Step One: Determine which birds will benefit most from being outside, such as breeders and birds that pluck. Outside, there will be exposure to sunlight, which helps sooth skin and feather issues. Also you can provide lots of foraging opportunities, to keep pluckers busy. And being outside is good for fledglings, for the same reasons.
Step Two: Determine which birds can get along together in the space available. Cockatiels usually can get along with many other birds, but I wouldn’t personally risk finches with them. Loves birds have to be in their own enclosure, and it has to be large or limited to one couple. Parakeets are pretty aggressive, and I have experienced issues with having just parakeets in an enclosure. They can be aggressive to each other.
Note on parakeets: These birds like to flock together. I know some people have had luck breeding a single pair, but usually the hen wants a few other couples around for safety. I had my best breeding luck with a cage holding three pair, a couple of single hens, and providing 4 nest boxes.
Step Three: Decide on a location for the cage or aviary. Remember you want to be able to walk around the enclosure so you can address any issues that arise. You will want a location that offers as much natural shade and sun as possible. Determine when and how the wind blows through the location. You want to make the enclosure is as large as possible.
Step Four: Select the enclosure. If you are lucky enough to afford a pre-made aviary, this is the easy part. I am lucky to have a husband who can design and build cages and aviaries. Be sure to select carefully the location of the doors and food access areas. I highly recommend having an “air lock” or enclosed area that you step into first, close the outer door, and then step into the enclosure. Much safer!
Step Five: Determine the floor composition, cement, dirt, straw, or ? My large aviary sits on cement, but has a good layer of seed on the floor. This allows the button quail to walk around comfortably, and stay a bit warmer in the winter. I have a separate quail cage for the juveniles and a pair that don’t give me eggs, and that floor has dried grass on it. Bare wire is not good for quail. If the extra cage was used as intended and up on legs, the quail could not manage it at all.
Step Six: Sit in the enclosure and visualize the placement of perches, food, water, baths, swings toys, plants, and nest boxes. If your floor is cement or brick, consider putting the plants in an old cage, a small one perhaps, so the birds can trim off the tips of the growth, but not strip the plant. Consider if you will want to walk around inside the aviary. Will you conduct nest checks from inside or outside? If you have birds with different nutritional needs in the same space, how will you provide different food for each? Being able to give caged birds fresh food daily is a goal all breeders need to strive toward. This will help with any plucking issues or health issues.
Step Seven: Keep birds in, pests out. Our baby button quail are so tiny that they are able to walk out of the aviary until they are about two weeks old. To keep them inside, Mike ran a strip of very small square wire cloth around the bottom of the aviary. The air lock also helps keep excitable birds inside. Almost every fledgling cockatiel we’ve had makes one break for the door. Of course without the airlock, I like to think we would be more careful.
Keeping pests out is much more difficult. Ants will invade a nest box and overwhelm weak chicks. Button quail love to eat ants. But they can’t always keep up. Sevin dust in the nest boxes (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Sevin-1-lb-Garden-Insect-Killer-Shaker-Canister-7007/100662149) and AIL sprayed at intervals (http://www.allbirdproducts.com/newproductpages/avian_insect_liquidator.html) keeps the ants in some control. Mice are a problem we haven’t solved yet. When owls nested nearby, our mice population was controlled. but currently the mice can crawl above the small wire strip, and get into the aviary. They like to sleep between the nest boxes and the enclosing wall of the protected corner. Our cat Oreo has just figured out where the mice live, and recently caught and devoured two. Mice burrow into the planters I have just outside the aviary. When I water, they come boiling out of the dirt.
Predators are also pests, and we have had our share of hawks come to look at the birds. they are usually smart enough to realize this is not a Happy Meal. We have had some birds injured mysteriously, but can’t say for sure if it was a starving bird of prey attempting to pull one through the wires. Luckily we haven’t had snakes or other reptiles in the aviary. We do have a beautiful lizard who lives in the front of the house in a planter. I hope he eats baby mice.
Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of how to put birds in an aviary!