Dot Schwarz tells us why Parrots need aviaries.
Aviaries have been kept for centuries throughout the world to house some of the world’s most beautiful birds. And they still are. In zoos and bird parks large walk-through aviaries allow visitors to walk among free flying birds.
The birds are captive but can still take to the air waves unlike when they’re caged. Some people decide to go straight for an aviary or having previously kept birds in cages realise the majority of birds were designed to fly and an aviary will enhance the happiness of both bird keeper and aviary occupants.
There are a multitude of well designed aviaries for sale on the web. Two factors might deter you. First is cost. A self build DIY version will cost much much less. How much less depending on how sensibly you can cut costs.
Secondly whatever your personal DIY skills you may relish enjoying the fun excitement flexibility and admittedly steep learning curve of designing and building your own aviary. If there are any TV producers out there tired of cooking shows perhaps they might consider there is an idea for a reality here. I digress.
Bear in mind that if you are not a capable or professional builder you will most probably need to employ some expertise. We started over 22 years ago building one large aviary. We carried on for 5 years extending its size, everything we learned during the first build applied to the later sections. So, less problems occurred, we became semi experienced.
A bird’s whole anatomy and physiology has evolved to assist it to fly. It would be hard to improve on the thrill I got on seeing a wild caught Timneh Grey, who had been tightly caged for 25 years, when I first let him out of his cage into an aviary, and he was able to properly use his wings again.
Flying in an aviary is more appropriate for a bird than flying around indoors, and less damaging to our nerves and furniture.
The health benefits of fresh air sunlight rain and audible stimuli of wild birds are well known. The activity rate of a bird in an aviary compared to being in a cage is ten fold.
You may decide to keep the flock outside 24/7 or bring them in at night. I bring my pet Parrots inside and leave the Parakeets outside. Parrots are social animals only the Kakapo from New Zealand lives a solitary life. Compatible species will develop flock behaviour. This gives you the added delight of watching them react with similar behaviour as do their wild cousins.
There are legal obligations to erecting an aviary. Check your by- laws. In the UK an aviary up to 2.5 metres doesn’t need planning permission. Planning permission isn’t required for a structure built on your own land less than 2.5 metres high.
In densely populated areas, your beloved pets can cause friction with neighbours who don’t share your affection for birds. Parrots vary in the volume of noise they produce. Which species you keep especially in urban areas requires careful thought. Parrots are vocal.
Even Cockatiels can be noisy when they are in a group and Budgies endlessly chatter. With larger Parrots it often depends on the individual bird. Even with a highly vocal species of Parrot, a reasonably well socialised Parrot will be less noisy than one who has had a difficult past and is nervous and frightened as a result.
A suitable site
You need to site an aviary which doesn’t face the prevailing winds. Which can add wind chill to low temperatures. An aviary on high ground will be more exposed in winter than one sheltered by surrounding trees.
An aviary in a valley especially close to water will be subject to damp cold in winter and an aviary adjoining the house is often a good choice. But my family wouldn’t agree for me to build the aviary against the south-facing bungalow wall. So, we compromised and built alongside the southwest facing boundary fence.
An advantage – this fence runs underneath a handsome stand of full-grown oaks. Some people consider acorns unsuitable forage – others don’t. Trees are great insulators from cold and provide shade. Everybody will have their own ideas on what particular outside flying space suits them.
My friend Monika Clarke in Slough has hit upon a solution for would be large aviary owners who don’t have a large garden. Her garden has become her aviary. Her 10 metre square garden is covered with zoo quality mesh and has thus been turned into a walk-through aviary yet still remains a garden.
The sitting room’s french windows provide human/avian access. Her aviary / garden houses a flock of Amazons in immaculate condition and they have the best of both worlds as she has also trained them to free fly.
