Window of Opportunity

In San Diego County, California, one would think that introducing birds to life out of doors in aviaries would be easy to do, year-round.  While we only have two seasons, most years, there is a pretty narrow window of opportunity for this process.  And that is due to the Marine Layer.

No, Camp Pendleton Marines may be getting pretty bad press right now, but they don’t have  anything to do with this Marine Layer.  The phrase refers to the low, dense fog that rises over the coastal cities, nearly every day, and occasionally makes it all the way in to the inland desert valley where the Home for Happy Hookbills exists.

If your bird or birds have been inside for a day or longer, you will want to wait until the window of opportunity opens for your area.  I’m not really complaining about the San Diego window, knowing that it can be even shorter in other parts of the world.  The window opens when your inside comfortable temperature and the outside overnight temperature are the same.  Here we wait until the overnight temps stabilize at about 60 degrees F.  At least, we wish they would stabilize there.  Sleeping in 80 degree weather is hardly comfortable.  But I digress.

In San Diego, we start with a condition in late Spring called May Gray.  In other words, the Marine Layer floats inland and keeps the temperatures low during the day and at night.  June Gloom starts next, and a revered local weatherman used to say, “No sun in the sky ’till the fourth of July.”  The window opens from July through, usually, September or early October.

Once you have pinpointed the date when the weather gods will favor your venture, you need to know this as well:  The most constant direction of the wind, year-round.  The aviary will need a solid wall on at least half of that side.  A roof and one more side wall, and you are pretty close to the ideal aviary set-up.  Of course the weather situation is only one small part of setting up your aviary.

Now consider how much room you have in the aviary, how many birds you can cram in there, and which birds will get along with whom.  The hardest thing to explain to non-bird people is that birds are individuals.  No, really!  No two cockatiels will react or behave in the same way in identical situations.  You may substitute canary, love bird, budgie, dove, or quail in that sentence.  Okay, maybe not dove.  But because your birds get along inside your home, don’t expect all members of the same species will get along.  And outside, where there are lots of scary things like hawks and cats and possums and leaves blown by the wind, your sweet bird may be more edgy than usual.

Predators are another consideration for your aviary.  If you can build under a tree that will screen the birds inside from the hawks outside, you will be one step ahead.  My aviary became a natural spot to put long branches cut from fruit trees, palm trees, and other vegetation that needed to be cut.  This helps with some camouflaging, but  does not screen out the beneficial sunlight.  We’ve had so few issues with winged raptors that they are memorable when they happen.  Usually the cockatiels will set up a concerned cry and when Mike goes out to check, he will see a hawk sitting on the nearby fence or the peak of the house roof, considering the best way to get at the birds.   Once the hawk sees us,  the creature is off in a hurry.

Mice and possibly rats will have to be deterred.  If you have large birds in the aviary, you want to keep the wire size larger so the birds can get a good grip on the walls.  But that will let the mice walk right in like they own the place.  So a second layer of smaller wire on the outside could be beneficial.  The mice we have like to burrow into potted plants’ soil, apparently eating the roots as well.  Wire covers on the plants help some, but not enough.  Because we have a cat, we do not use poison on the rodents.  We use spring traps, both inside and out.  We also use the cat.  She has been rather good at keeping the population small and intimidated.

When we first moved in to this house, 11 years ago, the neighbors had a tall palm tree that yearly housed a pair of barn owls and their brood.  We rarely saw mice in the area.  But they chopped it down four years ago, probably due to the fire storm fears, and within a year the rodent population had surged.  So the aviary needs to walk a fine line between keeping the birds safe from raptors but not prey to rodents.

Be sure whatever type of food bowls or hoppers you use in the aviary are not going to encourage the rodents either.  We use open bowls in the aviary, and fill them twice a week.  No rodents have camped out in them, probably in part due to the cockatiels drawing a line at sharing their food.

We have large tube waterers high and low for the cockatiels and button quail, a dust bowl for the quail, and a splash bath for the cockatiels.  I try to keep some plants either just outside the aviary or inside in bird cages so that the birds can only eat a part of the plant at any one time.  The mice that can get in to the aviary can get into the bird cages where the plants are, and that is a losing battle.

With the time of year finally upon you, the aviary set up with the number of walls and a roof needed, food and water bowls chosen, and happy birds to live in it, you will find hours of enjoyment watching the life in this community.  Wherever you live, soak up the summer and think about how healthy your birds will be.

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