Introduction: Inexpensive Habitat for an Injured Booby

This is a female Brown Booby. She was injured on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i. She is currently being nursed back to health by a permitted migratory bird rescue agent operating on Kaua'i.

The Booby is doing well, but needs a little more time to recover and a caging set-up with soft sides and clean flowing water for this pelagic bird. Without access to expensive bird rehabilitation pools, we needed to come up with a cheap and easily-constructed habitat that would allow the booby to get into the water without damaging feathers or the waterproof structure of them.

This instructable documents how we built our habitat, which is inexpensive, easy to build, and suitable for rehabilitation of Boobies, Shearwaters, and other water birds.

This project was developed by Taylor Finley with the Kauai Humane Society as part of a Community Service Work project.

Step 1: Requirements

A good home for Boobies needs to have a few things: a deep pool, a dry perch for the booby, circulating water, and some way of keeping debris from accumulating on the water's surface. Boobies won't get into their water if it isn't clean. Accumulated feces, feathers, pieces of dead fish and other nasty debris will keep the booby out of her pool.

We didn't have the money to invest in an expensive commercial pool filter system, so we had to come up with a cheaper solution. Our design is really simple and achieves several of our goals: a small stream of water enters the pool from a garden hose, continuously filling the pool, while a small opening at the back of the pool allows the water to drain. This creates a constantly flowing water surface, where any floating debris are continuously pulled out of the pool with the flowing of the water.

In order to build such a system, we need a few things:

1. A deep pool of some kind. We used a 300 gallon Rubbermade container.
2. A garden hose with a variable-flow sprinkler head.
3. PVC pipes, soft nylon netting, and some strong string. These will be used to build the pool's walls.
4. A drainage system for the pool. We used a 5 gallon bucket with chicken wire as a filter, with a pool draining hose coming out the bottom of the bucket.

We scavenged the tub, pipes, chicken wire, bucket, and netting from the storage closet, though all could be purchased at the neighborhood big-box hardware store. We ended up spending about $40 on some PVC fittings and a pool draining hose, a sprinkler head, and some zip ties.

For tools we used a measuring tape, saw, drill with bits and a hole saw kit, wire snips, and a utility knife.

Duct tape, as always, was helpful to have around.

Step 2: Build the Filter Bucket

First we need a 5 gallon bucket and a square of chicken wire. We chose to build a handle into our filter, for the benefit of the poor intern who finds herself emptying whatever muck gathers there.

We cut the chicken wire into the shape shown in the third image below, rolling the square section up to create a solid handle without any sharp wires sticking out. We then placed the rounded section over the bucket and bent its center down into the bucket. This easily can be done by stepping on the center of the chicken wire as it rests atop the bucket.

Bend the sides of the filter down so it rests easily and securely on the bucket, but can also be easily removed.

We then drilled a hole in the bottom of the bucket, using the appropriately-sized hole saw bit for our drill. We used some PVC fittings to create a nipple on the bottom of the bucket, to which we affixed the drain hose. I would recommend caulking or silicone sealant over the sheet of rubber we used, which does leak a little.

Our pipe fitting had ridges on it, so I shaved them off to insure a good fit with the drain hose. Probably not necessary, but it couldn't hurt.

Step 3: Give the Pool Some Walls

We built our walls using three 10 foot PVC pipes. We cut the 10 foot pipes in thirds, each roughly 3'4", though dimensions needn't be exact.

We drilled holes in the lip of the pool, each hole just slightly smaller than the pipe that will fit into it, so friction holds the pipe in place. That way we don't need to worry about complicated fittings, PVC glue, or sharp screws, which could hurt the bird. Just drill a hole and jam the pipe in.

We used 3/4" pipe. You don't need to do any math to figure out which size of bit to use, just bring a little slice of your pipe with you to the hardware store and pick the bit that is just barely smaller than the outside diameter of the pipe. We found a 13/16ths inch bit was the right size for our purposes.

Drill a hole for each piece of pipe, and jam the pipe in. If the pipe won't fit, a file can be used to taper the pipe . If the hole is too big, you can either drill another beside it or wrap the inside walls of the hole with duct tape.

We also drilled a small hole through each pipe, about half an inch from the top, and threaded them together with a string. We pulled the string tight and tied its ends together, bending the pipes slightly inward, and keeping them from wiggling around too much or sticking out at odd angles. Wrapping the end of the string in duct tape makes it easy to thread it through the holes.

 We zip tied our netting to the pipes and string, leaving a gap between the ends of the netting, which would become our doorway. Our roll of netting wasn't tall enough, so we used two pieces. I used a scrap pice of zip tie as a needle to "sew" the netting together where the two pieces overlap.

To finish the doorway, we used a larger diameter pipe and cut a hole on each end, fitting it as a crossbeam over the thinner upright pipes. We then zip tied some nylon cloth (often sold as weed cloth in the garden section) to the cross beam. We added another pipe to the free end of the door, which serves as a weight to keep it closed. 

Step 4: Get It Flowing

The only real work left to do is to add a drain to the back of the tub. The drain should be cut at surface level, so decide how full you'd like the pool to be and drill the hole at that level.

We used some vinyl tubing to guide the water into the filter bucket. To do this we once again drilled a hole slightly smaller than the outside diameter of our tubing. The nice thing about using vinyl tubing is its flexibility--by making the hole smaller than the tubing and pushing it through, we can have a water-tight seal without needing to worry about caulking. We cut a few slits in the end of the tubing, to make it easier to push it through the hole.

Now all we need to do is fill the tub and add a simple perch for the bird. For our perch we're just using a bit of astroturf rolled up and zip tied.

Turn on the hose and let the tub fill. Adjust the flow of the sprinkler head until it's filling up quickly enough for the draining water to pull debris off the surface, but not so quickly that your filter bucket overflows. We added a few bricks under the front of the tub, to tilt it toward the drain.

Step 5: Add Your Booby

Carefully take your booby out of its current home and move it into its new one. Watch proudly as she takes to her new perch and inspects her new home.

We discovered the booby enjoys having a shower, so we moved the sprinkler to the roof of the structure and have the water raining down on one end of the perch. She'll stand under it to cool off throughout the day. 

The only downside to this design is that it can be seen to waste a little water. Eventually, when the budget permits, we would like to purchase a sump pump and use it to pump the water from the bucket back into the pool through the sprinkler head, creating a closed system. Until then, we'll have to put up with a little waste to keep our boobies safe and happy.