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The Right Setup

Design your aviary with your breeding birds’ preferences in mind, and you will both be rewarded.

Although you might be tempted to pack your breeding birds into small spaces to maximize your return – don’t. For one, skimping on space to make money isn’t fair to the bird, but also, unhappy, unhealthy birds don’t make the best breeders or parents. Take the time to find out what type of housing and environment will work best for your breeding pairs. Some species won’t tolerate other birds in their vicinity while others require it. Certain species particularly benefit from large spaces where they can fly back and forth while other might prefer a more cozy, secure setting.

Below are some tips about choosing the right housing to create a healthy breeding environment for your pairs.

African greys: “There are no bests in all of these,” said Jean Pattison, a breeder of African greys and other African species. “What is best for one may be the worst for another.”

Pattison recommends a cage of 5 (length) by 3 by 3 feet long. “Substantially bigger cages may cause a bit of nervousness and less security, for some birds so this is an area that needs to work for the individual breeder and the pairs of birds being worked with,” she said.

Suspended cages, either hung from above or up on legs, work the best with African greys, Pattison added, and they breed well in groups. “Three to 20 pairs in an area work about the best,” she said. “It seems to give them a ‘flock’ atmosphere, and when one pair starts breeding the others seem to follow. During breeding season they like privacy, so at that time visual barriers work very well. In the off-season, they may be removed.” Colony breeding does not work well with greys, Pattison added.

African greys breed during the late fall and winter season in the U.S., and, if acclimated well to the environment, they can be housed outdoors during this time. The will, however, need protection from the elements, such as a place to retreat to when the weather gets too cold or damp or swings in the opposite direction.

Amazons: Ric Flowers of R&B Aviaries in Louisiana breeds several species of Amazons, including rare and endangered varieties, and he employs a mix of suspended cages and large flights to keep his pairs happy. “The suspended cages are under a roof to protect the nesting box as well as feeding stations,” he said. The suspended cages vary in length from 4 to 6 feet and are attached to larger 10-foot flights. The inner area includes a solid barrier that blocks the view of other flights, birds, people, etc. The combination gives the birds an inner area to retreat to for privacy and a more open area where they can enjoy rain showers and communicating with other flock members.

The mild Louisiana winters means Flowers rarely need to turn the heat on in his aviary, but he does take some precautions. “All enclosures are covered with plastic sheeting during our mild winters to give our pairs extra protection from the elements.” Although he does not do so himself, Flowers said he knows of several successful indoor Amazon breeders in colder parts of the country.

Cockatiels: Ready breeders, cockatiels can be housed in colony-style walk-in flights or in individual cages of a minimum of 3 to 4 feet in length, according to cockatiel breeder Linda Rubin. “Both cockatiels and budgies can be colony bred if quantity is the objective, or bred one pair per cage if quality is the goal for guaranteed pedigrees and proof of color genetics” Rubin said.

As with most species, you can house your cockatiels outdoors if they are properly acclimated, Rubin noted. “It is more important that temperature remain consistent; temperatures that fluctuate greatly in any direction, constantly changing, will prove a greater danger.”

Conures: A cage with at least 3 to 4 feet in length is optimal for conures, said Lisa McManus of the International Conure Association and Scotties N Parrots. “I also provide toys for my breeders – ones they can chew up and swing on,” McManus added.

Although conures are tolerant of cooler temperatures, McManus houses hers indoors with an aviary temperature of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoor housing also eliminates the risk of predation from snakes, rodents and other pests, she noted.

McManus houses her conures mostly in triple-stacked cages, so she gives careful thought about which species might be more comfortable at the top or the bottom level. “I try to pay attention to which species tend to nest higher than the others in the wild,” she said. “Some are termite-mound nesters, so they are more comfortable lower and under others.”

Although most of her birds breed right next to other pairs, McManus does use a white sheet to “discourage squabbling between pairs.” Her slender bills receive even more privacy, because a whole end of their cage is blocked from view. She’s also experimenting with colony breeding with her Patagonian and nanday conures to try to replicate their natural nesting behaviors. 

Eclectus: House your breeding Eclectus pairs in either suspended cages of at least 6-feet in length or walk-in flights with 10-feet of length, recommends Laurella Desborough, an Eclectus parrot breeder in Florida. Desborough, however, prefers suspended flights that measure 12 to 14 feet in length.

