Aviary and Enclosure
Design and Construction
 
 
1.     AVIARY DESIGN

Please click on thumbnail pictures to enlarge

T
he design of any aviary or enclosure is very much dependent on what you are intending to house and you will have to keep this in mind at all times
These are Shape & Configuration, Orientation and Materials

               First of all – Shape & Configuration – should it be:- 

a.          Long and narrow?  (suitable for Parrots, Possums, Gliders) or

b.         Square? (probably more suited to finches and softbills, again Possums and Gliders, but also Potoroos, Bettongs, Rat Kangaroos) and

c.         How high do you want it?     and

d.         Where do you want the doors and how big do you want them?     and

e.          What sort of roof do you have in mind?

Having said that, there are three main points that should be considered regardless of what you are going to house.

Basically the shape of your enclosure can be anything you like.      If you have a corner of your garden that is useless for any other purpose, consider an aviary.    You don’t necessarily have to make space in your back yard to fit an aviary, make the aviary to fit the space.    It does not have to be a rectangle, in fact its size and shape is only bounded by the space available to you and the size of your wallet.     I have a friend in the Riverland who has built an aviary that is 60m square and 7m high at the centre.    The roof and walls are all shade cloth and the supports are steel with flat padded plates at the top and the whole thing is stretched over steel rope tensioned with turnbuckles.     But I am digressing.

It is probably not a bad idea to get away from the convention of cuboid aviaries as it can make for interesting shapes but does become problematical if you want a bank of aviaries – then obviously rectangles are much more practical.    It is entirely up to you!
So you have now decided what shape you want and where you’re going to put it.    The next thing to consider is:-

Height

This is very important, even more so than the width or depth.    I believe it should be higher than you by at least 3 – 400mm, in fact the higher the better.    The idea is that when you walk into the aviary the creatures don’t feel threatened, birds can fly over your head and arboreal animals are able to stay out of reach.    Most of my aviaries are between 2 and 3m in height.    This also makes it easier for catching (birds in particular) and remember when designing the internal fittings of you aviary always leave yourself room to be able to walk about with a net in your hand without stumbling over things.   (Digressing again for a moment - there is a knack to catching birds, particularly in a long flight and that is to wait until the bird is by your side or has passed you before you attempt to net it – don’t try to net it flying towards you – you will probably miss or hit the bird with the ring of the net).

The alternative to catching with a net is to provide a place to trap your critters within the aviary.    For example an old budgie cage is a useful tool into which you place their food and arrange it so you can close the door from outside the aviary.    If you want to get a little more sophisticated you can make up a small cage to hang on the wall of your aviary, either inside or out whichever is the more appropriate for your set-up.    I am currently using this method with the small cage outside the confines of the aviary – it’s actually inside an adjacent shed.    I made my cages using two cage fronts, which can be bought from any reputable bird dealer, one on the aviary side and the other accessible from outside.     Obviously on the inside the door remains open and the other for you to have access for feeding.    The creatures will quite readily crawl or hop into a cage like this to feed and you will be able to trap them when required.    If you are going to make one of these, it’s a good idea to use the inside cage front upside down so that the door can’t drop shut accidentally – which leads us nicely into :-

 Doors.

Doors are often overlooked but in fact they are one of the most vital parts of your design.     One of my pet hates is aviaries with small doors.    I much prefer large doors.   There is nothing worse than trying to struggle into an aviary with an armful of gum branches through a tiny doorway; by the time you have squeezed through and then closed the door behind you half your critters have escaped!    The doors on my aviaries are generally not less than 1700 x 600 with a 200mm kickpanel underneath.    I can honestly say that I have never lost anything because the door was too large, but I have lost them through small doors. 

The secret with large doors is to have a wire section above the door and below the aviary roof, (another reason the aviary should have plenty of height).    Here is a suggestion that was brought to my attention at an Avicultural Society meeting, which I believe is a brilliant idea and was something new to me (we never stop learning).     Place a horizontal wire platform inside the aviary immediately above the door, then if the birds (or any other arboreal critter) heads toward the door they will need to negotiate this platform before finding the doorway.    Hopefully this would be enough to slow them up and give you time to get the door closed.

Which way do you want the door to open?

