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Housing Birds -- Outdoor Accommodation

Written by Kalvin

Once you get into the world of aviculture, it is inevitable that a small cage will never satisfy the insatiable need to have more specimens.

Aviaries or bird rooms allow you to keep larger numbers of birds, with the possibility of variety. In this article I will discuss the variety of housing choices for birds from finches to parrots.

There's a wide range of commercially available aviaries -- they're ready built and often come in flat pack so they are easily assembled making them convenient. Unfortunately, they often carry a large price tag as well.

When thinking of an aviary you need to look carefully and evaluate its functionality. Granted, you'll want an aviary that is nice to look at as a feature, but if it's impractical then it will cost a lot more money to make it practical. There are a lot of aviaries available that lack the basic needs: shelter for the birds to get out of winds and bad weather, safety porch to allow you access without the risk of birds flying out, and a roof to keep the elements and wild bird droppings out.

An alternative to ready-made designs is build your own; look at ready-made aviaries to get ideas on how to make it and what you'd like yours to look like. If you lack DIY skills, ready-made panels are usually readily available -- being around 6ft high by 3ft wide, they are easy to work with. Building your own usually works out a great deal cheaper and you can have it to your exact specification adding a personal touch.

Design

When designing an aviary, you need to consider the birds you want to keep, the space available to you, and the materials you will need to use.

Finches, being of a non-destructive nature, will be able to be housed in an aviary with wooden framing; however, to house destructive birds such as cockatoos in such an environment would prove disastrous. For any hookbill, ranging from the smallest budgie to the largest macaw, it's best to use a metal frame; replacing parts of wooden frame that have been chewed would prove an expensive and tricky exercise.

The size mesh used will depend on the birds to be kept as well. Mesh used for finches should be no larger than 1 inch by 1/2 inch; square mesh is available that is 1/2 by 1/2 inch that's thought to be better and safer as it keeps unwanted visitors out. This smaller size mesh is also suitable for smaller hookbills such as budgies and cockatiels. For these birds the thinner 19G (gauge) mesh is quite suitable. Larger parrots will need thicker mesh because of the strength of their beaks -- 16G mesh suits most parrots such as senegals and conures however 14G or 12G mesh will be needed for larger parrots such as macaws and cockatoos. The size of the mesh can also be larger for such birds; 2 by 2 inch is suitable for the larger parrots and often is cheaper.

A shelter can be added to the flight as a box that attaches to the top of ones of the panels or internally somewhere. An alternative, and better option, is to have a shed or bird room attached that has an indoor flight allowing the birds to have the freedom of flight while sheltered and warm if the weather is less than ideal outside. The flight within the shed should be the place where the birds are fed and have a selection of perches for them to sleep at night. It needn't be as large as the main flight as the birds will use it for rest rather than exercise, nor do the birds need to be shut in every night. During late spring, summer, and early autumn, the birds may be left to sleep where they wish; as the weather gets colder in winter and on nights when there's a risk of frost, you may want to shut them in. Access for the birds can either be through a stable door where the top is left open or through a suitably sized pop-hole -- both are equally good and easily closed to shut the birds in or out.

The shelter can be made of brick or simply a wooden shed -- the choice is purely personal based on choice and budget, as both are practical and can be easily insulated and adapted. It should provide sufficient light via windows or artificial lighting; a mix of both would be best to lengthen the daylight hours in winter, allowing the birds longer to feed and allowing you to work in the aviary later in the evening.

Heating will also be needed for the more fragile species although even the most hardy species will be glad with a little heat in the winter, keeping the temperature from dropping too low. Tubular convector heaters are thought to be best, as they're economical. They can come with built in thermostats to regulate the temperature or you can buy separate heater-thermostat units.

Ionisers or air filters can also be a good investment for the health of both yourself and your birds. These will remove feather dust from the air; all birds generate an amount of dust that can irritate some people, especially those with asthma.

Choosing The Site

The aviary should be placed out of the way of trees to stop dead leaves and branches falling on or in the aviary, be in sight of the house so you can easily view your efforts, face a direction where it gets sunlight preferably the morning sun, have room around it to expand if you want to, and be away from main roads where birds will be startled by the lights of passing cars and be at risk from the opportunist thief.

