The Hobby I Could Never Live Without

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ZAC MACKENZIE

Being a bird addict since birth, my first steps into aviculture were like steps into concrete where I have cemented my place in the hobby until the day I die. Whether it is the interesting behaviour of such a vast array of different species, the day that nestlings pop out of the box or the subtle art of flight, movement, colour and courtship there is something about birds that can entertain me for hours on end.

EARLY BEGINNINGS
This interest in aviculture extends back to Dad’s childhood when my grandfather used to keep the traditional canaries, budgies and finches in a large aviary. Although Dad never took up the hobby himself, every time I was over at my grandparents’ place we would look through books and old photos together and with basic knowledge at the age of eight I asked Dad to construct me a small aviary measuring 2.5 metres long x 1 metre wide x 1.5 metres tall.

With this little aviary I began my journey into aviculture adding four Gouldian Finches followed by Diamond Doves, King Quail and various other finches. It was clear that my mind wasn’t just set on finches as I had a curiosity for doves, quail and parrots too. A year or two later I constructed my second aviary and commenced breeding Masked Lovebirds before changing to Red-rumped Parrots and Cockatiels then finally moving on to Kakarikis over the following two or three more years.

After moving house I grew to love Kakarikis and got a few more pairs which I started breeding to produce Pied Cinnamons and eventually Yellow mutations. By the time I was 14-years-old I had constructed a few more aviaries including a small bay of suspended cages, a 4 metre long x 2 metre wide planted aviary and an octagonal cage—in addition to the two aviaries from my previous place. I have since experimented with a lot of different species and was at times so eager to get new birds that I lost track of my breeding plans.

Eclectus Parrots

PAST SPECIES KEPT
Species I’ve kept in the past include Kuhli subspecies of the Galah, Blue-bonnet Parrots, Red-rumped Parrots, most mutations of the Bourke’s Parrot, bush budgies, Green-cheeked Conure mutations, Eastern Rosella mutations, Nyasa Lovebirds, White Diamond Doves, Pied Talpacoti Doves, Bar-shouldered Doves, Fawn Peaceful Doves, Spotted Turtle-doves, Crested Pigeons, Stubble Quail, Californian Quail, Japanese Quail, Bob White Quail, Black-bellied Blood Finch, Grenadier Weaver, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Madagascar Weaver plus an ex-pet Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo that got just a little too noisy!
Over time I have lost touch with many of those species for various reasons—we have had some accidents over the years and the few particularly hot or cold days have also seen me lose a few birds. I struggled to find partners for birds at times and would then pass the spares on. I have also had one of my aviaries invaded by a cat!
I have always had the urge to try new species and although that isn’t necessarily the best approach its one I often took when it came to replacing and changing my birds.

BIRDS I KEEP TODAY
My collection to date still consists of a variety of species and I still haven’t set my eye on one particular type as yet, although my favourite bird falls under the cockatoo family. The Gang Gang Cockatoo is a real treat in my collection and the one male I own is probably the most interesting species I have. When the opportunity arose early last year, I purchased a three-year-old Gang Gang, uncoloured and a bit feather-chewed. I was assured that he would stop this habit with a bit of effort and that advice has shone through—early this year he completed a final moult and is now looking like one of the best specimens I have seen. He is quite destructive and is housed in a suspended aviary, therefore I provide him with many stimulative options to keep him entertained including fresh branches from as many different trees I can find each day, twice a day. He particularly enjoys species of casuarina and banksia. I also give him a large parrot mix—I’ve tried to reduce this to a Peachface mix but it seems he’d rather starve then eat small seeds and in fact he really prefers to eat native nuts and pods anyway.


Gang Gang Cockatoo

I also mix in dried chicken breast treats for dogs in small pieces and chicken necks which he likes chewing up. He also enjoys gingernut biscuits as a treat at times and I break bits of bark up for him for a quick chew. If available I’ll mix in some mealworms and any grubs I find. Citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges are a huge favourite—in fact they are the only fruit he will eat and he won’t touch vegetables of any description.

On either side of the Gang Gang in the suspended aviary I have a pair of Blue-cheeked Rosellas. These are truly stunning coloured birds and top all the rosellas in my opinion, even though they are not popular overall. I had a clutch of four chicks from this pair last year but unfortunately I lost all four for unknown reasons.