Once again my preference is for the door to open outward, (I always have built-in doorstops on the inside of the doorway so the door cannot swing inward).    I also use pad bolts both inside and out.     This leaves more usable space inside the aviary and I believe is less likely to cause birds in particular, to dive for an opening.   

Positioning of the door is also important and is going to be a little difficult to try to describe in writing but I’ll give it a go.    If the door is on the end of an aviary at the farthest point from the covered end, which is the most common place to put it, it’s not going to matter a great deal which way it is hinged, but, if you put it on the side, it should be hinged so that the hinge side of the door is away from where your birds spend most of there time.    If the door is placed in the covered end, when you open it the birds are going to fly down to the open end of the aviary and again it won’t matter which way it’s hinged.    However, I don’t like surprising my birds by walking through, what was to them a few minutes before, a blank wall, so if you do have the door at the covered end make it from some type of see through material or make lots of noise before you enter.

You can alleviate the problems of escapees if you consider a :

Safety door system.

This can be in the form of an ‘airlock’ with two doors close together.    They can be opposite or adjacent to one another and can be either outside or inside the aviary.    The outside door to should open out and the inside door to open in (preferably against the side not into the body of the aviary

Another safety door system is to have a corridor running along the length of a bank of aviaries with all the aviary doors opening into the corridor and only one door opening to the outside world.


T
he Roof

Another of my pet hates – aviaries with a fully covered roof.    All creatures enjoy rain at some time or another.    I believe you should have at least a third uncovered, preferably half, perhaps even three quarters, a lot will depend on the size of the aviary, but they should have access to sun and rain.    By all means provide them with plenty of shelter, which you will need to do to be able to keep the feed dry, but please let them have access to rain and sun and wind.    You will breed much hardier creatures this way.    I live in hot part of the world (in summertime we have long periods of mid forties) and some of my aviaries have very little cover at all.    Its main use is shade and wind protection.    On some of them, the solid sections of the walls don’t go right down the ground.    This is to allow air movement at ground level.

Which brings me to:-

Orientation.

Some people say always align your aviaries East/West or North/South or some other compass bearing – forget it!!

Every back yard has its own mini ecosystem and is different from your neighbour over the road.    Look at your own situation and arrange your aviary, if possible, to collect the early morning sun, be protected from the hot afternoon sun and from the worst of the winter wind and rain.    It’s a bit of a tall order but it is possible and it is not all in the orientation.    You can make use of existing structures or trees for shade and shelter.    If you are finding that the rain is blowing into the back of your aviary you could arrange a vertical solid section at the entrance to the covered end but if you are keeping birds, make it, if possible, from a see through material (but not clear – it allows too much heat into the area in the Summer) – birds will not fly into a dark area.    The alternative is to have a skylight in the covered end.    If you are keeping nocturnal animals this is irrelevant.

Pests

Another question that came up several times at an Avicultural Society meeting was the question of mice  – how can you build an aviary to keep them out.    The simple answer is you can’t.    I do not know any truthful creature keeper that keeps seed eating birds and animals that doesn’t have, or hasn’t had, a mouse problem at some stage.

You could possibly design and build a mouse resistant aviary by using the following suggestions but there are no guarantees – they will eventually find there way in somehow.

Mice will get through ” mesh, or at least young ones will and then they grow up and can’t get out.    The alternative is to use what is known as ‘mouse and snake wire’ which is ” mesh, but it is very expensive and what do you do about the solid sections of your aviary?    Do you bung up all the holes or do you use flat sheet material?    Then what do you do about the floor?    Do you use mouse wire again (and wait for it to rot) or do you go to the expense and hard labour of concrete.    If you’re keeping parrots they will probably chew holes in mouse wire (it’s only 0.6mm gauge).    It looks like it’s all starting to get too hard!  

There are some simple things you can do that don’t involve a lot of work or expense.    First and foremost, have a regular poisoning programme.    There are many ways in which you can bait an aviary without worrying about the birds.    You can use a bait box (purchasable at Avicultural Society meetings or any reputable bird dealer and even some of the better pet shops), a very cheap and simple method is an ice cream container with a couple small holes cut in the side then placed upside-down over a smaller container with poison in it and a brick on top to hold it down.    A word of caution here for keepers of carnivorous creatures.    I would strongly suggest that you do not bait for mice, as they may be picked up by one of your prized raptors with dire consequences.     Raptor and carnivorous animal keepers are lucky in as much as their aviaries are relatively mouse free anyway for obvious reasons.

