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Aviaries - Conventional, Suspended or Cantilevered - Which ?

The three types of aviaries described in the title are the most commonly built by birdkeepers in New Zealand. Many wonder what advantage there is to constructing an aviary one way or the other? A few things must be addressed by us before we finally decide on a construction method.

What type of birds are we going to keep in the aviaries ? This is the first thing to take into account and if we have not decided the species of birds we want to keep then we should wait until that decision is made before we proceed with elaborate plans for aviary construction. If we decide for example it is finches that we want to keep, then suspended or cantilevered aviaries are not really suited. These small birds spend much time on the ground fossicking for insects and other tid bits and I think most would agree that they are best suited to a more conventional aviary situation. Some may consider a small flight cantilevered onto another larger part of the aviary such as the shelter, acceptable as well, as this still leaves a large floor area for the birds to land on and enjoy. The same would apply to an aviary built for displaying a mixed collection of birds, again a conventional type is best for this, as this affords a better view of the birds and it also allows for planting an aviary out with suitable shrubs or trees for show. Suspended and cantilevered aviaries have the greater application then to parrot species and in particular breeding aviaries, perhaps consisting of a block of several together.

Another consideration is, Will the aviary situation I choose be good for the birds health and successful breeding ? The last thing we want is for the birds we have paid good money for and feel a responsibility to care for, to be dying on us, because the type of aviary we have built denies us the ability to care for them properly. Again if we want to breed the birds, is this the best aviary to get results in ? The third consideration is, What sort of budget do we have ? Usually suspended and cantilevered aviaries are more economical to build as there are less materials involved, but that will also depend on the type of materials we decide to use.

Perhaps the greatest consideration is, Which of these three types of aviaries do I prefer, taking into account aesthetics and practicality ? Each birdkeeper will, by looking around, no doubt, decide upon a preferred way of keeping their birds, taking into account ease of management and which way to them is more appealing.

Lets now look at the three types of construction in a little detail, one at a time.

1. Conventional Aviaries
This type applies to the sort of aviary most are familiar with and is one that we see most often. It is also one that requires the least degree of planning, as we build it to fit into whatever place we have. It can therefore be usually any shape as long as we can put it all together, particularly if there is only one aviary involved. If there is a bank of three of four or more, then a rectangular shape is usually best and most economical, using the one outer structure, but dividing it with partitions into the number of aviaries we decide on. One other thing that may affect the shape of the aviary is how much of the roof we want to enclose ? Some shapes may be difficult to attach roofing to and channel run off water from. Of course if it is to be open and just support wire then this is more easily moulded to most shapes.

The photos show a few different designs for conventional type aviaries. If the aviary is to house a collection of finches that require a totally enclosed situation then flat -square or rectangle shapes, suit the attaching of plastic or polycarbonite sheeting better. The same applies to the roof. A flat roof with a good fall one way, will be easier to work with than a pitched type roof, that may require ridging to waterproof it. This is not saying you can't do it, but it will be a more difficult construction method.

One thing to keep in mind when constructing is the standard sizes of materials. This is most important when using materials such as clear plastic sheeting, like Laserlite etc. They come in sheet sizes such as, 1.8m, 2.4m, 3.6m and so on. On a roof for example, don't build your frames exactly these sizes, or you will have no room for overhang. If using 2.4 sheets then think ahead and make your aviary width say 2.3m, which allows for 100mm overhang. This will save a lot of trouble in cutting standard sized sheeting and be more economical with less wastage.

Another bonus of conventional aviaries is your ability to walk around anywhere in the aviary, not only to care for the birds but also means it is easy to get in and give it a good clean out and when it comes to catching the birds, two people can even fit in most aviaries if needed, to help with this chore.

Its conventional aviaries that are also used to house birds in Public places such as Council Parks, Botanical Gardens, or Zoos. They allow the public to see birds best and also give birds better flying space from ground level to whatever the full height of the aviary is. This is also the reason why many prefer this type of aviary, feeling it is more natural and gives the birds more room. There are associated health problems with some species of birds however in these aviaries and some have addressed these issues by building suspended aviaries.


