What’s the right size and shape for a perch?

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You'd have thought that there isn't much to say about a perch. Find a bit of old timber, and the birds will roost on it at night! However, there is actually quite a lot to consider about perches. Not only do laying birds need to have adequate space on the perch and headroom above it, they are also quite fussy about the shape of the perch.

When considering perches, it is quite important to understand the mechanics of a bird's leg. Perching birds have toes that can wrap around their perch, and they do not fall off their perch (even when they are asleep) because of two specially adapted flexor tendons in their legs. These tendons extend down the leg and on to the tips of their toes. When the bird hops onto its perch it bends its legs - this causes the tendons to tighten and locks the toes around the perch. The tendons stay locked while the legs remain bent. When the bird stands up in order to jump down from its perch, the tendons relax and the toes can straighten.

In order to perch comfortably, the perch nees to replicate a branch of a tree (which is the natural roosting place in the wild). An artificial perch for chickens needs, ideally, to be square with rounded off corners in section, so their feet can wrap around it comfortably. Sharp edges and 90 degree corners are not acceptable. And it needs to be the right diameter for the size of bird - 30 to 40mm is ideal for the average-sized laying chicken. If it is too thin, their toes will overlap and, if it’s too thick, their toes won’t be able to wrap around enough to clamp them in position - either way, they find it less easy to perch.

For practical reasons, most perches are made from timber, which tends to come in square or rectangular section. So, if you are making your own, some work with a plane will be necessary to chamfer the edges. Circular dowel is not recommended, to avoid twisted keels and breast bones.

Green Frog Designs perches are made from recycled plastic which is extruded into a 36mm square section with smoothed-off corners.

The height of the perch is also important. It needs to be above the nest box so that birds are not tempted to roost in them overnight. However, they shouldn't be so high that the heavier birds find it difficult to reach them. There must also be adequate space between the perches so that there is room for the birds to flutter up and settle without pushing against each other.

And remember that some of the heavier breeds, such as the Orpingtons and Brahmas, may not roost on perches at all, but on the floor. Meat birds, too, are not usually offered a perch.

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