Another trick, if you have the space, is to make sure your aviary has a cleared area all around it, preferably something solid like a concrete apron, pavers or paving slabs.    Make it so the mice have to cross a reasonably wide-open space before they get to the aviary – they don’t like it and will avoid it if possible.    Also keep water away from the outside of the aviaries – under normal conditions mice won’t travel more than about 10m from a water supply.    Obviously you have got to have water inside the aviaries but keep it well away on the outside (no dripping taps, pot plants with saucers, ponds, leaky hoses, dripper systems, etc. etc.).    I realise some of these suggestions are not very practical, but they will help.

So what sorts of materials are you going to use to build this fantastic creature complex?

Materials

             We have many choices:-

Timber,

Steel,

Meshes

or a combination of all of these

Timber
 

As we are talking about Australian conditions there is not a lot of choice with timber – probably CCA treated pine is the best (that’s the green stuff) but don’t house ‘flying bolt cutters’ in such an enclosure otherwise you’ll have no aviary left and probably a dead bird or two.    Although having said that, I have built aviaries for the smaller parrots using permapine and they served me very well for a lot of years and they look attractive but they are very difficult to dismantle if you have to move and they require more maintenance than steel.    Permapine tends to move a lot – it will expand and twist when it gets wet and will do the reverse when it dries out.    I have seen 100mm (4”) twisted galvanised roofing nails work their way out by as much as an 25mm (1”) or more over quite a short period of time (basically two seasons).

I have also used Creosote treated pine but although it has that beautiful nasal clearing smell, it is dirty to work with and an extreme fire hazard.    I had used some of the off cuts as fire lighters and they would burn very fiercely.     I would also worry about creatures chewing it and ingesting some of the chemicals involved.   Just a note here about CCA treated pine – do not burn it.    It will give off Cyanide gas that is extremely toxic to anything that has the misfortune to breath the vapours.    Please dispose of it safely and responsibly.

This series of pictures show a bank of six aviaries manufactured using CCA treated Pine that was simply cut to size and bolted together.  

The whole complex is 9m square with an access corridor to all six aviaries across the back    It was installed on a sloping block and housed a variety of the larger parrot species in the beginning and later used for Brush-tailed Possums.    I was not aware of any losses due to the treated pine.

Now if want to get really carried away you could go for a less conventional design than the one pictured above and go for some like the picture that follows.

This aviary is also made from CCA treated pine and uses both poles and rectangular section and is assembled in a similar fashion to the bank of six.
 

However, I, being a perverse sort of character, decided it wouldlook better with the wire of the roof attached on the inside rather that the outside, which it does, but it was to put it bluntly, a bastard of a job and I would never attempt it again (unless somebody offered me squillions of dollars and even then I would have to think twice). The joint at the apex was a little tricky but basically the roof supports are angle cut and then nailed to the centre support post.    Then the whole assembly has a “chinamans hat” screwed in place over the top.    To tidy the whole thing up I decided to include a finch nesting complex at the apex, which was used, regularly by my Double Barred finches. 

You will note that this aviary is also on sloping ground and you can also see that there is a more conventional flat roofed covered area attached to one side of the hexagon, which was used for more nest boxes and as a feeding area.    This area also had a safety door entry.

Now we come to the more traditional choice of:-

Steel

I mostly use 20mm (
3/4”) x 20mm (3/4”) x 1.6mm (1/16”) square galvanised tube (or sometimes 25mm (1”) x 25mm (1”) x 1.6mm (1/16”)) welded together to make a frame.    I’ll discuss this in more detail later under the heading of construction.    Alternatives are angle, C channel or round tube all galvanised of course..

Meshes

Mesh type and size.

There are a myriad different types of aviary meshes available but the basics are the chicken wire types and the welded meshes.

If I am building an aviary to sell I would always use an Australian manufactured weldmesh but I have, and do, use chicken wire on large ‘in situ’ aviaries of my own, particularly for birds of prey.    It is much ‘softer’ and the birds do not seem to damage themselves like they do behind a conventional 12mm (”) square weldmesh.    I would actually much prefer to see these types of birds behind aviaries of vine netting for at least the roof and half way down the sides, but you do really need wire or some form of solid material for, at least, the bottom half of the walls simply for mechanical protection from outside.

