Tony Silva NEWS: Winter and summer protection for your birds

October 8th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva NEWS: Winter and summer protection for your birds
Tony Silva NEWS

Aviculturists that house their birds outdoors the world over face problems caused by the elements each year. In parts of Europe breeders in winter can face prolonged freeze with high winds that cause mortalities if the birds are not given adequate protection, with frostbite being a pernicious problem, followed by the inability of the bird to maintain their core body warm. The aviculturists protect the birds by covering the outside of the aviaries with plastic, offer shelters that may or may not be heated, and insure that the bird receive sufficient fat for thermoregulation. Sunflower seeds, safflower and nuts are an important dietary component in cold weather.

Once I met an aviculturist in southern Argentina who offered his Quaker Parakeets Myiopsitta monachus suet (animal fat) that had been kneaded with seeds. This fatty mass was placed in a bowl in the aviaries. The birds consumed large quantities of the suet. I asked if the high fat would not cause mortality in a species that can suffer from obesity and fatty liver and he responded in the negative, that the birds in parts of the southern extremity of the range do the same by feeding on cattle hides placed over wire to dry, the birds picking at bits of fat and flesh during the coldest days. He had never lost a bird but provided the excessively fatty suet only during the heart of winter.


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Sunflower seeds are one of the most common sources of fat used for parrots.


Aviculturists in the tropics are not safe from inclement weather. In south Florida, the rains can wet the food, which can spoil or quickly ferment if they become wet. Every feed bowl in my collection is encased in a metal box, but occasionally the rain can be blown in a horizontal fashion and can wet the foods. The pellets within hours of becoming wet grow bacteria and the seeds become a mushy soup, which sours quickly. If the birds feed on these foods, the likelihood of bacterial infection is great.

Keeping birds housed outdoors warm is easier than keeping them cool. In winter, as described above, several measures can be implemented very easily, but the sweltering heat, constant downpours and accumulating water can bring about serious health conditions or even death from overheating.

So far this month I have received eleven messages from desperate aviculturists who have found their birds dead. In all cases heat was the cause. Keeping the birds cool is not easy but it is possible if the aviculturist plans ahead and takes the necessary steps.

Planting shade trees is the first line of defense. There are several fast growing trees that provide quick cover. We use Hog plum Spondias mombim, which drops its leaves in winter to allow the birds access to the sunshine, enters spring producing a fruit that the birds highly relish and provides cover in summer, when it is needed. The tree is also fast growing. The list of similar trees is great. Checking with a local garden supply house can lead you in the correct direction.


tony kabat

Tony in his winter coat in front of the aviary in one European facility. Temperature can fall to -20°C in the coldest days there. (c) Lubomir Tomiska


Providing the birds physical shade is also important. All of our aviaries are set amongst green foliage, which provides shade, but each aviary also contains a partial roof. This provides additional shade yet allows the birds the possibility to perch where the sun’s warming rays reflect in winter and to bathe in rain, if they wish, during a downpour.

Having proper airflow is important. This consideration must have been taken into consideration even before the first aviary was constructed. A cement structure with a wire front and roof may be perfect to exclude rats, keep birds from squabbling with adjacent neighbors and may keep wind out in winter, but it entombs the birds in a structure that precludes airflow. I would recommend that aviaries in the tropics always be constructed with as much mesh as possible to permit the air to flow in the heart of summer. Elevated structures are good because they allow the use of water in dry areas without giving access to the moist ground, which can lead to bacterial infections and aspergillus outbreaks.

Finally there are misters. Garden sprinklers can be installed over the aviaries to allow the birds to bathe and cool down during critically hot periods of the day, but the excess moisture can lead to the aforementioned problems. The best solution is thus fog misters, which generate an extremely fine mist of water that does not collect but allows the ambient to cool. Fog misters are widely employed in Europe in outdoor cafes in summer. Some are placed directly under the tables and others are attached to fans, so that the cooling mist can be circulated. The mist is turned on intermittently and allows the patrons to remain outdoors even during the warmest part of the day.

The aviculturist can employ these above the birds. They can be connected to a timer, or turned on manually. In difficult areas they can be attached to fans. Checking for fog misters on the internet will lead you to supply houses that provide these. They are favored over other systems because they provide cooling without creating a swamp that leads to bacterial and fungal infections.

The fog misters are not problem free. They can clog up and thus will require daily inspection, particularly if the water is very hard. They must be attached in such a way that the birds will not chew the rubber parts, and the water quality must be good. I state this because in many parts of the world the water can be of questionably quality. Using a storage tank attached to a UV system, or chlorinating the storage water, and then using this for misting is highly recommended, as the birds can and will drink from the mist. I recommend both UV and chlorination to provide double security. The use of an RO (reverse osmosis) system does not remove coliform bacteria as many believe. I recommend employing the same level of hygiene for the misting as the drinking water.



Such aviary design protects birds from sun radiation. (c) Lubomir Tomiska


Finally the monsoon can come with rains. The food will need to be kept dry, the birds will require protection from the rain, and all measures to control mosquito outbreaks must be taken. Breeders whose birds have fallen ill and display swollen eyelids that are often encrusted each year message me in a panic. This affliction is often attributed to pox, which is spread by biting insects. The best means of control is to cover the aviaries with fine mosquito netting, but preventing accumulating pools of water are important.

Some years ago I visited an aviculturist who was losing birds to pox. He repeatedly assured me that there was no stagnant water. A look at the large yard revealed otherwise. Saucers placed on the bottom of flowerpots contained water and mosquito larvae, the centers of bromeliads grown in the yard revealed many mosquito larvae, a trash pile at the rear of the property had bottles and cans that had water and mosquito larvae, and I found mosquito egg rafts in a gutter whose water flow had been blocked by dried leaves. All of this was found within a half an hour walk. He had clearly concentrated on large accumulating water receptacles, figuring that mosquito would not be produced in small volumes of water. That afternoon he learned otherwise. Clearly an ongoing campaign not only near the aviary but the entire surrounding area is important, insuring that every site be drained and kept dry.

Accumulating water is also a problem, as it allows water born diseases to spread. Make sure that there are no pools of accumulating water that mixed with fecal matter and spilled food, which attracts flies, engenders bacteria and creates stench. Remember that with parrots the first line of defense against disease is proper diet and hygiene.

So take the welfare of your birds in consideration no matter where you live and offer them the protection in summer and winter that they deserve.


Title photo: (c) Lubomir Tomiska



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