Constructing Your Aviary
By Chris Leeper
Design and aviary construction share many points in common. Before constructing your aviary, you must choose the type of aviary you want to construct and the design, including feeding/catching stations, water stations, and of course, sheltered areas for the birds which will allow them to escape the attentions of predatory birds, dogs, cats, snakes, etc.
In deciding to construct your own aviary, you obviously need to take into consideration your own expertise in building and the ability to design a suitable plan. Everybody has some great ideas but sometimes we do not have the ability to carry them out. So you may not be a handy person, in which case you might decide to have somebody else build the aviary/aviaries for you. Beware, however, as the construction of an aviary is time consuming and therefore expensive. If there is a way for you to do it yourself then you should try to do it.
As explained in the previous article on Design, there are four main choices for framework – timber, galvanised channel or square hollow section, galvanised pipe or aluminium channel or hollow section. During my years as a bird person I have had aviaries made from timber, galvanised pipe and now aluminium hollow section.
Timber is quite effective and reasonably easy to work with. As mentioned in the Design article, be careful if using any type of treated timber as sometimes the arsenic mixture will leech out and it could be harmful to your birds. There are a number of products available now to help you with your timber construction. Remember to factor in the construction of your rat wall, whether it is concrete where you can butt the timber to it or if it is made of galvanised or colorbond sheeting, which needs to go into the ground. These are things you need to consider before you start construction so that you can plan for them accordingly.
At one time I bought a second-hand greenhouse made of galvanised tubing. For the most part it was very easy to work with, most of the wire was easily sewn on and it looked good. However, my son-in-laws hated the thing because they were the ones who had to go up on the roof and screw the roofing panels down and the tubing was very hard to work with in that instance.
Aluminium Hollow Section
This would have to be my choice of building material. Trust me, if I can build a bank of aviaries on my own, then anyone can do it. I first saw a big complex built with this product when we had the first out-of-town meeting at Russell and Indra Kingston’s property. The aviaries look smart and as all the parts just slot together, I could see that I would be able to build aviaries that would look good and be very effective without having to resort to hitting up the son-in-laws for their help all the time. Obviously, they are delighted with my forethought and are even quite happy to come dig rat walls for me occasionally as needed.
We sold our property and bought another on five acres just on a year ago. I was lucky in that I had to settle on the new home before the old one settled so that gave me three weeks to make a holding aviary for my birds. As I had sold off a number of birds at the September auction, I only had about 40 birds to house until the first bank of aviaries was complete. I therefore built an aviary on the patio that measured roughly 3m x 3m x 2.6m high. While being a little overcrowded, it worked well for the time the birds were in it, which was about 8 – 9 weeks.
It was a good opportunity to work with the product before starting the main aviaries and gave me a bit of a heads up, so to speak, on the best and easiest way to approach the task of building a large bank of aviaries. My first lot of aviaries were built inside a shed, which was enclosed on three sides, measuring 12m x 3.8m. The open 12m side faces north and there is one personal door at the rear of a short side and two windows in the back of the long wall. This shed was divided internally into eight holding/juvenile aviaries measuring on average 1.5m x 2.8m x 2.2m high. In ordering the shed I did not realise that the front open section would have diagonal struts for support at the top of each upright beam (see photo) and this inhibited my plan a little and I had to change my design slightly to compensate. That is a lesson in itself – be prepared to change your plan at the drop of a hat when things change, or you see or get a better idea.
I started the aviaries inside the shed at one end and built and completed each one as I went along, except for the last aviary, which had to have the walls and roof on before it could be joined to the others. When designing the aviaries I incorporated a feeding station in each flight, which then abuts the feeding station in the next aviary. Because the hollow aluminium slots together so easily it can be tempting to get as much framework done as quickly as possible. What you quickly realise, however, is that when you want to put the wire on, if you have done too much framework you will either have to cut your wire to fit or pull one feeding station out again, fit the wire, and then put it back. Hence I did each wall and fitted the wire before building the next section. I have also built in watering platforms that are designed similarly to the feeding stations and the wire had to be put on before each pair could be completed. See the photo detailing the feeding station. The top tray holds grits and other non-food type supplements, the middle tray holds the wet mixture, live food , black seeds and egg and biscuit mix. The bottom tray holds a dish of dry mixed finch mix. I made the feeding station the size to take a kitty litter tray, as these are fairly standard and easy to obtain, the food is then put into small dishes. In an average size aviary, this feeding station seems to work well and I haven’t had any problems with fighting or hogging of the feed.
Although these aviaries are basically finished now I still have to place a 500mm drop down privacy screen at the top and 800mm of opaque polycarbonate along the front, to secure against predators but still let a lot of light in.
Large Breeding Aviaries
After the little problem of the diagonal struts with the juvenile aviaries, I was very specific when getting quotes for the breeding complex. I ordered a shed structure measuring 12m x 7m with three open sides to 2.5m high. The shed has a very clean ‘line’ to it, which enabled me to screw the framework directly to the support beams and leave no gaps, perfect for rat/mouse control. The photo shows how the aviary butts flush with the roof. It was a little tricky sliding the wire between the roof and the top of the aviary structure, the tubing was then screwed in place to the roof support, there-by sealing any slight gap there might be.
The one closed 7m end has one personal door. Power has been put in and we also put a 22,000 litre rain water tank in place for the birds. The front of the aviary complex faces north with the sides facing west and east. The western side has trees, which provide shade from about 3pm on. The back, which faces south and the worst winds, is completely covered with shed side, colorbond 1m high bottom of flight area and the rest covered with polycarbonate sheeting. The colorbond sheeting on the bottom goes 600mm into the ground as the rat wall, with 1 metre above ground to give the birds security. On the eastern side the flights are 6m long, with 2m of that internal shelter, northern and western sides have flights of 5m length with 2m of that internal shelter. With 2m taken up each side and the end of the shed itself, that leaves me with a working area/kitchen in the middle measuring 10m x 3m.