Combination

Here the choices are up to you – use whatever suitable materials you have at hand.    You could have steel posts (for termite protection) with timber at roof height – particularly if you want to have a shade cloth roof.    It’s much easier to attach shade cloth to timber rather than to steel.    I mentioned earlier a  60m (200ft) square aviary made of shade cloth and I thought you may be interested in how it was fixed at ground level.    It was a very simple but very effective idea.    Basically a trench was dug all around the perimeter of the aviary 1m deep and 1m wide.     The ends of the shade cloth were then placed into the trench and it was then backfilled.     It is never going to move – believe me!!    The only weakness in the whole structure is where the support pillars meet the roof and after a lot of years of good service it is starting to show signs of wear at these points.

The secret with a shade cloth roof is to make sure it fixed so that in cannot move, rub or chafe against anything else.    If it is fixed it cannot wear – it is only where there is movement where there is going to be a problem.    Take particular care on the lee side of any such structure – this is where the most wear is going to occur.    (If you think of a flag – which part of it is doing all the flapping?).

The aviary pictured left is a combination of steel and timber.    The supports and the roof trusses are 50mm (2”) x 50mm (2”) galvanised square steel tube and the surround at the roof line is rectangular section timber.    In this roof I also used a 2.5mm (3/16”) high tensile steel wire in rows, attached to turnbuckles at one end and eye bolts at the other, as additional supports for the weldmesh.      This aviary was built in situ and is not constructed using the panel method (this is discussed I detail later).     It is about 10m (33ft) wide, 4m (13ft) deep and 4.2m high (14ft) at the highest point and contains mostly finches and small parrots.    This is a classic example of the need to arrange some form of catching facility within the aviary.    Without this and in an aviary of these dimensions you would have no hope of catching fast flying finches unless you were extremely lucky.    You will also note that in this particular case, there is very little level ground underfoot within the aviary confines, which also adds to the difficulty in chasing small birds around.

 Miscellaneous.

For birds - Don’t over-perch your aviaries – leave room for the birds to fly or don’t clutter the floor if they’re ground dwellers.    Also don’t clutter the floor with things you can fall over.

For animals - Here the opposite applies.   You will need plenty of branches for the animals to run around on and climb up and down, but again, don’t clutter the floor with things you can trip over.    Also leave enough room for you to walk in the enclosure comfortably without poking yourself in the eye with a piece of badly positioned branch.

 For all creatures - Make sure the feeding stations are out of the weather and make sure the they are out of reach of ants and mice (this is not so easy and is a problem all of its own and is discussed later).      For creatures that drink (strangely enough there are some that don’t – e.g. the Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) and the Kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei)), make sure they always have fresh clean water and that it is placed out of the sun – particularly in summer.    For birds in particular that don’t drink or drink very seldom (eg birds of prey) it is a good idea to provide a shallow tray (eg a cat litter tray is ideal or upturned dustbin lid) of water in which they can bath, which is something they really enjoy.   

For animals that don’t drink (like the Kowari and some other carnivorous marsupials) water is probably more of a hazard than a help.    It will probably be spilled and be spread around the enclosure, they will probably contaminate it and all you are going to achieve is more work for yourself.    If you insist on providing water for these creatures use a bottle with a ball valve (as you would for mice) but you will find the animals will probably ignore it as they get all the moisture they need from their food source which is why it is important to ensure these creatures are fed a proper diet.

Try recreating the environment of the species you are going to house – again this is a tall order, but it is possible for some species. 

eg.        For water or wading birds you could have a couple of shallow ponds with a stream running between them. 

For desert species you could have lots of sand (not bricklayers sand but washed sand), rocks, tussock grass etc.             

These are only some ideas for you to think about when designing an aviary and I know there will be many more, but I believe I have covered the basics.    Please use your imagination, look at other peoples ideas and adapt them, talk to as many creature keepers as you can for more ideas and preferably put all your ideas down on paper before you start.   

And the most important item of all - never forget that the comfort of the inhabitants is the prime objective.

…...Cont’d Part 2

Bennett's Wallaby
Juvenile NT Brushtail Possum
Swamp Wallaby
Golden Brushtail Possum
Red Kangaroos
Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies
Baby Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider
Euro

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