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Outdoor Aviary Dilemma

Expert Question

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin’s cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8’ X 10’ (8’ in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8’ tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.

Expert Answer

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I'll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don't like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven't tried, and don't know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It's now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don't like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don't see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that's the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn't going to solve the problem, and I don't know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don't like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don't know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It's available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don't use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.

Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist. In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn later resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc. Glenn oversaw the WPT-USA office until June 2018, when he stepped down to pursue his passion for farming and agriculture.