In the other suspended aviary I have a trio of Chukar Partridges which are another favourite of mine. Overseas breeders house them in suspended aviaries for better breeding results due to their intolerance to wet and cold. I spice my suspended aviaries up with some logs and rocks and the birds seem to lay well in the breeding season. This cage also houses Moustache Parrots—a species I only recently acquired which brings an exotic touch to the aviary. This species has always been a little favourite of mine and although not overly popular, the smart look, subtle, soft and blended colours with the contrasting black face is quite attractive and I would like to see these birds spark more interest amongst aviculturists.
The flock in my planted aviary is quite unique and includes dove species such as New Guinea Grounds, Common Bronzewings, Bleeding Heart Pigeons, Emerald Doves, Golden Pheasants, Masked Lapwings, English Blackbirds and Superb Parrots. I have a lot of favourites there but I have a special spot for the Bleeding Heart Pigeon. Interesting and inquisitive they never appear to tire and are active all day, pacing around the aviary foraging, always open to trying new foods! Talking about interesting behaviour, the secretive New Guinea Ground Dove is really strange. They keep to themselves when I’m in sight but when they think I’m not looking they perform these weird dances where they will walk at a fast pace backwards and then suddenly flare up their wings for no apparent reason. I have had no aggression problems with this species as yet but I am keeping my eye on them! All the pigeon and dove species are attractive in my opinion, if not for their colour then their elegance and behaviour really make them an interesting aviary subject.

Masked Lapwings, although a common residential bird, are very interesting in captivity and are actually a real favourite of mine as pets. Their calls at night somehow comfort me and remind me of the Australian outback.

Golden Pheasants are truly stunning. In fact all pheasants are such delightful birds and so easy to cater for, I don’t see why they aren’t more popular.

All birds in this aviary are fed budgie seed in large quantities and a dry softbill mix with good quality dog kibble, turkey crumble, grit, mealworms, insectivore powder and a few grains mixed in.
My Superb Parrots have a different diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables including peas, corn and carrot are fed four times a week and greenfood daily. These beautiful birds are my favourite of the Polytelis parrots. Plenty of nesting sites and a lot of cover reduces fighting and increases breeding results for each species.
My octagonal aviary contains what I call the ‘freak show’ comprising three or four pigeons I’ve picked up along the way. This bizarre-looking group includes a Jacobin Pigeon, a Helmet and a Chinese Nun—and their odd looking offspring!

My original aviary now just flocks Cockatiels, Turquiosine Parrots and Java Sparrows, which all breed well together and are fun to experiment with in terms of colour.
My companion parrot is my two-year-old Australian King Parrot named Casper who is pretty close to me, living in my room at night and spending time outside during the day. He can talk well for a King Parrot and has an excellent temperament allowing anyone to hold him.
I also recently got back into Eclectus and have acquired a mature hen—an ex-pet who I’m looking to pair up.

FEEDING
All my birds are fed a quality finch or budgie mix, except for the Gang Gang. Safflower or sunflower are only fed during the breeding season. Fresh native branches, greenfood in the form of chickweed, seeding grasses, thistle, cabbage and Asian greens are offered daily and fresh fruit and vegetables are fed four times per week. My birds are wormed in winter at which time the nestboxes are removed and sterilised for the next season.

MY AVICULTURAL ACHIEVEMENTS
Following are my achievements to date in aviculture:
• 2009 part-time work at Andrews Bird & Pet Palace in Smithfield, New South Wales.
• Articles written for Australian Aviary Life.
• PowerPoint presentations given at various bird clubs.
• My knowledge of birds has also scored me part-time work at a Petbarn store for the past two years.
• 2011 travelling to Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park.
• Meeting new people at bird sales all down the eastern side of Australia and inland including Gunnedah and Orange.
• Raffle Steward for the Parrot Breeders & Exhibitors of New South Wales Inc.

FOR NOW AND THE FUTURE
For the future I would like to concentrate a little more on parrots and the challenge of softbills while still expanding on the pigeons and doves I have to date. If only I had the money I’d keep caiques, Amazons, black cockies and a pair of Nicobar Pigeons! But for now I will build-up what I have and work towards my avicultural dreams!

CONCLUSION
Birds have greatly influenced my life for eight years now and the lessons and opportunities that they have given me have helped sculpt me into the person I am today. Meeting new people, learning new skills and even keeping me out of trouble—aviculture, I owe you one!

ABOUT ZAC MACKENZIE
Zac Mackenzie is 16-years-old and lives in the suburb of Cronulla, Sydney. He has been keeping birds since he was eight years of age, however his house is also ruled by all types of other animals that crawl, fly, swim, slither and jump including reptiles, fish, rabbits, mice, rats and a ferret. He would love to work with animals in some way in the future.