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Indoor/Outdoor Aviary Design

Expert Question

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to ask my question. I live with three large macaws and one small conure. I want to convert my oversized two-car garage to an aviary in order to give my parrots a better quality of life and more fly time/space. I’d also like to attach an outdoor section off one wall. I am having a devil of a time trying to find resources for building out what I have in mind. Obviously I want to build areas that encourage the parrots to exercise and explore in safety. I also want to give consideration to cleanability and functional access to systems (HVAC/water). I’ve even tried contacting experts at local zoos, but to no avail. Are there resources for building something like this in a residential home? What are the best, low or no VOC materials to use? Can I incorporate a running water filtration system or should I stick to bowls? What is the best flooring material to use? Wall material? How do I incorporate 3 different bird sizes plus a sitting/TV area so we can have a place for the whole family to hang out? This is quite a list I know, but I’d like a good shot at getting this right the first time. Thank you!

Expert Answer

G'day Heather,
Thankyou for sending in your questions to the WPT. I have to say that the concept of a large indoor/outdoor flight area for your parrots is one that really gets me excited! I have worked with a few clients down here in Australia on the design of enrichment flights for their pet birds and it's absolutely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the consultancy work that I do. Given that I can't actually be on-site, and that I haven't seen the environment that you are talking about, my response will be fairly general but will hopefully set you up with a few ideas to help you stay on track with this project. Even if some of the considerations below do not apply to your specific situation, they may apply for others considering a similar idea so hopefully this can be a relevant posting for other parrot owners as well.

Avoiding Neighborly `Issues'...
First up, given that you are considering a significant modification to the home then you should make sure that you have gained any necessary council approvals first. There would be nothing worse than investing a few thousand dollars to make this sort of set up a reality, only to find that your neighbours aren't sympathetic to Macaws saying `Hello' to them now that they have access to an outdoor environment. Council authorities can really give you grief over any unapproved modifications to your home if they result in complaints from neighbours. At the very least, talk to your neighbours if they are close and likely to be affected in some way by bird noise. Make sure that they're cool with the possibility of a bit of colourful parrot action happening over the fence in the future...

You have asked a lot of questions about the design aspects so I will attempt to offer some suggestions for each. Ultimately, the choice will be yours so take the following advice onboard where it works for your specific situation and continue to seek advice where my suggestions may not offer the best solution for you.

Where to start…
The first stage is to actually draw up some 2D plans of what you want to construct -- the same as a top elevation and side elevation on a house plan. Measure up your garage area, plus the additional outdoor extension and draw these plans to scale. Once you have a basic 2D plan you can contact a local sheet metal or metal fabrication business and talk to them about building the extension for the outdoor area. The base materials that you should use should be galvanized steel square tubing for the frame and a combination of galvanized weldmesh and flat steel sheeting for the walls. My advice is to not waste your money on anything other than steel -- it simply won't stand up to the wear, tear and weathering. A metal fabrication business should be able to construct the panels you need for the outdoor extension and hopefully install them onsite.

The exact materials and common dimensions used vary from country to country so talk to your manufacturer/metal fabricator to work out the specifics. With all new weldmesh wire, make sure it is free of small lumps of weld on the joins as these can be picked off by parrots, resulting in heavy metal poisoning. It is also a good idea to scrub down the weldmesh with vinegar and allow it to weather for a week before placing birds in the enclosure, once again to avoid potential hazards with new wire. Avoid using cheap weldmesh as it is inevitably problematic. I also paint all of my outdoor enclosures using a water based low sheen black outdoor paint. It is harmless to the birds, fast drying, and if you use low sheen black you can see straight through the wire -- it almost disappears as the black paint reflects very little light.

Flooring Substrate…
For outdoor enclosures it is best, in my opinion, to use a substrate that drains well and can be easily surface raked clean each day or hosed clean on a regular basis. I never use concrete outdoors as it requires a lot of water to clean and inevitably you experience algae and mould build up if it is left damp. Once this happens you're backed into using chemicals to get it clean again. I prefer to use decomposed granite as a flooring substrate as it is earthy and natural in aesthetic appearance, drains well, compacts down to form a very hard flooring, surface rakes well and only requires a top dressing a few times a year to keep it looking fantastic. You can also use crusher dust, although this is a blue-grey colour, looks less natural and can get dusty when raked if it is very dry. A good alternative though if that’s all that is available or if you’re on a budget. There are a number of other alternatives but you would need to discuss what is available with your landscape supplier.

Water Systems…
Having a water mister linked to your outdoor tap is fantastic for parrots in outdoor enclosures -- especially tropical species such as Conures and Macaws. Once again, your best resource here is a local landscape gardener. You will use standard outdoor black irrigation hosing and you can select from a whole range of nozzles that can be easily added to the length or irrigation tube to offer a variety of sprays from drips to 360 degree misting. Once connected to an outdoor hose, you will be able to run the irrigation pipe above the aviary and offer your birds a misting rain shower 'on tap'. Just make sure that the irrigation pipe is elevated off the wire and out of the reach of beaks. Running a length of additional steel tubing across the roof to facilitate this is something that you can incorporate into the design with your metal fabricator. Personally I would just stick with bowls inside the aviary. Running internal water systems, small ponds etc can really become a maintenance chore and any opportunity for pools of water to become stagnated or neglected will eventually become a hazard. With an overhead mister on the outdoor section of the enclosure you have covered that need well enough for the parrots.

Further Ideas…
There is an excellent reference with loads of pictures and ideas for enrichment in indoor/outdoor areas for parrots called the `The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book'. This has been compiled by Kris Porter and is a free download that is available from the WPT website at You might also like to check out Kris's own website for video clips at

I've also attached a couple of images with this posting of a flight area that a friend of mine had constructed for her three African Greys:

and another enclosure that a client had built for her Macaw:

Both are integrated into the existing home design. It is similar in concept to what you are trying to achieve. If you would like to contact her directly then just send me an e-mail and I will pass the details on. Also, you can have a look at some of the images of my aviaries via my gallery page on my website at Hopefully there will be some more ideas in there for you as well.

There are a huge number of design areas that I haven't discussed here so perhaps if you get some basic plans worked out for what you want to achieve, the sizes and some of your furnishing ideas then perhaps you can e-mail me and I can give you some feedback on what will work well and what might become an issue.
Good luck with your project -- I would love to see some photographs when you have finished!

Kind Regards from Down Under,
Jim McKendry -- Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations ( He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at