Although Eclectus can be housed outdoors or indoors, they won’t tolerate consistent cold below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, Desborough added.

Lories: Although he prefers suspended flight cages for their easy maintenance, Dick Dick Schroeder of Cuttlebone Plus in California, a bird breeder for 30-plus years who specializes in lories and softbills, also uses walk-in planted aviaries for his lory pairs. His flights measure about 6-feet long and 3-feet with 2 to 3 feet of depth, depending on the size of the species. “Stacked cages will work fine,” too, Schroeder added, but use trays to separate the cages and keep them far enough apart to prevent cross-cage biting. “I never put the same species side by side,” Schroeder added, but nor does he use anything to block the birds’ sight of one another.

Schroeder prefers outdoor breeding for his lories, because it keeps their environment cleaner. “Outdoors is certainly easier maintenance-wise, as droppings just fall through the cage bottom and into the soil or onto concrete to be hosed off,” he said. “Indoors, unless it’s a barn-type building with concrete and drains, will require lots of extra work.”

They tolerate below freezing temperatures if provided with an area that protects against the wind and damp, he noted.

Lovebirds: “Ours are housed in 3 by 2 ½ by 2 ½ feet cages, but then I think ours are a little spoiled,” Joanne Cormier of Tiny Rascals aviary in Canada, a bird breeder of lovebirds and several other African parrot species, said of her breeding lovebirds’ cages.

Cormier said lovebirds breed well in the vicinity of other birds, so stacked cages should be OK, and climate-permitting, you can house your breeding lovebirds indoors or outdoors. “In our climate they could never be housed outside in the winter months, but in the warmer climates, I do not see a problem with this,” she said. “Humidity in our climate in the winter months has to be watched and ideally kept at 50 percent during nesting time.”

Macaws (large): These large parrots need plenty of space to stretch their wings (and vocals) comfortably, which not everyone can manage. “A major obstacle is having enough space for these big birds,” said Kashmir Csaky, a bird breeder specializing in hyacinth and other large macaws.

Csaky recommends using suspended flights that measure at least 8-feet long by 5-feet deep by 5-feet tall. The suspended flights are easier clean, but one of this size might be hard to hang, she noted. “The larger the flights, the healthier it will be for the birds.”

Csaky gives her macaws a “buffer zone” of 3 to 4 feet between pairs’ cages. “This buffer zone allows the pairs to understand the borders of their territory and reduces stress and aggression between breeding pairs,” she said. A visual barrier further reduces a pair’s anxiety, Csaky added.

Quakers: Joy Thompson of Wings of Joy Aviary in Oregon breeds her quakers indoors in suspended cages that are at least 2 by 2 by 3 feet, although she says they also breed well outdoors as evidenced by the multiple naturalized flocks throughout the urban United States. “They are very hardy and can tolerate extreme temperatures as long as [these extremes] are natural changes with the seasons and they have adequate shade and water in summer and a warm, insulated nest box in winter.”

Thompson does not colony breed her birds. “I prefer to have them near other cages, with a vision-blocking partition at the end the nest is on,” she said.

Have a question about breeding your birds? Click here  


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The Right Setup

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Reader Comments
why do you still have info from Lisa Mcmanus who was sited for bird hoarding and animal cruelty?
sue, berkeley, CA
Posted: 10/4/2010 8:05:38 PM
I recently purchased a pair of cockatiels who had been housed in a cage 18" x 18". Their previous owner said the female laid eggs constantly but nothing hatched. The birds are approximately 3 years old. The first thing I did was move them into a cage 3-1/2' x 3'1/2' x 2' deep. They immediately went to nest. They've had 2 clutches so far, both fertile, with 3 babies to a clutch. Odd thing about these birds. While they will lay 5 fertile eggs, after 3 eggs have hatched, they will push the other 2 eggs away and not brood them, so of course, they don't hatch. I guess they know they can only handle 3 babies at a time.
Helen, Picayune, MS
Posted: 10/29/2008 2:53:05 AM
Thank you for the advice. I've long thought about breeding, so I'm always looking for more info.
Jean, Fresno, CA
Posted: 5/22/2008 6:47:07 AM
good article and very informative.
Mary Lou Pazik, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 2/3/2008 7:11:57 PM
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