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The Importance of Aviary Design

(The Avicultural Review August 1985 Vol. 7 No. 8)
(Printable Version - PDF file - Free Adobe Reader download)

By Jock Strap

We were blessed at our August meeting to have as our guest one of the world's leading aviculturists, Mr Mike Fidler of the United Kingdom.  Mike explained that he had come to Australia this trip as part of a study tour being conducted by Newcastle (UK) University on the plight of the Gouldian Finch in northern Western Australia and he was making the most of the trip by popping into Sydney and Melbourne to look up old friends and if possible come to some club meetings.  Mike addressed the meeting on various aspects of aviculture and made much comment on Australian aviary design, which is my pet subject as it is of vital importance and is more than often paid lip service instead of being viewed as the first important step towards successful breeding.

Mike has been one of my favourite bird people ever since I first met him in Brisbane at their Convention in 1983 and is particularly now so since he told me yesterday that I looked 'years younger' than the last time we met in 1984 when we visited his place at Snarestone in Staffordshire. When you're on the wrong side of 30, well, you just gotta like the guy!  Not only is he a nice bloke, he's also an A1 breeder.  He specialises in intensive aviculture - cabinet fostering of finches - and breeds mostly Gouldians and their mutations and many different types of Parrot Finches.  He's regarded as one of the leaders in this field universally, so you can take his comments as being pretty well gospel, although he's the first to deny this.  Anyway, I've been following his recommendations now for almost two years and my results have improved out of sight, so I listen to every word he says.

Mike really gave it to us when he said that our Australian aviaries are not clean (he's too polite to say filthy) and he inferred that we probably breed more germs, bacteria and parasites than birds.  I remember when we went on the aviary tour at the Brisbane Convention, Mike was horrified at most of the aviaries we saw.  He didn't say anything, but you could tell from the look on his face - his eyes sort of got as big as his ears, and he slowly turned green.  Later he said that when we went to the first one it was either a joke, or it was an example of what not to do - he just could not believe that they were the best and not the worst examples of Aussie aviculture.  My own aviaries now are pretty clean, partly because they're only a couple of years old, but also because I vacuum them bimonthly and spray Coopex every 6 months.  I have become conscious of hygiene, basically because of what Mike told me in Brisbane, and what Jim 'the butcher' Gill keeps telling us at most meetings. I know that if Mike had come to my previous aviaries, he wouldn't have gone near them.  They had 6" of seed husks, droppings and you name it, on the floor, like most aviaries and I did breed red mite and feral mealworms better than birds.  Today I look back on them and cringe - they were a disgrace - and I wondered why my $500 pair of birds I bought didn't breed and did die!  As Mike said, they were typial Australian Aviaries.

But hygiene and health are another story - that's Dr Jim Gill and Dr Mike Cannon's department. What I want to talk about is aviary design, which is Mike Fidler's other objection to our present avicultural techniques in this country.  He says that we'd all do well breeding penguins in our cold, open aviaries. He said, and we'd all agree with him, that we all think of Australia in terms of a hot and dry country and forget that our winters are as cold!  We often get those icy cold winds that drive into your aviaries and almost blow them over.  Cold winds will kill your birds quicker than if you forget to feed them. What Mike is trying to say is that our aviaries are fine in summer, but we all forget about winter, and instead of large full open flights, we should look towards more sheltered, protected flights and we will suffer less losses and breed more birds.  As an example he said that he had visited Brian O'Gorman at Stawell in Victoria and he found Brian's aviaries to be fairly similar to his own - fully roofed and enclosed on all sides except the front.  We all know Brian O'Gorman's reputation for breeding birds! What we all have to look to is basic aviary design.  Everyone knocks European bird books - they say the advice is useless and you can't get any of the birds here.  Sure you can't get all the birds, nor all of the special foods they mention like dried flies, etc., but don't be too quick to knock their aviary design ideas because they are what Brian O'Gorman and many other Aussie breeders are using; and more successfully than our traditional open style aviaries.  Because our summers are hotter you don't make a permanently fully enclosed shelter with only a small hole for the birds to get out to a flight, but you can make aviaries that have removable protective walls that can be put in place in autumn and removed in spring.  Or you can do what they do in the UK and build aviaries that are fully enclosed on all sides but the front and you can use a couple of translucent panels in the roof to allow light through, install a sprinkler system; and you can still have fully enclosed and protected AND planted aviaries.

Before you build your next aviaries (I am not advocating demolishing your present setup, but you can look at modifying it or improving their protective qualities) spend a little time on the design stage. Think about what you want your aviaries to do - the type of birds you want to keep, their requirements and needs, etc.  Have a good look at your site - the aspect, the source of prevailing winds, the slope, etc., and the climate in that area - rainfall (amount and distribution), temperature (highs AND lows), and any other relevant aspects.  All these factors determine the success or failure of your aviaries.  I spent a whole year on the planning and design of my present setup before I lifted a finger toward the construction stage.  Sure, I'm slow, but I am going to be here for a long time, so I had to get it right, or as close as possible, the first time.  I went to many aviaries in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, as well as California and Hawaii, before I came up with my final plans. Although they aren't fully enclosed on all sides as is Mike Fidler's optimum, they are protected from all prevailing winds and are sited so as to stay as dry as possible and provide the best possible protection and shelter for the birds.  I also decided first what birds I wanted to keep and worked a plan to accomodate as many as possible in the allotted area.  I also included a bird room.  I do not cabinet breed, but everyone needs somewhere to store seed, mix up food, house surplus and sick birds, etc.  A bird room is a must, unless you want a garage full of seed bins and boxes and a laundry full of cages and birds.

One of the most important things to remember is that to successfully breed birds you have to spend TIME on them.  If you have limited time like I do, you will need to design aviaries to allow maximum time saving.  Mike Fidler showed that the design of his breeding cages for fostering was based on ease of maintenance with minimum time necessary - as he put it. The doors were designed so that you go along 'bang, bang, bang' and give 400 cages green food in a couple of minutes.  The same goes for your aviaries unless you are retired and have endless time.  I have an automatic watering system. I turn on one tap and all the aviaries get cool fresh water simultaneously and the runoff goes down a drain into the sewer and eliminates damp, bug infested floors.  I have lights in each aviary, but I have a switch for each one.  A lot of guys now have automatic switches that turn the lights on when it gets dark and off in the morning and I will be installing one of these to eliminate one further job.  Take a good look at how you can build aviaries that will allow you to adequately look after the birds but that will take a minimum of time. Time saved on menial tasks allows more time for the important things.

One further tip on design - when you have your plans drawn up, before you start work, show them to a few experienced builders of aviaries.  Get their opinions, listen to their constructive criticism and make any necessary alterations.  You'll be glad you did in the long run.  It's quicker, easier and cheaper to do it right in the first place.

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