Time has come again to San Diego and it's time to start building, repairing and freshening up our aviaries. The following techniques have worked well for me and I hope you will find them helpful too.
- To prepare aviary wire for painting, spray with household vinegar 24 hours prior to use. The vinegar pocks the surface of the metal and makes for better bonding of the paint. A vinegar rinse also helps to remove any chemicals leftover from the manufacturing process. A plastic misting bottle is perfect for this use.
- Painting aviary wire black makes the wire nearly invisible because the darkness absorbs light. When introducing new birds to a black-wire flight it's a good idea to put a few strips of masking tape on the wire to help show them the boundaries and avoid collisions. Unpainted wire makes for difficult viewing in bright conditions and can have a stark appearance.
- Paints for use around birds should state on the label: "child safe", "non- toxic", or "nursery safe". Flat finish latex is preferable as it is not light- reflective and is usually more durable than enamel paint.
- Aviary wire is much easier to paint once it has been hung on its frame. The simplest method for this is to recruit a friend to apply paint (with a paint roller) from the inside of the enclosure while you do the same on the outside. Working this way gives excellent surface coverage and goes quickly. All paints should be dried at least 48 hours before introducing birds so that any fumes can dissipate.
- Poured concrete is the ideal aviary flooring. It can be scrubbed and disinfected unlike other substrates. A 2% grade allows for drainage. Be sure to leave a wire-covered gap at the sloped end of the flight so that debris can be hosed out.
- Another option is sand. When using sand, I like to first treat the ground with liberal amounts of garden Sulfur and Sevin Dust for bacterial and insect control. Over this, I lay a double layer of industrial strength canvas or sail cloth. The sand is then poured to about 3 inches in depth on top of the canvas. I like to mix in about 1 cup of garden Lime to each 50 pounds of sand to help retard bacterial growth and control odors.
- When using a sand floor, I sift weekly and disinfect twice a year. Disinfection is done by mixing a 20 to 1 water to bleach solution and pouring it evenly over the sand using a watering can. I do not remove birds when sanitizing the sand but you may wish to.
- Gravel flooring is also an option but cannot be sifted and should be hosed and raked weekly and replaced annually.
- Dirt floors should be avoided for most species. If using earth flooring, be sure to bury aviary wire at least 18 inches below the surface to discourage burrowing animals. An annual worming protocol is also a good idea in this kind of aviary.
- A planted aviary is always nice to look at. I like to use a mixture of real and artificial potted plants to create a lush look and also reduces upkeep and replacement costs for real plants. For most hookbills, plantings are limited to the perimeter of the enclosure. Be sure all plants inside and out are non-toxic if the birds can reach them!
- A few bird safe plants include: (all species of) palm, evergreens, bamboo, boxwood, ferns and ficus.
- The bases of potted plants should be covered with mesh or shade cloth to keep birds from consuming any pesticides or fertilizers in the soil.
- Pest control is always a challenge to the outdoor bird keeper. Here are a few things that can help: Ants will not cross a line of Pam Cooking Spray applied to a surface. Spraying the perimeter of the flight about once a week is quite effective. (Be very careful using Pam around smooth concrete surfaces as it can be extremely slippery if it gets wet)! Sprinkling a little table salt on top of the Pam will keep snails out of your aviaries also. Rats are a veritable plague here in San Diego and the best deterrent for them are dogs/cats. Rats are intelligent animals and so the usual array of traps becomes ineffective pretty quickly and poisons are not usually a great solution. Nightlights are necessary for outdoor birds so that when a predator disturbs them at night they can see to get back to a perch. If the birds can't see, they begin to panic and exhaust themselves until the rats are able to grab them through the wire. A string or two of outdoor Christmas lights work very well to give adequate light. These can be placed inside the flight of non-chewing birds and incorporated into the plantings to hide them during the day. For parrots, they can be mounted outside the flight beyond beak/foot range.
- Prior to hanging, nest boxes can be soaked in heavily salted water for a day or so and then left to dry in the sun. The salt impregnates the wood retarding fungal and bacterial growth while drawing humidity from the air to help facilitate hatching.
- Tripod plant stands with shallow pans make great food trays. When food is served in shallower dishes, most birds (especially parrots!) will do less "seed shoveling" if they can see and feel the bottom of the dish. This helps cut down of feed costs and mess a bit.
- Metal 'moss baskets' (available at any garden center) make excellent nesting material holders and can be hung inside the aviary and refilled when needed.
- Parasites such as red mites are fairly easy to control proactively. Nest boxes should be liberally dusted with Sevin Dust prior to hanging. Nesting material can also be lightly treated with Sevin.
- To help save on aviary construction costs, a ¾ sized door is nearly as effective as a safety porch but less material and space is needed. The idea is that birds will RARELY fly down and then up as you enter. Having a small net in your hand as you go in virtually assures that all the birds will move as far back as they can!
- Use Red Wood for door frames as it does not swell and stick when wet or humid. Less expensive wood can be used for the rest of the construction and then stained to look like Red Wood for a very nice appearance. (Be sure the product states that it is non-toxic or child-safe).
- Misting tubes (available at Home Depot) make life comfortable and fun for birds in hot weather. These can even be put on temperature-sensitive control devices to automatically turn on the mist at a set temperature.
- Plastic or bamboo screens can be attached to the sides of the flight to be rolled down on stormy or windy days. These can also provide welcome shade during hot periods. Screening can provide privacy for nervous or flighty breeding birds.
- Untreated Grapevine wreaths can be purchased at floral supply shops and unwound to create interesting and attractive perching. Connect pieces end to end with floral wire for larger spaces and add artificial leaves and flowers if you like. Small birds clearly enjoy the 'springiness' of this kind of perch.
- Be sure to examine the roof of your aviary carefully. Remember that the wind has a way of loosening roof panels and that sun degrades and weakens fiberglass over time. The current government recommendation is that the entire roof of the aviary be covered to help prevent contact with wild birds. This is something to consider with the advent of Avian Influenza.
I hope that these few pointers help to make the upcoming season more enjoyable for you and your flock. Enjoy your birds! Karl Lieberman.