Most cages come equipped with 1 or 2 wooden dowels. While wooden dowels make excellent perches, they lack variation. Natural wood perches, however are what the bird would be using in the wild. They are not one dimension, varying instead from one point to the next. Most should be used with the bark still intact since this will allow the bird to strip the bark like they would in the wild. The other positive about natural wood is that there is more variation. Wood from one tree will vary in hardness from another species of tree. IApple tree perches are softer than mandrone.)
But what is safe and what is toxic? Most fruit trees are safe. The exception being cherry trees. These should be avoided since they are very toxic. However, those that support pitted fruit like peaches, should be used with extreme caution or avoided. The leaves, buds and bark need to be removed first. In addition, the wood needs to be thoroughly dried, since the sap (or green wood) is toxic. Wood from pitless fruits can be given with the bark on. Ideally, all wood should be dried and the leaves and buds removed. Wood from most nut producing trees are also safe to use.
Other precautions to take:
1. Never use branches from any tree that has been sprayed with any chemical, even chemicals that are supposed to be safe.
2. Branches must be cleaned. Use a good disinfectant, then thoroughly rinse and allow it to air dry. Do not wipe it off since this can spread germs.
3. Some trees have a high sap, pitch, or tar content. The sap from some trees can be poisonous although after the wood is dried it does not cause any problems. Branches should therefore be dried for several months before allowing the bird to use it. If you are unsure whether the sap, pitch, or tar can be toxic to your bird, do not use it.
4. Most branches are safe with the bark left on. Allow your bird to strip the branches. This is what a bird would be doing in the wild. It is not only enjoyable for your bird, but it is psychologically important to his well being. Encourage your bird to do so. Check with your avian veterinarian to make sure which barks are acceptable.
5. Check the branches for insects. Some insects can be poisonous when ingested by birds. Plus you don't want them loose in your house either.
6. Branches should not have moss or anything else growing on them. This could harm your bird.
7. Squirrels, birds, and other animals live in trees. The branches of these trees may be contaminated with their excrement. Avoid these trees and find some that were not homes to other creatures.
8. Do not use branches that you pick up off the ground. They could be rotted, contain worms or other insects, or even chemicals.
9. Many people use driftwood for perches. If this is used make sure that it is not rotted, oily (due to oil spills or other nasty things) or slimy.
10. Branches may be placed in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the branches to speed up the drying process. Be aware that this will cause a urine-like odor.
Other types of perches to use include rope perches and therapeutic perches. Rope perches are excellent since the mimic the swaying of a branch. Some birds prefer this very much and seem to enjoy the rope perches to the wooden ones. Also excellent are therapeutic perches. They come in different styles as well. Some are rough to touch and others are smooth. Therapeutic perches, when properly fitted, work to keep a bird's nails trimmed down naturally. The very rough ones should not be used as the main perch since they can cause sore spots. The smoother ones should be placed higher up the the other perches. Normally a bird's favorite spot is the highest perch in the cage. By placing the therapeutic perch as the highest perch, it will be used more often, thus producing the desired affect of keeping the hails trimmed down. Plus, therapeutic perches come in many colors, one just right for your bird! (That fashion animal!)