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PETS

Q: I have a friend whose wife told their son that birds don't need to be kept in their cages. She says it's OK for them to fly free around the house.

Isn't that unsafe for the birds? Isn't that unsanitary? Where can I get specific information about this?

-- L.A.
A: Flying free certainly can be unsafe for birds. Pet birds aren't born with the ability to recognize household hazards such as ceiling fans and pots of boiling water, nor are they very clear on the concept of windows, which may seem invisible to a free-flying bird. Not to mention: A bird with unclipped wings is at risk of flying out a door or window. Once outside, a bird may be impossible to recapture.

Unsanitary? Well, sure, a house with bird droppings all over it is certainly unappealing. Still, it's not that big a problem for anyone committed to cleaning up quickly with spray of cleaning solution and a wipe with a damp cloth.

There's another option to letting birds fly freely in the house: Keep their wings clipped for safety and offer them supervised out-of-cage recreation. While freedom isn't a good idea for finches and canaries, most parrots (and that includes everything from budgies and cockatiels to Amazons and macaws) need more than what even the largest cage can offer them.

Spending an entire life in a cage is just too sad and boring for these highly intelligent pets. Let them enjoy plenty of supervised out-of-cage time with toys, play gyms, trick-training or just hanging out with family members. In addition to this syndicated column on pet advice, a locally written column is often prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 1252, Buffalo, N.Y. 14205 or to the Web site at nfvs.online.org. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.