A Bird in the Hand—My Bird Keeping Experiences


In 2007, after much research and consideration, I bought my first bird—a bright eyed, three-week-old show Skyblue Budgerigar. I bought him early one morning so as to give him plenty of time to settle into his new surroundings—and to give myself time to observe my new feathered companion. Upon arriving home I quickly set about introducing my bird to its new cage—a rather small cylinder-shaped enclosure which I soon realised would not provide sufficient space for an energetic Budgerigar. I also promptly learnt that the fierce beak of these parakeets will draw blood from any amateur bird keeper ignorant of its strength.

Initially the small bird was quiet and reserved but within two days he appeared to have lost his sanity as he began to cartwheel on his perch and grab incessantly at his tail-feathers—his tail had soon been reduced to a scruffy remnant of its former self. I quickly decided that Jimmy, as I had named him, needed not only an avian friend to save him from his boredom, but that he also required a larger residence. Within a week he had a partner named George—another male bird to ensure that no offspring were going to be produced given my inexperience at the time. Like Jimmy, George was a young show budgie from the same breeder but with different markings—a pale-yellow head and a soot-grey body. I bought a much bigger cage—from my neighbours who keep and breed birds—which allowed the pair to fly and go about their business as they pleased. My neighbours also generously offered me a tour of their aviary complex and this opened my eyes to the extensive range of native and exotic parrots which could be kept in Australia.

For the next two years my bird collection remained at just two—Jimmy and George. I did, however, have a number of ‘blowins’—birds which were only in my temporary care until their health was restored. These included a fledgling Purple-crowned Lorikeet, a Noisy Miner, a Galah and the occasional magpie. Although their time spent with me and my family was only short, each of these birds brought their own distinctive personality with them and we still laugh as we recall the antics they used to get up to.

Bourke’s Parrot

It was not until 2009 when in conversation with a bird breeder, that I discovered the concept of ‘bird sales’. I was told that the annual Bendigo Bird Sale was to be held the following weekend which displayed a wide variety of foreign and native species available for purchase so, without a second thought, I decided I would attend. The sale was larger than what I had expected it to be with everything from the humble canary to expensive exotic parrots such as African Greys and Amazons. In the excitement of the moment I bought myself a pair of Diamond Doves about which I had limited knowledge. Luckily the Diamond Doves proved to be lenient on me as a beginner and the same pair is still alive and well in my aviary today.

This purchase set off my avicultural experience as I soon learnt that the flighty Diamond Doves would be more suited to an aviary and so I set about making one. I decided that a habitat aviary would be the best way to go as I wanted them to experience a natural environment similar to their habitat in the wild. I quickly became an avid reader of avicultural literature to gain tips and advice on how best to construct my aviary and what features to incorporate into its design. I feel that Australian BirdKeeper magazine has helped me greatly in this regard.

I built my aviary over an existing native garden bed with a mesh side facing the rising sun to provide warmth to the birds on cold winter mornings. I also incorporated additional features including a section providing protection to its residents in prevailing winds and rain, a double door system to prevent any avian escapees and I sunk iron sheets two feet (60cm) into the ground around the perimeter of the aviary to prevent mice and rats from entering and feasting on the seed provided. Having done all this I felt confident that I had provided an adequate dwelling for my doves to inhabit and I then introduced them to their new home. They seemed content in their new environment and would sunbake and preen each other peacefully. The aviary was more than sufficient for their needs and, if anything, it was probably a little too big for them to enjoy fully by themselves, so I decided to buy some more birds.

I hit the books again to research which birds would not only be compatible with my doves but which were also suitable for a beginner. I decided that I would restrict my collection to Australian seedeaters only, for the time being. King Quail, Zebra Finches, Elegant, Bourke’s and Princess Parrots were chosen for my mixed collection and I soon made contact with local breeders in order to purchase my flock. These seasoned breeders provided a wealth of information to me as a beginner in aviculture and to this day they remain only too happy to help with any questions or problems I may be experiencing with my birds.

The new birds settled in and they all got along well, much to my relief. By spring they had begun to breed. Not surprisingly, the Zebra Finches were the first to commence and within a month their population had increased tenfold! Next were the Elegant Parrots who produced two fine chicks. These young were developing nicely until tragedy struck. It was a school night when I went out to check on my birds—as I always did once arriving home—and at that time I noticed that one of the Elegant Parrot chicks was missing from its hollow. I didn’t think much of it at the time as it had been an unusually hot week for spring and I thought that perhaps the chick had expired in the heat and its parents had disposed of its body as I had often seen wild birds do. But the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was not until later that week that I came into contact with the real suspect—a five foot (1.5 metre) Brown Snake. I can still remember the shock I felt upon entering the aviary to investigate why the Elegant Parrot female was so panicky when approaching the nesting hollow. I had almost stepped on the snake which quickly turned to the nearest exit! It had entered through a series of tunnels created by mice—despite my attempts to prevent their presence—and had scaled the side of the nesting hollow to gain access to the chicks, one of which had been eaten earlier that week. The other had been too big to swallow and was only bitten.
I was so worried for the welfare of my birds that I evacuated them into temporary holding cages until other arrangements could be made. Unfortunately these ‘other arrangements’ proved to be a while in the making and so the birds spent almost a year in a rather small makeshift aviary. The only good thing to come out of this incident was that it provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the failures of my last aviary and create a new, more superior aviary which would provide better protection for my birds. With much help from Dad the new aviary was built over the course of a year which allowed more ideas and features to be incorporated into the design than initially planned. The refined aviary would include double-wire for protection from birds of prey, a sprinkler system for the cooling of the birds in summer and hydration of plants, a bird room to store seed, medicine and carry boxes, a concrete slab foundation to stop mice, rats and snakes from entering, a pond filled by rainwater, roller blinds for bad weather, a native habitat garden, a three-section roof (Perspex™, corrugated iron and wire), an electric fence to deter foxes and cats, trip wires on the roof to prevent birds of prey from landing and seed-catching feeders to minimise mess within the aviary.

By Christmas Eve 2010 the massive task was complete and the birds could finally enjoy the relative freedom they had waited for. The Elegant Parrots set about breeding again and produced another fine clutch as did the Bourke’s Parrots, Zebra Finches, King Quail—and the Gouldian Finches which I had acquired in the meantime.

The new aviary has allowed me to diversify the birds which I own and breed. This year I have been able to keep Hooded Parrots, Tri-coloured Parrotfinches, Stubble Quail, Peaceful Doves and many Australian grassfinch species. So far my avicultural journey has been a positive experience overall and one which I can see extending far into the future with many more memorable experiences still to come. But it would not have been possible without the time and effort put in by my Dad to construct my aviary, without Mum driving me to bird breeders and sales and without the helpful advice of my neighbours and many other local bird breeders who have happily assisted me with my many avian related questions.