RICHARD MILLER looks at aviary hygiene and discusses how to find the perfect balance to keep your birds in top condition
THE environment in which we keep our birds is fundamental both in terms of their health and our own. There are opposing ideals, where we want to sustain an aviary that incorporates as many features as possible from the birds’ natural habitat, but at the same time maintain basic hygiene and deal with common problems such as feather dust.
Fanciers who do not properly consider how to combat the onset of disease and create a healthy vibrant environment for themselves and their birds are missing out on a key element to successful budgerigar breeding.
In my time in the hobby, I have visited aviaries that have enabled me to observe the two extremes in terms of aviary hygiene. On the one hand, I have come across people whose aviaries looked like they had not seen a hoover or a brush for years. The other end of the spectrum is a birdroom that when you step into it feels like you are entering a laboratory with not a speck of dust or dirt in sight.
It is my contention that neither of these alternatives is suitable for an aviary hoping to produce the best results from the birds within them.
Breeders of budgerigars who have a dirty, poorly maintained and dusty aviary put themselves and their birds at risk. We all know of the dangers of feather dust and what the risks are for irreparable damage to be inflicted on human lungs.
In addition, it goes without saying that birds which originate from a habitat with a constant supply of fresh air and no concept of dust are not going to thrive to their full potential if they find themselves kept in an environment that does nothing to sustain the basic necessity for clean air.
Maintaining clean air
There are two key measures that can be deployed in order to address this:
■ Install dust extractor fans to a size and specification that are suitable for the size of your aviary.
■ Open windows and doors in order to ensure that a flow of fresh air can pass through the birdroom.
The deep litter system used by many breeders both in the flights and breeding cages, where the bases are not emptied daily, is one that has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. The risk of using this system is that it can provide a perfect breeding ground for diseases to incubate and hide. It can also mean that discarded feed can decay and pose health risks to the birds.
The wire breeding cages installed by exhibitors across the country are an obvious way of countering this system. However, my own personal view is that wire cages and bottoms of flights which are emptied on a daily basis, go too far from a budgerigars natural habitat. In the wild, birds eat on the ground and scavenge through the undergrowth for food. While in captivity, budgerigars like to pick amongst discarded feed on the floor in a manner reminiscent of their natural environment. Therefore, for me, it goes against the grain to deny them this.
Admittedly, by not using wire cages and emptying the bottom of flights daily, we do expose our birds to some risks. However, my father and I adopt the following routine in order to minimise the impact of these potential pitfalls:
■ The base of the flights and breeding cages are emptied once per week and replaced with clean disinfected saw dust.
■ Nothing that could pose a risk to the birds by means of decaying discarded feed over a period of seven days is used within the feeding regime.
Regardless of how thorough the routine of cleaning your aviary is during the course of the year, dirt will build up in those nooks and crannies that cannot always be reached effectively. Therefore, it is advisable to consider a total clean out at least once a year. Just before the start of the breeding season and once the same season has come to an end, my father and I steam-clean and thoroughly disinfect the whole aviary.
This is done in two stages, where all of the birds are moved into one section to enable us to pressure-wash and disinfect the vacant area. Then, obviously, the birds are moved into the clean part while the remainder are washed.
In order to make this process as easy as possible, we have now tiled the aviary to do away with the need to repaint surfaces once they have been pressure cleaned. For an aviary like ours, which is maintained to a very high standard of hygiene all year round, it still amazes me how much dirt comes off the walls and floors during this process.
I have only ever visited one aviary that was totally spotless. Everything was tiled and the breeder cleaned the flights and cages daily with disinfectant. Fresh air was allowed to circulate via windows, and overall it was pretty much the perfect environment for a breeder to work safely among his birds. However, what immediately became apparent to my father and I was the lack of noise that the birds were making. They seemed healthy but were by no means vibrant.
In addition, some years later the breeder in question was wiped out by a disease that swept through his aviary and which was thought to have been brought in by a bird that was brought in as an outcross.
This could feasibly have been as a result of the aviary being so clean and dirt free that the resident birds did not have the opportunity to build up a level of resistance to low levels of disease or external conditions.
Go for a compromise
Budgerigars that lack a basic resistance to common diseases are of course at greater risk than those that have been given the opportunity to develop their natural immune system as they would in the wild.
When considering advisable levels of hygiene for your birdroom and the measures you wish to use to achieve them, the compromise is to ensure that you create and sustain a healthy environment for you and your birds without leaning towards either of the extremes of lax or over-eager and unnatural aviary management.
Eradicating moths and mite
WHEN our birds had red mite, it was something that we attributed to the amount of moths that were present in our aviary especially during the summer months. When moths were spotted in the aviary and killed individually, we were able to observe some the organisms that were either living off or being transported by them. Vapona strips used to be installed throughout the aviary and meant that moths were never really a problem. However, when Vapona was taken off the market, there was nothing that we could find to replace it. Thankfully, following our experience of red mite, my father was able to trace a product similar to Vapona strips and produced by Rentokil. These strips are now placed within our aviary (eight strips) and replaced every six months. So far, these have proved to be an effective means of keeping moths at bay.
Richard Miller works as a solicitor in Cumbria, and started keeping budgerigars aged eight. He exhibits in partnership with his father Michael, and in 2006 they won best in show at the BS World Championship Show.