Other aviary owners locate the aviary as far away from the house as possible. Which is a decision usually based on eliminating the noise from the birds. Personally I like to see my birds and considering the UK climate, the less of a distance I have to trek outside to tend to my aviary and birds in winter, the better. I also believe in regularly checking on birds.
An aviary used 24/7 needs a shelter, most builders incorporate an existing shed or construct or buy one. In our case we bought two slightly shop-soiled display sheds from the garden centre.
My first mistake I must reluctantly share was not putting a concrete base for the sheds. More of this later. (Much more) The shed provides shelter from wind, heavy rain, and low temperatures.
What about heating?
There are no set-in stone rules. But shade from intense sun (even though they are exotic tropical birds) is just as important as shelter from wind and torrential rain. If you can visit local aviaries and zoos and see how they provide heating or alternatives to heating it will be helpful.
After all their birds are sharing the same climate as yours are. Birds that have been living indoors should only be introduced into an aviary in the summer months. Observe which species are clearly thriving out of doors. When a bird feels cold the feathers are fluffed up for insulation. If she is hot – the beak will be open.
One year I fixed up an electric 2 bar fire behind a Parrot-proof grille; it wasn’t a success. I only saw one Rosella enjoying the warmth, so I took it down. I put two greenhouse radiators in the sheds which was probably over cautious.
The efficiency of a heater depends on the ambient temperature A heater located in a shelter exposed to wind will provide minimum heat. You can train your birds to retire to a shelter, and they will encouraged to do so especially if it has a small light and high perches. High perches in the flight will encourage a bird, especially a newly acquired bird, to roost outside of the shelter.
Training in my case is a bit of a misnomer. I often used a net. But after a couple of times netting the lead Timneh, the sight of the net sent them inside. The Parakeets preferred to roost outside even in snow conditions. Some carers I know provide heated perches.
Building an aviary from the ground up.
A friend, a professional builder was staying with us. Laughing at our amateurish schemes, he couldn’t resist drawing up his plan to enclose a plot of scrubby bushes into a large rectangle using wooden posts cemented into a trench.
Now I must admit a second misjudgement. He insisted that chicken wire was strong enough for sides and roof. I still regret 22 years later NOT using heavier wire gauge for this first segment we built of the aviary.
But although various species lived there from time to including Cockatoos, Macaws, Greys and similar who could have bitten through chicken wire, in the two decades plus years since the structure was up, this has never happened.
I assume that the original sections of aviary provided so much enrichment for the inhabitants, an escape plan was never on their mind; they were too busy And the larger beaked birds were not outside over a 24 hour period.
After 15 days, a 15 x12 metre flight erected with a roof peaking at 4 metres the longest supports we could find; a wooden structure was more aesthetic than metal in our view and the wooden posts, cheaper than metal stakes. At that time, I didn’t know I could have bought wood or metal panels already wired in. OR some can be found second hand.
Anther essential is that you must have a double door, which forms a porch and enough space so you can shut the outer door before opening the inner door. Preventing escapes is preferable to chasing after a bird red faced clutching a net and muttering expletives.
The Foundations. (not the 60’s British West Indian Soul band)
We dug the foundation trenches 30 cm deep. Our friend to round off his generosity re master plan offered to do the work himself. An offer he may have regretted as the job took over two weeks instead of his estimated week. And we had not realized just how canny rats are.
No one to blame but myself. I thought 30 cm of wire in the foundation trench for the original section would deter rats, stoats, weasels, and mice. It was not deep nor rigid enough. Rats not only got into the aviary; they even made nests inside.
I found mother rat with 8 babies in the food bin, another under the shed floor. They are excellent parents and provide larders of collected food scraps, including a dead Cockatiel. With regret, I had to destroy them all.
We have had losses from Salmonella presumably from mouse droppings and other truly tragic losses from rats. One entered the nest box of Sid an elderly Timneh and tore out his windpipe. Rats decimated a whole family of Kakariki, 5 fledged chicks and two parents. Mouse traps in the feed shed were set to catch miscreants.
