Introduction: Walk-in Bird Aviary
I want to show you how to make a large, walk-in, bird aviary for a fraction of what a similar one would cost in the marketplace. It is constructed in a modular fashion so you can make it as small as 4ft wide x 4ft long x 8ft tall or as large as your available space allows. The example that I give here is 4ft wide x 12ft long x 8ft tall.
However, before we get started, I beg your indulgence to let me explain what inspired me to build an aviary in the first place -- i.e. what sparked my interest in birds. (If you don't care, just skip ahead to step 1)
Throughout my life I had never given birds much of a second thought. I had no interest in hunting them, no interest in bird watching, and no interest in learning even the most rudimentary facts about them. Not that I was actively avoiding them or anything, I just never noticed them at all.
All that changed one 4th of July afternoon.
I went fishing, with a friend of mine, to a small Lake near the town I live. The reason we went fishing is because there were thousands of people in town for a big 4th of July parade and neither of us are that big on being around thousands of people. I brought my little expandable fishing pole and a single red and white hook. The expandable pole is nice because you can carry it around in your pocket until you need it, then telescope it out and fish!
So my buddy and I were walking around the lake on a bike/walking trail and we stopped part way along to fish. I caught two Pike one after the other almost immediately. The first one was a nice one (I threw it back anyway) and the second one was too small -- but he had swallowed the hook all the way down. Luckily I had removed the barbs from my hook and so with some delicate oral surgery I was able to remove the hook without damaging the fish and it happily swam away.
Anyway, we finished up the fishing and started walking back down the trail to the truck when I spotted a tiny little baby bird on the trail. I was not sure what kind of bird it was at the time since it was extremely young and I don't know jack squat about birds. It was also unclear whether it was male or female -- something I have since come to realize is not at all easy to determine. At first it looked dead, but upon closer inspection I saw the little chest heaving slightly. There was no nest or mother anywhere in sight. It looked like the bird must have hopped, or tumbled, a long way down the hill to the trail. I knew that if I left the bird where it was it would be dead within an hour or two at most, so I picked it up and took it with us. When we got to the truck, my buddy lined the drink cup holder with grass and I placed the little baby bird in there and covered it with my hat. By the time we got to town the bird was chirping like crazy. I'm no expert, but it sounded like hunger. It turns out (internet search) that birds that age need to eat every 15 minutes! So we quickly got over to a pet store and picked up a small cage and a jar of baby bird food (since it is unlikely I would be able to round up enough masticated worms to keep the little guy fed).
I spent the entire afternoon feeding the bird until it fell asleep at around 8:00pm and I was finally able to run to the fireworks store and grab a bunch of fireworks so I could go to a friends place and light them off all night (just like everyone else does here on the 4th of July.) The entire sky is lit with them for miles around for 4 or 5 solid hours and almost every backyard has fireworks going up (which is a nice aspect of living in the west).
After going to bed very late that night (actually the following morning if you want to know the truth) I woke up at 5:45am because the little bird needed feeding... and every 15 minutes thereafter... which continued until dark again that night..... I have sooo much respect now for mommy and daddy birds. They are kept running all day every day on continual trips back and forth getting food for all those hungry gaping mouths.
I named the little girl/guy Aristarchus.
You need to use a syringe to feed him/her. You approach his mouth until he begins to gape, then you stick the syringe down his throat and squeeze some food in there. You continue until he stops gaping (See the photographs and mpeg video, sorry about the video quality).
Actually the goal is to fill up the bird's crop which is a little storage area for food on the way to the stomach (see the anatomical diagram).
As he got bigger I became fairly convinced that little Aristarchus is a White-throated Sparrow, although I am still not totally sure. Also I have found a perfect mixture for food which is a lot cheaper than using the stuff from the pet store. Take dry cat food (high protein and fat content) and soak it in water over night so that it is mush. Then mix it in with the bird formula that I discussed above until the resulting consistency is close to that of yogurt or oatmeal. The little guy/gal loves it and his/her excrement is darker and less watery. Anyway, the bird is happy and healthy and you don't have to keep buying so much bird formula.
Eventually, I decided that the tiny little cage that I had originally bought from the pet store was not going to work. I needed something that would allow Aristarchus to learn how to fly so that I could eventually release him back into the wild before it is time to migrate.
So I decided to build Aristarchus an aviary....
Step 1: Materials
I spent a day or so thinking about how to go about building the thing. What size should I make it? Maybe it should be big enough so that if I get more birds I won't have to expand it. What materials should I use? What shape should it be? Where should I put it when it is finished so that I can use it in both summer and winter? It should be modular and easy to assemble, disassemble, move, resize and reshape if I want to put it in a different place. How could I satisfy all of this? I thought about it and after answering all of these questions in an approximate way I began roughly designing the sections of the structure in a notebook until I had a partial materials list. I proceeded to go and get the wood and materials from a hardware store/lumber yard. I decided to go with 8 foot long 2x2's and wire mesh (19 gauge galvanized hardware cloth).
- 8 ft long 2x2 pieces of wood. The number depends on how big you want your aviary.
- rolls of 19 gauge galvanized hardward cloth.
- a roll of plumber's tape.
- a box of screws.
- 4.5 inch bolts with washers and nuts.
- phillips screwdriver, tin snips, wire cutters, circular saw, drill, and a staple gun.
Note from the future: In case you are wondering about the use of galvanized hardware cloth because you have heard that birds can get heavy metal poisoning from cages made of galvanized material. Please note: This aviary is huge, the birds do not chew on the wire, they only use it for climbing and they do not ingest material when climbing (even if they use their beaks for leverage). Birds only chew on the wire in small cages where there is nothing else to do but stand there on a stick and decide between chewing on a boring hanging toy or chewing on the wire. Next, you scrub the wire with a wire brush before you put the birds in it so there are no loose burrs of metal clinging to it. Finally:I have had my two parrots in this cage and an identical one outside for 7 years and the vet tells me that there are no heavy metals in their bodies. That should be enough. You can do what you like but it pains me to see parrots clipped of their ability to fly and then shoved into a tiny cage for the next 20 years.
