I have had many birds since I was a boy. I had always enjoyed them but I remember falling behind with the maintenance. Now with two young kids, the only way I could have birds is if they were low maintenance. I knew this couldn't ever be one hundred percent true, but an outside aviary was the only way to convince my family that they wouldn't get roped into doing it. After doing some research I became discouraged. The birds I wanted were the Gouldian Finch. All the books and many websites claimed that they were fragile and could only survive and breed in a very rigidly controlled environment. Luckily, I found one website that begged to differ. After "lady gouldian finch.com" renewed my courage, I was back on track.
I decided to jump in with both feet, I carefully thought out a plan of aviary construction that would be easy to maintain and inexpensive to build, yet very enjoyable. I had to consider climate, proper breeding accommodations, and nutrition for the birds. It also had to be big enough to walk into without causing too much of a stir. I visited a zoo and a few Finch breeder's setups to glean any ideas from the way they did things. What follows are first my plan and then my execution of my plan for a very successful aviary. I live in a moderately cold climate in winter and a hot windy climate in summer. So I would have to keep the birds warm in winter and cut down on wind in summer. I already had a shed on the side of the house, so I decided to reorganize it's contents and build a bird room that could be kept warm and used for nesting during Fall and Winter. I would build the aviary cage attached to this between my house and the shed to cut down the wind in the summer.
Because there is no better "vita-light" than the Sun, in the shed I would put in a skylight so the birds would have natural light in the day. The skylight would supplement the heat in the bird room that would be supplied at night by an electric radiator heater (no coils to catch things on fire). I had to supply electricity to the shed for the heater and lights that would be supplied on a timer for before dawn and after dusk to artificially lengthen those breeding days.
As for the aviary, once the temperature dipped too low at night in the Fall I would have to cover the entire aviary with plastic and make it like a "hot house" or greenhouse for the winter.
Because I wanted ease of maintenance, I thought up a plan of having the aviary be sort of it's own Eco-system. It would have a sand floor. This way I could wash the aviary down everyday with a hose, which would keep the humidity artificially up (like the natural habitat). The feces would wash into the sand with discarded seed and spring up sprouts that the birds would then feed on to supplement their mainly seed diets. I would somehow run a permanent hose through the fence for simplicity and to eliminate excuses for lack of maintenance.
Armed with a plan I set off on my mission.
I had read that it was better to construct an aviary out of something other then wood because of the possibility of mite infestation in the wood. So I decided to build it of metal. I had some experience welding with an arc welder so this would be easier then bolting things together. The local metal supply company carried the square steel tubing in minimum 40-foot lengths and they charged a buck a cut if I wanted to segment it. This type of tubing isn't that hard to cut yourself but it's a little messy and hard to transport in 40 foot lengths. So I based my dimensions on divisions of 40 feet and the width of wire mesh that I could get easily which was 3' and 4' wide. So I had them cut some of the tubing into 6 sections and some in 4 sections. I built several boxes then joined them together for an aviary dimension of 6'8"wX20'lX6'8"h with vertical bracing every 4 feet to fasten the wire. Of course I made a safety double door.
The tubing cost around $185 including cuts. Because I used a fairly light gauge metal, I could still pick it up and move it myself to it's final resting place where I would secure the wire. I primed and painted the steel frame to keep it from rusting and make it look nice. I live in a dry climate so rust isn't much of a problem but aviaries in a moist climate should use heavier gauge steel and carefully prime the metal.
I prepared the resting bed of sand for the cage by ordering washed sand that was trucked in. I leveled it with a straight 2X4 and a bubble level. I moved the cage in and set it in place.
Now for the wire - I used heavy gauge "horse fence" wire for the floor that I welded in place to keep the large varmints out. Then I covered it with a second layer of 1/2" square "hardware cloth". This would hopefully guard against rodents tunneling in (it did). I proceeded to cover the rest of the aviary with the 1/2' wire. The wire was bought in bulk rolls with 4' width from a wire manufacturer for $1.00 per linear foot, which is substantially less then at the hardware store. I attached this to the frame with "Tie-wraps" or "Zip ties". These were bought in bulk packages in the color black for it's better UV resistant properties. This may not be the best way to fasten the wire mesh but it was easy and required no drilling of holes and dealing with trying to synch up sharp wire. The "Tie-wraps" also took up the slack in the wire to make it tighter.
Once the wire was in place, I filled in the floor with about a half-inch more sand, attached water containers and prefabricated nests and let my new pair of Gouldians free in their new home. To cut down on the summer wind, I used some "windshade" material fastened to the wire in strategic places so as not to block the view from outside the cage. I would have to figure out the plastic covering later as the temperature decreased.
After about a month, the Gouldian pair started making their own nest out of weed clippings and dog hair that I provided. They weren't going for the prefab thing. Before I knew it I had five little peeps coming from the corner of the shed.
It was starting to get cold now. So I used 1x2 wood attached to the outside of each metal tube in the aviary to staple heavy gauge plastic to. I purchased large rolls of clear plastic from the hardware store. My father helped spread and tighten it for me as I stapled it to the wood. I folded over seams for added reinforcement. During the day the temperature would climb quickly to around 100 degrees F. At night however, it would dip into the low 30's. I hooked up my electric radiator heater and kept the shed above 50 degrees F at night. I would have to capture the birds and put them through the hole in the shed door I drilled with a doorknob hole saw. I know that this is not a recommended practice, but I would wait until they were asleep, walk up and quietly snatch them off the perch. They didn't seem to fuss and they actually got quite used to it. I also bought a pair of Zebra Finches for an experiment to see if they could breed outside during the
cold winter. It didn't work. So I took down any nest in the aviary and moved them all to the shed. The Zebras learned on their own to just sleep in the shed at night in the cold but the Gouldians had to be put away every night.
One year and one mating season came and went. Once it was warm again, I peeled off the plastic. I had a very successful year by supplying vitamins in the water, good quality seed, live alfalfa sprouts from the store until the weeds started springing up, and occasional cider vinegar in the water (see LadyGouldianFinch.com). I spray down the aviary every morning and change the water and the birds feed from a wild bird feeder hung from the ceiling. The plastic wrapped aviary turned quickly to a jungle in the spring and the birds are now relining nests with the dried out straw from, the weeds. I now have twelve Gouldians and sixteen Zebras. They have had no illnesses or fatalities. They had strong healthy babies even though the temperature in the shed would come down to 50 at night for months. So for around $400 in materials and a welder, depending on your climate, you may be able to enjoy an outdoor aviary full of hardy Gouldian and other Finches.
I still get the old "aren't those very fragile birds?" from everyone (even veterinarians) but I simply say "No...You must have gotten bad information."
John Kestler, Acton, California
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