In 2015, we decided to end the rat problem which like so many has human error as its root cause. A digger was hired for a day. With the help of friends, a trench was dug around the whole perimeter and filled in with an apron of concrete 30 cm deep and 10 cm wide.
There has been less evidence of rats since. Although one entered via the roof and killed a Parakeet on the nest. This stoat we found dead on the aviary roof, and we congratulated the cat for her hunting skills. But don’t rely on cats to control predators, you can own cats and still be overrun with rats and mice.
Many aviary owners suffer rodent losses, and they can be almost entirely eliminated by better foundations. A concrete floor which can them be covered with sand or earth or wood chips. Wire netting which doesn’t have holes large enough for juvenile rats or mice or the dreaded weasel to enter.
Snakes like eggs and small finch sized birds. They are a serious predator in warm countries like the Americas. Sadly, I once caught a young grass snake in a mouse trap. A delightful harmless species that only eats small fish and amphibians.
Expect as with all building – it will cost more than you estimated.
These costs come from a well-run website. But with the present woeful economic situation they may well go higher soon
Carpenter Per hour £20 £30
Wire mesh Per m2 £2.30. £2.40 £2.35
Corrugated roof Per m2 £5.55 £10.15 £7.85
base Depending on size £430 £2,160 £1,295
Timber Per metre £1.20 £2.70 £1.95
These costs are ballpark averages – get a local tradesperson to quote now.
Here are my tips of what to avoid and what to lookout for
Check all is well once or twice daily
Renew drinking and bathing water daily
Install appropriate anti-theft security
Keep new birds separate for both quarantine and compatibility
Don’t be shy of asking advice
Hobbyists don’t usually intend to set up nest boxes when building an aviary but may, as I have done, become attracted to the idea. Put up nest boxes of an appropriate size for a particular species; you need to enclose those nest boxes in their own private flight.
There are some species that can breed successfully in a colony situation, but most species need privacy, are often territorial, and without segregation there can be serious altercations, with wounding and even fatalities.
In both a colony situation and in sectional flights be sure that the nest boxes are fixed at equal heights to avoid fighting over the favoured highest position. Everyone coverts the high penthouse suite
One friend of mine provided no nest boxes for her bonded pair of Umbrella Cockatoos. When she discovered that they’d dug out an ancient sofa in the attached shed and laid two eggs, my friend allowed the breeding to go ahead. One egg hatched into a handsome chick.
My idea of enrichment is to make the enclosed space (whatever size it is) as natural an environment as possible always leaving a flightpath for the inhabitants. My unfulfilled dream would be a water feature.
I keep a large stainless basin in which they bathe and play. But a small pump can easily be used to provide a water feature. A concrete pond can be swept out daily and re filled.
Swings from plastic chains and broom handles are cheap and easy. I you don’t have a garden, local parks will often give cuttings, or branches for a local persons’ aviary.
Spare tyres also make excellent swings. Ropes from corner to corner are popular. In fact, furnishing an aviary is only limited by m your imagination and precaution that the item will be safe for the bird.
Bamboo was planted in the first aviary and trees. After a couple of years, it was a delight to have to search out the inhabitants who could be hidden among the foliage.
Yes, Parrots will almost certainly eat leaves and chew bark. Protecting newly planted items with netting (taking care to protect the roots as all Parrots like to excavate) allows them to establish. The netting is then removed, and the plant usually flourishes.
Palm trees grow well in an aviary; their narrow-shaped leaves are hard to perch on. Eucalyptus grows well, too. So does yucca.
Birds are so unpredictable. A mimosa flourished and flowered for 15 years. Suddenly it was attacked. And now her bare arms stretch up and only one low branch is still alive.
Then can be few finer pleasures for a bird lover after a busy day than sharing a birdie biscuit with their charges and watch them interacting with their flock mates.
This is the website whose costs I have quoted above