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Create A Safe Bird Aviary

Keep your pet birds in your aviary safe from pests, predators and more with these tips.

By Bob & Liz Johnson

Plants, Trees & Ponds
Plants and trees are an essential part of any aviary habitat, yet they are one of the biggest challenges. Although the birds enjoy them, what they enjoy most is seeing how fast they can destroy them. Choose plants that are nontoxic. Err on the side of caution and, when in doubt, leave it out.

You may want a waterfall, pond and/or fountain inside your habitat. A waterfall should not have a heavy water flow, and any ponds or fountains should be no deeper than the length of your smallest bird’s legs and have a nonslippery bottom to prevent accidental drownings. Have perches and swings scattered throughout, but leave an unhampered flight path for continuous flight.

Protections From Mosquitoes, Snakes, Raccoons & Others
Whether you buy an outside walk-in aviary or build an outdoor habitat, there are a few fundamentals. First, the outer perimeter should set on a footing that extends at least 2 to 3 feet below ground level. An alternative to a footing would be a 3-foot wide strip of wire mesh laid flat a few inches below the ground’s surface all the way around the outside of the perimeter wall. The inside edge should be firmly attached to the bottom of the perimeter wall before being covered with dirt. This will prevent predators from digging under the perimeter wall. Another protective device to consider is a low-wattage electrified fence, about 12 inches high, completely around the area. You can easily step over it, but it will keep most predators away from the area, thus removing the stress the birds have from just seeing them.

A perimeter wall made out of concrete block with wire framework on top offers multiple advantages. It prevents predators from climbing around the outside of the habitat and gives the birds inside some protection from high winds. It also keeps passersby from seeing the birds.

Not all predators have to tunnel under the perimeter to gain access to the habitat. Rats can go through 1- by 1-inch wire easily and so can some pretty good-sized snakes. Mice can go through ½- by 1-inch wire and so can smaller snakes. Of course, the most dangerous of all —  the mosquito — is unhampered by wire. Thus the outdoor portion of any habitat must be enclosed with screen to keep out mosquitoes as well as the many other types of biting and stinging insects. The screen must be at least 4 inches away from 1- by 1-inch wire and at least 2 inches away from ½- by 1-inch wire to keep the birds from tearing it up. The screen, however, will not keep out rats or mice that can chew holes in it and go through the wire. Additionally, raccoons can tear out whole sections of screen while looking for a way to get in. So, unless you use the concrete block wall as your choice for a perimeter wall, you need a layer of ¼- by ¼-inch or ½- by ½-inch wire mesh outside the screen to protect the screen.

A possible alternative to this outer wire might be Pet Screen (manufactured by Phifer). The manufacturer claims that it is seven times stronger than regular screen and impervious to cats and dogs. The sample I inspected looked like it would probably hold up to a raccoon as well; however, since it is a relatively new product, I haven’t heard from any long-term users yet.

If you need two or more sections in your habitat, be sure that two layers of wire at least 2 inches apart separate them. Also, never put a bird that is in a cage in with free-flying birds unless the cage is double wired. Birds love to bite toes through the wire.

Environmental Dangers Around The Bird Aviary
The various environmental toxins found in today’s society can be a serious threat to your birds. If you have a swimming pool near your habitat, keep your chlorine level at a minimum. If you need to shock your pool, remove your birds to a distant location first. Consider ozone purification instead of chlorine. It’s much safer and more effective.

Lawn spray is probably the No. 1 killer of wild birds in most residential areas and can be just as deadly to parrots. Wind drift can carry its deadly effects for an amazing distance.

If the ground you are building an outdoor habitat on has ever been sprayed with any type of lawn or garden spray, turn on a sprinkler and soak it for about 48 hours before putting your birds in it. Parrots love to play and dig in the ground, and you want to be sure that all toxic residues are flushed deep down into the soil.

Go over the area with a magnet to pick up any nails, screws or other small pieces of metal that may have been dropped there even when the house was being constructed. If you don’t find them your parrot will. If you use potted plants, do not use commercial potting soil, as most of these are impregnated with pesticides and fungicides.

Compatibility In The Bird Aviary
Compatibility is an important consideration when placing more than one bird in a habitat. At first, because it is a new situation and neutral territory, most birds will cohabit peacefully. After they become acclimated and especially when they mature and bond with another bird, many species become territorial and attempt to drive the others away.

Squabbles usually occur more frequently among those of the same species as opposed to interspecies interactions. Also, many of the problems we have encountered are with the smaller birds, such as lories, quakers and conures annoying or even attacking the macaws and cockatoos.

If possible, locate the habitat within view of your house or, preferably, attach it to the house for better monitoring, especially with macaws and Amazon parrots. Like people, friendships are not always permanent, and sometimes those that were formerly best buddies suddenly become archenemies and fights can ensue. Interactions must be carefully monitored. Additionally, handicapped or extremely shy birds can easily become targets for the bullies, so these should never be placed in a free-flight with fully flighted birds. Many birds tend to pick on the weaker ones, and the nonflighted birds become vulnerable. Nature is seldom compassionate.


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Reader Comments
great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 3/29/2012 7:29:55 AM
This advice is very good.
Dan, Sandy Valley, NV
Posted: 8/31/2010 7:59:25 PM
We are thinking of building an aviary, but we still have a lot more reading to do. Thanks.
Wendy, Austin, TX
Posted: 7/14/2010 10:35:22 AM
Thank you for this very helpful information
We are building an aviary onto our screen enclosure in Florida and using heavy fine screening and glass that will keep all occupants safe. The aviary will be 8 ft wide x 4 ft high x 3 ft deep with natural plants - nontoxic. We will also have an enclosure that will have a thermostat so that inside temps can not go below 72 degrees. We will be keeping finches and diamond doves
Ed, Lake Worth, FL
Posted: 7/6/2010 11:14:49 AM
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