Step 2: Walls
I cut the lumber to make 4 foot by 8 foot frames filled with wire mesh (attached with a heavy duty staple gun).
At first I tried using angle brackets to build the frame but I quickly realized that I could build a stronger and cheaper frame by simply using plumbers tape (metal strapping) for all of the joints and forget the brass angle brackets altogether. It would be just as strong and a heck of a lot cheaper.
I made 8 of these frames so that, if I wanted, I could have 3 per side, 1 end piece, and 1 roof piece with the other end piece being the door. The total dimensions of the aviary would be 4 ft wide by 8 ft tall by 12 ft long. In the end, I made two aviarys, each 4 x 8 x 8. Since then, I have reduced this even further to two aviarys but with each only 4 x 4 x 8. The point is that you can make your aviary whatever multiple of the size you like while using the same pieces we are constructing here.
The wire mesh is simply rolled over the finished frame and stapled on with a staple gun. Then the excess wire is snipped off with tin snips (or wire cutters if you have a lot of patience.)
Step 3: Door
To construct the door I first had to sit down and design it carefully so that all of the measurements would work out and the door would have an 1/8th inch gap all the way around. You need this gap so that the door will actually open and close without rubbing and getting stuck. Note that wood sometimes twists and warps over time, so you may actually want to make this gap larger, like 1/4 inch so that it continues to work fluidly for a long time.
I also designed the door to swing inward so that I wouldn't have to worry about having sufficient swing space for the door outside the aviary when I place it somewhere.
I then covered the entire door frame section with wire mesh and clipped away various places to allow the proper functioning of the door and finished it with hinges, a latch, and tensioning cable so that it would work well without any sagging.
Step 4: Roof
After the door was completed, I inserted crossbars into the 4x8 section which was intended to be part of the roof and attached various hooks along these crossbars for hanging things like bird toys, food and watering dishes, and perches.
I took another of the 8 foot 2x2 boards and inserted dowling of various lengths in order to make a sort of bird tree. This will bolt to the roof of the aviary once it is finished and hang a couple of inches off the floor.
Step 5: Drilling the Bolt Holes
It was now time to put everything together! So I went around each section, measured and drilled the holes for bolting the sections to each other.
Remember to get your bolts at a bulk construction place or a farm and fleet store where they charge for them by weight! If you buy nuts, bolts and washers at a hardware store you will pay probably 75 cents apiece or more for them! So 50 bolts with 3 washers and a nut each will cost you more than 50 bucks whereas at a "by weight" place you will pay less than $10!
Step 6: Fitting Them Together
After drilling the bolt holes (one size larger than the bolt diameters so that the bolts can go in and out very easily), I bolted it together and hung some of the things from the roof hooks, inserted pieces of dowling into the wall posts and generally checked everything and tweaked things to make sure it fit together well and I wouldn't have to do any more cutting or drilling when I move the structure into the porch of the house.
Also, I bolted 4 foot long 2x2 pieces on each side of the roof which I then used to bolt down to the front (door) and back pieces. You can see these on the top front and top back corners in the picture.
I was quite happy with the size, look and feel of the final product!
Now to install it in the house.
Step 7: Inside the House
So finally it was time to prepare the porch for the aviary so I could move it in the house.
I began by putting linoleum down on the floor so that there would be about a extra foot of linoleum all the way around the cage to catch any of the refuse like food or droppings that manage to get through the wire mesh. Also, since everything is hanging this will allow easy sweeping and mopping when the floor becomes dirty.
I disassembled the aviary in the garage, piece by piece, and moved the pieces into the porch. Finally, I assembled the pieces and it was finished!
The entire design, consruction and assembly took about 3 days work. If I ever made one again I would be able to do it quite a bit faster and cheaper since I figured out a bunch of tricks along the way. Several of my neighbors even came over and helped with various stages of the construction -- I supplied the beverages :) Overall, it was a fun and satisfying way to spend a few evenings!
Aristarchus was very happy with his huge new home, and my cats (Eratosthenes and Anaxagoras) love to sit by the cage and stare at him.
Step 8: New Residents!
At the end of the summer, I released Aristarchus and off he went to join the other White-Throated Sparrows in their journeys. He was healthy, strong, and good at flying, so I am pretty sure he survived. In fact, I think I have seen him around a few times since then happily churping away on a tree outside.
I couldn't have a big beautiful aviary remain empty, especially now that I have grown so fond of birds, so I got a couple of permanent residents for the Aviary. Parrots!
Hypatia -- a Green Cheeked Conure
Archimedes -- a Sun Conure
They are both exceedingly happy, fun, snuggly, and they love to fly around and play with their vines and toys. Archimedes loves to lay on his back on your hand or chest and get his tummy rubbed and they both talk all the time! Do a google search for talking conures if you don't believe me. It is really cool.
Step 9: Conclusion
I hope you enjoy building your aviary as much as I enjoyed building this one. Birds are amazing creatures and are sure to become your close companions as well as an inspiring and constantly entertaining addition to your family. Good luck!
"In my hand I held the most remarkable of all living things, a creature of astounding abilities that elude our understanding, of extraordinary, even bizarre senses, of stamina and endurance far surpassing anything else in the animal world.Yet my captive measured a mere five inches in length and weighed less than half an ounce, about the weight of a fifty-cent piece. I held that truly awesome enigma, a bird." (Fisher 1979)