2. Suspended Aviaries
As already mentioned this aviary type has particular application to parrot species. The true suspended aviary is an all wire affair. Some will use a light frame to hold the wire firm, particularly if a number of these are involved. Others will bend the wire (Usually heavier gauge weldmesh) to the shape and size they want and suspend this in a few ways up from the ground. They are certainly economical as the only material needed in this instance is the weldmesh. What advantages are there to this type of aviary ?

Some birds can have constant health problems from eating droppings and other matter on the floor of the aviary, which is also a breeding ground for worms. With suspended aviaries these droppings pass through the wire and therefore the birds are saved this danger. Much less worming is then required which makes it easier for the birdkeeper and better health wise for the birds. Three birds that are prone to this are the Polytelis species, Barrabands, Princess and Rock Pebblars and if you have had problems with these birds in this regard, then a suspended aviary environment may help alleviate such health problems and give better management.

Another species that would be suited to this type of aviary and better managed is, Lorikeets. As they have mostly liquid droppings, these are able to pass through the wire making it easier to keep their aviary clean. Other species such as Asiatic Parrots, like the Ringneck and South American Conures, even in a conventional aviary, spend very little, if any, time on the floor of the aviary. Even if they have to go down to ground level they will often prefer to cling to the wire on the sides of the aviary. So these Parrot species are good candidates for keeping and breeding in suspended aviaries.

One type of suspended aviaries, that are most popular, are pictured. These may vary in presentation but the basics stay the same. A house section or shelter is built, that not only also serves as the shelter for the birds but also as the walkway for the servicing off all the aviaries.


Usually a steel frame made from galvanized pipe or steel tubing is welded to the right shape and size and weldmesh is fixed to this frame. The back of the aviaries are attached to the shelter, where each aviary has its door, and the walkway runs down the back of this. Out the front, the other end of the frame is suspended on a pipe strategically placed at the right height and running the full length of the aviaries, that is held in place by a number of uprights to give good support.

Both in the shelter and outside the shelter, all excess food, seed husks and droppings, fall through the wire onto the ground. Inside the shelter, concrete is best on the floor, as it is easily swept and kept clean and this allows you to service all the aviaries in a dry clean environment. Nest boxes are usually hung outside the aviary in the walkway. The other plus about this type of setup is that it is quite cost effective, as suspendeds are usually only about 1.2m high, which means a lot less building materials.

A couple of down sides about them is this. If you see birds like ringnecks or other species with long tails these are often seen damaged from the wire floor. The other thing that concerns me is this. If someone, who already has a prejudice against keeping birds in captivity and is uneducated about species management and lets face it that includes everyone who is not a birdkeeper, this type of housing may horrify them and they may think it equal to battery chicken cages. We know this is not the case but will this help foster interest in birdkeeping ?

The important thing is to keep any aviaries, whether it be conventional or suspended maintained and clean and this is what will convey a caring attitude on the part of the birdkeeper toward their birds.

3. Cantilevered
This is really a combination of both conventional and suspended aviaries. The house or shelter section is full height with a walkway and entry from the rear and the flight section is suspended, perhaps being only half height or about 1.2m. It is also an economical way of extending the length of an aviary to give the birds more flying area. It also can help in keeping the birds free of too much access to their droppings. Usually a perch is placed towards the front of this suspended extension for the birds to sit on in the open and the droppings pass through the wire the same as a fully suspended aviary.

This seems to be a very favoured way of construction here in N.Z. and will suit all types of parrots kept. The idea can be modified and used as an extra to any aviary to provide additional flying space. The smaller attachment can be built separately and attached to either the main flight section or house section if you wish. The frame can be either timber or metal and using weldmesh will make it stronger. We have pictured, a few different ways cantilevered type aviaries are being used in N.Z. But what if you would like something purely decorative ? This will be addressed in another article.

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