How to build an avairy


Building an aviary is a natural extension of bird keeping. Fresh air, rain, wind and sunlight improves birds’ health.

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How much does it cost to build a bird aviary? | How to build your aviary | Where to build your aviary | How to protect your bird aviary from predators | More parrots arrive Building more sections | How to keep rats and rodents out of your aviary | wire and rodents Enrichment ideas for your aviary | Bird nutrition | Bird Breeding in your aviary

Building an aviary is a natural extension of bird keeping. Fresh air, rain, wind and sunlight improves the health of birds. Giving them enough space to fly without the obstructions found inside a house improves their welfare and gives you so much pleasure watching them.

Turning a garden into an aviary – Monika Clarke

Birds after all are designed to fly. You may decide to keep the birds in the aviary 24/7 or in my case, bring the pet birds indoors at night.

An aviary has two essential requirements. Firstly It’s an enclosed inside area that provides warmth and dryness for birds. And secondly, it’s a secure outside area that gives them plenty of room to fly.

Breeders and some hobbyists have been known to keep parrots in sheds with no access to fresh air. It’s a life in which they can survive but one that’s ungenerous for creatures whose natural territory is the sky, forest and savannahs.

Once you’ve decided an aviary will improve your flock’s lives, you need to consider whether your property is situated somewhere neighbours won’t complain about noise, especially if you‘re keeping larger noisier species or even a flock of Sun Conures.

How much does it cost to build a bird aviary?

An aviary’s cost is too variable to give precise figures. If you intend to self-build, the main costs will be materials. For bargain hunters you can find plenty of materials that are second hand or reduced.

The cost of building an aviary will soon rise if you employ paid labour. And even if you don’t, most aviaries will need the hire of a digger for the foundations.

Employed labour will add to the final cost and if you employ a professional company that will cost the most. It’s worth considering the advice of professionals as a way of avoiding mistakes.

A trade site on the internet gave the following costs:

Cost by item Unit Cost-low Cost-high Av. Cost
Carpenter Per hour £20 £30 £25
Wire mesh Per m2 £2.30 £2.40 £2.35
Corrugated roof Per m2 £5.55 £10.15 £7.85
Concrete shed base Size dependent £430 £2,160 £1,295
Timber Per Metre £1.20 £2.70 £1.95

The above costs were taken from: Checkatrade and their building an aviary cost guide. A reliable website I have used a lot in the past.

Handmade swing

How to build your aviary

The time it takes to build an aviary is comparable to constructing a similar sized shed. How fast do you and your mate work? Two people should be able to construct a 4×5 x3 metres aviary in a week – that’s assuming the foundations were dug with a digger.

You must check local by-laws or contracts to make sure there are no constraints around aviary noise or planning permissions. In the UK, no planning permission is required for a structure built on your own land less than 2.5 metres high. (Correct on 17th May 2021).

Where to build your aviary

The most important factor on where you position your aviary will be the direction of the wind. You do not want the aviary to face the prevailing winds. Nor do you want a boggy subsoil so choose a dry spot.

I wanted my aviary to be built against the kitchen wall and window, alongside our sitting room to get the morning sun but my husband and our grown-up visiting kids all refused.

Pamela Clark, the noted American certified parrot behaviour consultant, has a chute leading from her bedroom into the parrots outside aviary.

This passageway can be opened or closed so she can have the parrots inside with her or outdoors in the aviary.

This way the parrots can come and go as they desire once Pam has opened the chute.

Similar arrangements have been installed in other parrot homes. One attractive solution has been Monika Clarke’s in Slough.

She has a small 10 metre square garden which has been covered by zoo quality mesh wire to turn into a walk-through aviary. Her sitting room’s French windows provide human/avian access.

Other aviary builders situate the aviary far away from the house as possible. A useful placement if noise bothers you.

For myself, and thinking of the UK climate, the less distance I have to go outside in winter the better!

The size of the aviary is your choice. Large homeowners in the 19th -century built enormous elaborate aviaries like Waddesdon Manor or Leeds castle.

Rosemary Low’s book A Century of Parrots (Insignis 2006) will whet your enthusiasm for aviary building.

Aviary sizes grew smaller in the 20th century and nowadays they are even smaller. A few establishments like Paradise Park in Cornwall have built large walk-through aviaries.

Do you have the time, inclination, space and money to do this? If your labour and help from mates is free, the costs are less than you might imagine.

Apart from a mechanical digger, you won’t need special equipment.

The size and height must be your choice. For avian residents the aviary cannot be too large or too high.