It's a good idea to get your neighbors' approval before you start building so they know what's happening and can express any concerns they may have. Also, check with local authorities in case planning permission is needed.

A solid footing will need to be put down to keep predators out and for hygiene reasons -- a soil floor is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria as it's hard to clean, as well as being an ideal site for parasites. Concrete is the best solution although a lot of people are put off because it's a permanent feature. It's easily disinfected and predator-proof as they can't dig in. a less permanent alternative is to lay slabs which work to the same effect.

Once the footing is laid and set the aviary panels can be set in place. You can put a layer of brickwork round the bottom to sit the panels on although it's not necessary. I've found it easiest to drill holes in the panels about 1ft from either end to fix them together, using nuts and bolts to secure them. This allows them to be easily dismantled should a panel need replacing or the structure to be moved. It's best to build the shelter first and fix the panels to it, as it's more difficult to work the other way.

As a roof, you can simply mesh the top, although this allows predators to get at the birds from the top, and lets the elements in and also wild bird droppings that can carry disease. Corrugated clear plastic allows light through but not the weather, leaves, or bird droppings; some keepers prefer to let their birds have access to the elements if they wish so only cover half of the roof.

Risks

When housing birds outside in such an environment, there are obvious risks. They're open to predators, parasites and illness, thieves, and the elements.

Predators include birds of prey; rats, mice, and other rodents; snakes in some areas; foxes; and of course, cats. Rats, mice, and other rodents are easily controlled by practising good hygiene, cleaning up spilt seed and laying traps; with no rodents around, the risk of snakes is greatly reduced. These can be stopped from entering your aviary and scaring your birds by placing the panels on brick work, as mentioned before, as it makes access for them harder. Ultra-sonic devices can be bought that are harmless to birds but emit radio waves that scare off unwanted visitors.

With good hygiene comes regular cleaning and disinfecting which will greatly reduce the risk of parasites and illness although it's advisable to treat your birds for parasites once a year as a preventative measure.

The elements are hard to control so it's important to offer shelter giving the birds a choice to be warm and dry. Thieves are also hard to predict and control so preventative measures are needed. Build your aviary sturdy and fit locks to every door to deter them. Security lighting that is motion sensitive will scare off the majority of thieves although if you keep birds of substantial value, a high quality security alarm will be a worthwhile investment.

Check List

Although I've mentioned things needed before, I thought it wise to allocate a section listing them. When building your own aviary, make a check list and make sure everything is ticked off before you think of introducing birds.

  • Permission to build and neighbors' approval
  • Suitable site with plenty of space
  • The right wire and frame for the chosen birds
  • Shelter for the birds
  • Heating
  • Solid floor
  • Practical/sturdy design
  • Safety porch security
  • Predator protection
  • Air filter
  • Detailed plan

This list by no means covers everything -- it's up to you to use common sense and to seek advise to make sure it's a safe, suitable environment for your birds.

The Birds

There are general rules you should stick to when keeping birds:

  • Keep beak types together; don't mix them (hookbills, softbills, hardbills)
  • Keep the same species together
  • Know your birds

Mixing different beak types can prove fatal -- housing finches with hookbills is not advisable because of the strength hookbills have in their beak, and they could easily injure or kill a finch. Some hookbills, however, can be kept with finches, as they are gentle-natured (such as some grass parakeets). Consult an experienced bird keeper if you'd like to mix certain types so you know for sure they're safe before you risk your birds.

Mixing species is also not recommended. It's often thought that budgies can be kept with finches as both are small; however, they can be extremely aggressive and territorial, they can easily kill a bird the size of a cockatiel or bigger given a chance.

Knowing your birds can prove the most valuable as it will help you a great deal when picking birds that are suitable to mix with your own, and to pick out the sick birds from the healthy.

Aviaries can be costly to get started but with proper planning, quality materials, and proper care, it will last you a lifetime, bringing pleasure and excitement. It is also a good investment, allowing you to keep your insatiable need for more birds quenched. Take the time to draw up several plans, get them checked over by other bird keepers to check for unseen flaws, and start off on the right foot. Enjoy!

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