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Why aviary design is essential for wild bird rehabilitation

Well designed and constructed aviaries are a vital part of the rehabilitation process for wild birds. Most birds will require time spent in an aviary after their stay in a hospital or small cage environment for the first part of their captive care. Aviary time is also crucial for young, orphaned birds that have been hand-raised. Aviary time is essential for birds to gain fitness again, forage naturally for food items and be exposed to wind, rain and sun, with the option of shelter. This time is vital to give them the best chance of survival in the wild once they are released.

Do all rehab birds need to go into an aviary?

Most wild birds in rehabilitation care will require aviary time, but occasionally some cases might have a speedy turnaround and can be released quickly (within a day or days). For example, birds that are entangled but otherwise in good health or birds that have come in exhausted, e.g., storm blown or light distracted seabirds, are birds that might be best to get back out sooner rather than later (we will discuss waterproofing in a different blog).

What is the best type of aviary to use?

The aviary design, features, substrate (flooring) and furnishings (e.g. plants, logs) will depend on the species being rehabilitated. The size of the aviary should suit the bird's size and flight habits. For example, small forest songbirds do not need huge aviaries. They would do best if these were furnished with natural branches, non-toxic leafy plants, and native tree browse (cuttings with fruit, flowers or leaves suitable for the species). Seabirds will likely require pool access, and shorebirds will need rocks and shallow ponds in their enclosures. The sides of the aviary may also require modification according to the species – you might use fine mesh, shade-cloth or wooden slats depending on the size and species.

How do you keep birds safe in the aviaries?

Birds kept in aviaries cannot be watched constantly, and therefore, predators can be a risk to these birds. When constructing aviaries, you should consider what kinds of threats are local to your region. In New Zealand, that is mainly mustelids, rats, and cats, but you might have to consider foxes, snakes, and raptors in Australia. Ensuring your aviary is predator proof and has hiding spots for the birds to feel safe is essential.

What size should I build my aviary?

There are different considerations, but a general rule is that aviaries should be high enough for you to stand comfortably and net a bird in flight, for instance, when capturing for a health check or release. So 2 metres to 2.5 metres should be plenty high enough. The floor space should be at least 2 metres in length and a minimum of 1.5-2 metres wide. You also need to think about how you will clean and move around the aviary and not stress the birds! Many people build rectangular aviaries, but other designs are suitable, such as L-shaped, octagonal or circular.

There are so many considerations when building an aviary, and we thought we would put all these together in an easy to follow tutorial. If you want to know more about construction, design, size, shape and furnishings for aviaries, then go to our brand new course on Aviary Design and Predator Proofing. We hope to save you time, money and frustration by sharing what has worked for us over the 15 years of rehabilitation. Check it out here.

Written by Dr Janelle Ward
Wildlife Veterinarian and Co-Founder of Learn Bird Care Ltd

Would you like to learn to care for wild birds and be another helping hand? Why not try one of our courses and take that next step to help a bird in need? Wild Bird Rescue 101 gives you the tools and knowledge for the rescue, handling, transport and first aid for sick or injured wild birds.

Learn Bird Care is a training organisation dedicated to upskilling people to capture, handle, rehabilitate and release sick, injured or orphaned birds. We offer an educational blog and online training, including a free introductory course in wild bird rehabilitation.

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