Building a handmade aviary

How to protect your bird aviary from predators

From my experience and from breeders who I regularly consult. In UK, one of the biggest challenges you will face will come from predators. Both human, rodent and avian.

Rodents can be controlled and may not even get in if an aviary has a concrete floor and brick surround.

The size of the mesh of the panels also needs to be small enough to stop stoats, weasels, and squirrels entering.

I once had a young grass snake in my aviary and was sorry she got snared in a mouse trap. Human predators are a risk and what anti-theft precautions you take are again personal choice.

It’s a sad fact that thieves target both large breeding establishments and smaller ones of budgerigars and canaries. It’s a sound plan to budget security costs into your overall estimate.

Another danger can come from wild birds depositing faeces which carry Psittacosis or even bird flu. These are extreme examples which are not commonplace.

Should bird flu ever become endemic in your area, a tarpaulin can be stretched across the roof while the danger lasts.

If you have earth as part of the floor, then ground-foraging parrots can pick up worms.

Another risk is ticks which breed on long grass, attach themselves to the neck or throat and if they are not removed can cause fatalities.

Twice yearly worming will control worm infestations. Both if these problems are greatly diminished and possibly eliminated by the use of concrete floors which can be covered by some earth sand or pebbles on the surface.

If wasps become a problem inside your aviary, a simple solution is to hang jam jars half filled with sugar or dissolved jam water.

Leave holes in the lids and any flies and wasps that enter will be drowned. You should hang the jars outside the aviary.

My aviary is built in sections, each added to one another. I will go through the construction and you can take away any useful tips and also avoid my mistakes which I will sadly recount.

One of the most useful, if not essential is to have double doors, This will allow for a porch area which prevents any lively bird escaping when someone comes in.

About 20 years ago I decided to build an aviary after two African Greys I had, Artha and Casper decided to take a small outdoor flight. I thought, “Why not build an aviary”.

A French friend of mine Antoine who restores old houses was visiting during the summer and he offered to build the aviary for free.

After ten days, a 15 x 12 metre flight was up, with a roof peaking at 4 metres using the longest supports we could find.

A wooden structure is more pleasant than metal in our view and the wood was cheaper than metal stakes.

At that time, I didn’t know I could have bought wood or metal panels already wired in. For the perimeter we dug a trench by hand of about 30 centimetres deep. Learn more about foundations here.

The wooden poles were dug in and cemented, the wire unrolled and used horizontally so the next layer had to be tied together with little wire ties.

I must have tied what seemed liked thousands – although I didn’t count!

We left the dog shed to become a poultry shed and furnished the interior of the space with perches, swings, and boughs cut from fruit trees.

Aviary bred Kakariki

More parrots arrive

A friend who took in unwanted birds, suggested I take in some rescues to share with my two Greys and a dozen Buff Orpington hens I’ve continued to do this ever since.

The two pet Greys were brought indoors every evening while the Parakeets and rescues stayed out 24/7.

Building more sections

With 11 birds in the main aviary and a friend willing to build a section for free from leftover timber, it seemed a non-brainer to build more sections.

Within three years, we had three more sections. One paid for with the sale of my Mother’s silver teapot, and another from an article in The Evening Standard.

By 2015, the aviary ended up being 24 metres long, with a width that varied from five to eight metres and a height of between two to four metres.

Each section could be closed to make separate flights or small breeding flights. Eventually, two more flights were added.

A tenant offered to cage in the back perimeter. So, a long narrow flight 25 m. long and 1.5 m. wide exists. The birds use it occasionally, but none have ever nested there. I wonder why?

The last, and I reckon final addition, came three years ago when I got fed up with the hens chewing all the young plants.

We built a poultry shed which houses the present flock of five bantams and can double as a quarantine for parrots if one comes in that may need a quarantine.

This all sounds ideal but there were some terrible errors which cost lives.

How to keep rats and rodents out of your aviary

Wire and rodents

Antoine chose chicken wire for the first section and he convinced me with Gallic charm that it was strong enough.

It isn’t too thin or with too larger holes as rodents can squeeze through the holes while parrots can bite through them.

Casper my Grey parrot has done this. He made a hole once which let two Sun Conures and three Kakariki escape. Thankfully, I recaught them all.

Later sections that were added had firmer wire with smaller holes. With maturity Casper has stopped chomping the wire.

For the floor in my aviary, I used each with second-hand paving stones forming paths.

My friends admire the ramshackle construction and have given me plant cuttings and toys to use as furnishing.

When it comes to dealing with rodents, I’ve made my own mistakes and have no one to blame but myself.

