay results on file as to their safety. They (Prevue) are the only company to include touch up PAINT in all their wrought iron bird cages. Because they supply these bird cages to the big box stores like Petco, Petsmart and so forth, their potential liability is so great, they must be certain the bird cages are safe. 

Most people do not understand powder coating. Unless the metal (substrate) is prepared properly, the powder coat will not adhere well. As a former partner in a small powder coating facility (Shelf-Kote, Barrington Illinois) and having sold thousands of cages, I can say with certainty a bad powder coat job is far more hazardous to birds because of the potential for flaking off an ill prepared substrate. UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE THAT CAGE CAME FROM YOU WON'T KNOW THE POWDER COATING IS BAD until your bird starts dropping chips on the bottom of their cage (or they get caught in their digestive system)

There are differences between Thermoplastic powders that will remelt when heated, and Thermosetting powders that will not remelt upon reheating. Some powder coat companies recycle the powder coat - great for out door furniture - bad for birds. Further, a powder coat job over metal with too much zinc or rust will not protect the bird. There are factories in China with leaky roofs that produce thousands of cages that have been powder coated over rust and are sold here in the US

So to say powder coat is the ONLY way to coat a bird cage is actually not correct. If you look at the cheap bird cages on Ebay, with no brand names they may look just like the ones we sell from HQ, AE & Prevue. I would not trust them to place a rescued street pigeon in, in spite of the fact they have been powder coated.

Until next time
Mitch Rezman
Windy City Parrot, Inc.