Outdoor aviaries have become all the rage in the avian community. It’s a great thing. There are untold benefits from getting our birds into just a few minutes of moderate, natural sunlight daily:
- Sunlight interacts with the oils from our parrot’s uropygial gland (which are spread throughout the feathers during preening) and converts to vitamin D3 in the body. Vitamin D3 has a large role in the body’s ability to maintain normal calcium levels in the blood and to absorb calcium, which in turn determines our bird’s bone, feather and beak health.
- Sunlight supports the immune system and greatly reduces the chances of developing cancer. It helps overall organ function.
- Sunlight has sterilizing qualities and kills bacterias on feathers, toys and cages.
- Sunlight wards off depression and fatigue – in all creatures.
We bird lovers are all over this and are looking at safe ways to take advantage of that big yellow thing that rises into the sky every day offering all of these glorious benefits – and for FREE! Not to mention the fresh air!
As a result, many people are looking at ways to build their own aviaries. There are some serious safety issues that need to be addressed, though, before you try this. We want your birds healthy, but we also want them safe from injury, toxicity and predator attack.
It takes a lot of careful, thoughtful planning to build an aviary. Most that are not designed commercially are works in progress. Just about everyone I know who has built their own has discovered flaws in their planning and has had to rebuild or modify their aviary.
There are three main areas where these flaws are discovered:
Plans that look good on paper do not always worked out well in construction. The places where the sides meet each other and the top of the aviary are one of the places where injury occurs. If they are not spaced properly or are unsteady they become areas where toes, beaks and wings can become caught. A gust of wind shaking the sides of one person’s aviary resulted in the loss of an entire foot of their bird.
Most of us are not engineers. However, most of us are talented enough to erect an enclosure that is cube-shaped. It seems logical that this would be sufficient for an aviary. Unfortunately, this design is responsible for the escape of many parrots as we enter the aviary. Commercial designs include an small area outside of the actual aviary (called a catch-hold) that you enter first and close off from the outside before opening the door to the aviary. Also, aviaries that are set directly on the ground might leave birds vulnerable to animals that can burrow underneath it to get in. Most people wouldn’t think to consider that fact.
This might be the most important consideration in your planning. Almost all materials standardly used in construction of outdoor structures are made of things that are TOXIC TO BIRDS. Chain link? Toxic! Galvanized hardware? Toxic! Pressure treated woods? Toxic! NONE of these can be used around birds. Birds are chewers and they explore with their mouths. No one can say with certainty that their bird will not investigate a particular thing in their environment. Your “never-gets-into-anything” bird might shock you with what he does get into when you aren’t looking.
The unfortunate truth is that to build a an aviary that meets all the necessary construction, design and materials safety standards, it won’t cost you a whole lot less than most commercial aviaries.This is mainly due to the right materials being unavailable at reasonable costs because of lack of demand.
As I explore the internet looking for products to recommend to people who want to make their own aviaries, I have come up with very little that is affordable. Zoo mesh is probably the most reliably safe product to use in a homemade aviary, but it costs between $30-40 per meter, which is just smaller than a yard, and is sold in minimum 100 meter quantities. That’s $3-4,000 for the fencing alone. (I don’t suppose a bunch of you would be interested in going in on some together??)
I also found this company, based in the UK, that has a reasonably priced product. They sell powder coated panels to your specification that are bolted together. The total cost of an 8X8′ aviary would be about $1100 – before shipping. Unfortunately, this does not include a catch-hold, but one could be added.
This post isn’t meant to scare you away from building your own aviary, but rather to encourage you to be extra careful in your planning of one if you do. I have mentioned above a few of the things that can go wrong in aviary planning, but there are certainly more to consider. It would be very sad to learn that someone who cared so much about their bird that they took the time to build an outdoor aviary had a death or injury as the result of their good intentions.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.