I thought 30 cm of wire in the foundation trench for the original section would deter rats, stoats, weasels and mice. I was wrong!

A chute from the kitchen allows the parrots into the aviary

This wasn’t deep or firm enough. Rats not only got into the aviary, they even made their own nests inside.

They’re excellent parents and they created a larder of collected food scraps that included a dead Cockatiel.

With regret, I have had to destroy all the rats. I kept rat poison in bait boxes outside all year round. Mouse traps are also used in the feed shed to catch these miscreants.

Sadly we’ve had losses from Salmonella presumably from mouse droppings and along with some truly tragic losses as a result of rats.

A rat once entered the nest box of an elderly Timneh parrot named Sid. The rat tore out his windpipe.

On another occasion, rats decimated a whole family of Kakariki, that included five fledged chicks and two parents.

Five years ago, we decided to doing something that we thought would improve and hopefully eliminate the rat problem.

A digger was hired for a day and with the help of friends, a trench was dug around the whole perimeter and filled in with an apron of concrete; this was 30 cm deep and 10 cm wide.

There’s been less evidence of rats entering the aviary since then but some are still coming in from the larger holes in the roof.

A stoat, eventually caught by Boudica, my husband’s cat, entered by the roof and killed a Parakeet on the nest.

Enrichment ideas for your aviary

Having constructed such a large a space over several years, my own personal pleasure and hobby has been enriching the space, mostly for the birds but also for us.

I attempted a palm garden with sand and palm trees but that failed. Too wet for palms and the hens ruined the sand bed.

Nowadays, the aviary is planted with bamboo, succulents, four Mahonia trees, bay trees, and 15 assorted conifers which don’t get chewed.

The Mimosa tree flowered for a decade until a few years back. Perdy, a Cockatoo decided to take off all the blossoms.

The Mimosa hasn’t died but it no longer flowers. The Eucalyptus died after a decade but I have bought a healthy replacement.

Before lockdown the charity shops provided most of the enrichment for very little cost.

The most popular were Moses baskets, mirrors and baby rattles.

I suggest you examine any bought toys or rope as not all are safe for parrots. Enrichments in an aviary need a daily check.

The aviary provides numerous foraging and enrichment items and with thirty feeding stations – a lot of mess.

As I’m semi-retired, I enjoy the continuous upkeep; making willow wreaths, renewing perches, I find broom handles are excellent for this.

You can put in swings made from plastic and metal chains which are easy to make.

Tyres, inner tubes and outer tubes are as useful in a large aviary as swings and can also protect plants. Both the full-size Macaw and the diminutive Kakariki swing happily on the largest one.

Cane windbreaks protect most of the netting. The parrots chew them and they need renewing every few years.

Bird nutrition

Nutrition for birds kept in an aviary will be similar to indoor birds.

What you should bear in mind, is that aviary birds will take more exercise than caged birds and they have to accommodate a greater fluctuation of temperature.

This means you will need to adjust their amount of food proportionately.

Bird breeding in your aviary

Hobbyists don’t usually intend to set up nest boxes when building an aviary but many people as I have done, become attracted to the idea.

Put up nest boxes of an appropriate size for the particular species you’re breeding. You need to enclose those nest boxes in their own private flight.

There are some species that can breed successfully in a colony situation, but the majority of species need privacy if there is not to be fights and even fatalities.

In both a colony situation and in sectional flights be sure that the nest boxes are fixed at equal heights to avoid fighting over the favoured highest position.

One friend of mine provided no nest boxes for her bonded pair of Umbrella cockatoos.

When she discovered they had excavated an ancient sofa in the attached shed and laid two eggs, my friend allowed the breeding to go ahead.

One egg hatched into a handsome chick.

Authors aviary in summer

And finally …

My experience of dealing with aviaries has been from DIY. You can ignore my advice and employ professionals if DIY isn’t for you.

Whatever route you go down, try to visit as many aviaries as you can.

Look at how zoos present birds. If you’re going down the professional route you should ask for estimates and quotes from several firms.

However, I hope my personal account may be useful because I’ve given you some guidelines on how to avoid my mistakes and how to better instruct professionals.

With the professional companies, the cost will of course be much greater but you won’t need to use your own time.

Whatever you choose, I can promise you that sitting in the aviary on a warm day with a favoured beverage and watching the residents fly around you or perch on your knees will provide a constant joy.

Is your parrot insured? Get a quote for up to £5,000 of vet fee cover, death and theft cover | We’ve been insuring exotic pets since 1996 | Check out our customer reviews on Feefo.

Dorothy Schwarz
17 May 2021

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