Designing the Aviary
First get yourself some graph paper to draw your plan. I found that it was easier to work everything out when it was drawn on graph paper, you can mark the boundaries, etc. Don’t forget that every joining attachment costs money and the price adds up very quickly. I designed the feeding stations to abut through a common wall, same as the water station. If it becomes a problem with birds fighting through the wire, you can quickly cover the wall between the stations. I also placed a privacy screen in each section and if you incorporate this into your design you will have to adjust your tubing lengths to suit.
If you draw a 3 dimensional drawing of your aviary it will help you to estimate the amount of tubing you need and the number and type of attachment pieces. On a large complex it is quite a mind-boggling exercise to work out the attachments, and as careful as I was, I still underestimated on certain types of attachment.
Things You Will Need to Start Building
- CUTTING -If you are going to build using the hollow aluminium tubing I would strongly recommend that you go and buy a cheap drop saw and then purchase a proper aluminium cutting blade, making sure you purchase the correct size for the saw. If you already have a drop saw but are also going to be cutting timber it is easier to have the two saws and save the time of changing blades all the time.
- MEASURING YOUR TUBING – If you are only making a couple of aviaries, you will probably need to measure your lengths so that you can get the most out of every piece of tubing. It is not cheap so you don’t want to have much left over. Because I am building a few aviaries I haven’t worried about measuring out every piece and have not found that much has been wasted.
- TEMPLATES – Work out your measurements and cut a template of each length of tubing you need. Make sure you label each piece, I wrote on the tubing with pencil but after a while it started to rub off. Next time I would use white labels so they are easier to see. Using the template piece means that your lengths are always the same and will help your aviary to be square. You just need to remember to use the template on the last piece of that length, otherwise you are wasting tubing.
- ATTACHMENTS – There are a number of different type of plastic attachments for the tubing, from corner joiners to 6 sided joiners which I used in my feeding stations. Just note that these are not UV protected and the visible part will need to be painted. If you don’t paint them, they will break down eventually.
- ATTACHING THE WIRE TO THE FRAME – I used self-drilling screws, so far I have used 5000!!! And still more to go. Obviously, in some cases, you might not be able to get to the wire to screw it down so you will also need to sew or use pop rivets to secure it.
- WIRE – Unless you are spending a lot of money on your wire, do not expect it to be square. The tubing makes up beautiful and square and then you try and put the wire on and it is ‘out’. Each roll of wire will be different to the last one so you will need to think about the best way to place it. I used 1200mm wire throughout and for the most of it I draped from the top of the wall to the bottom. I found that the discrepancies were easier to handle this way. In some instances when joining long lengths of wire on the top of the aviaries, I overlapped the ends and sewed it together as it was just too hard to get the pieces to meet properly. All the joins in walls and the roof are sewn with small gauge wire. Some people use pop rivets to join the seams but I like the look of a sewn seam.
- PRIVACY SCREEN – I find that this is an important part of the aviary design. Birds need to feel that they can escape from marauding butcher birds, magpies and other threats. My privacy screen drops down 800mm from the top of the aviary and comes down at the edge of the concrete, at the edge of the 2m sheltered area of the flight. The internal side of the drop-down has wire on it to make it easy to place nesting boxes and brush on and the external part of the drop-down is covered with black corflute. I picked this up for nothing from work, but you can get it from paving places as it is used to separate the layers of pavers. Corflute is used extensively for real estate signs and seems to last forever in the sun so I don’t anticipate having to replace it for a long time.
- WALLS BETWEEN AVIARIES – If you have the money and the ability, a lot of people like to put rat walls between each aviary. I can see the point in this, if you do manage to get a mouse in the complex, at least it is only in one aviary. I don’t have the resources or the ability to do this, so I have placed treated timber 150mm x 25mm under each wall, bedding into the ground with the wall tubing resting on top. The wire comes down past the tubing base and is secured to the timber as well. You could also take the wire into the ground at the walls but just remember that it will eventually corrode and need replacing.
- PAINTING THE WIRE AND THE JOINERS – If you are planning on painting the outside of the aviary, now is the time to do it. Most people I have talked to buy a cheap little roller brush and black paint. It is quite quick and the effect is amazing, you would think you were in the aviary with the birds, instead of outside. Check that you have put a bit of paint on all the joining pieces so they are protected from the UV rays..
- THE FINISHING TOUCHES – Doors are really easy to make with the tubing, I just used a design with one support bar through the middle for my doors, the wire when screwed on, stops any movement. Two hinges and a latch and that is all you need for the doors. My latches are made on the KISS principle, Keep it Simple Stupid, and are made of heavy gauge wire bent into shape to create a latch that can be opened from outside and inside. A hole is screwed into the tubing and the wire is put through and bent into shape. The only aviary I put proper latches on is the one with my pet galahs in it as they would be capable of opening the wire latch. Before putting you birds in the aviary, go over it with a fine tooth comb. It is so easy to forget that seam you needed to sew, and the wire makes it difficult to see from outside the aviary. Check there are no little escape spots where the wire bubbles out. Put your brush and perches up and get the floor of the sheltered area ready, I use sugar cane mulch for the ground cover in the sheltered area, it is easy to get and stays nice and dry. When I change it, it goes straight on the garden.
- MOST IMPORTANT PART – Don’t forget to incorporate a few chairs and a coffee table in the safety area of your aviary, so relaxing. There is nothing better than sitting down and watching the birds, listening to the babies getting fed, etc.