How to Build an Aviary for Endangered Macaws


I t started as Bird Farms Macaw Habitat Proto '96. Because of conception problems and a much longer than anticipated gestation, it came to be known as Proto '97, more accurately reflecting the birthing date.

The Proto part of the name says that this is still a design in progress. What it means is "we think we're doing it right, but we might change our mind." While the design incorporates our best thinking at the time, we know it is an evolutionary process as we move toward Proto '99. But that we live long enough, we may arrive at Bird Farms Standard Macaw Habitat. Given the circumstances, that "ultimate" habitat pri-


marily will provide the best possible situation for our captive breeder birds and their fledglings. Secondarily, the consideration is on the greatest ease for the keeper, within the foregoing parameters.

Why It's Not Proto '96

Initial detailed drawings on Proto '96 were based on a variety of earlier experiences, including observations at zoos. Each element we incorporated seemed right at the time. After all the design and drawing time invested on Proto '96, the plan was totally rejected. It incorporated three flights radiating from an enclosed central service hub. A concrete slab at ground level served


as cage bottoms and service area floor. It fulfilled a lot of our "wants:" a minimum 2,000 cubic feet of flight space; no visual contact between breeding pairs; easily adjusted for the vagaries of South Texas weather; efficiency for the keeper.

Where it failed, primarily was in biosecurity.

It continued to cluster groups of birds in close proximity, as do our first aviaries. These are two rows of sideby-side suspended cages (160 cubic feet each) backed on a central service aisle. All are inside an iron structure with metal roof over the nest boxes and feed stations with the rest enclosed by one inch, 14 gauge wire.

With acreage available, there was no reason to continue the disease risk inherent in such clustering of birds. We spend about $300 on testing incoming birds (which are few) even before bringing them into the facility quarantine area. We also spend as much on outbound birds as a barometer on flock health. We always have been and remain today a disease-free facility. However, even this regimen is no sure thing against spread of disease in a facility with more than one bird.

"The ultimate quarantine lasts for the bird's entire life and anything less is a compromise," says David Phalen, DVM, Ph.D. at Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine.

Reason No. I

for rejection of Proto '96

We would establish a minimum distance of 150 feet between each breeder pair. Each future habitat would be positioned so that prevailing winds do not blow across one and then on through another.

The ground level design presented other problems. Even in the aviaries with suspended cages we fight ants on an ongoing basis with diazinon watered into the ground in and around the facilities. Heavy marine grease is strategically used to isolate the pipes from which the cages are suspended. Proto '96 assumed the use of diazinon to continue, even heavier in application. We would like to phase out use of this pesticide before it is banned along with its common alternatives (most likely within a couple of years).


The same on-the-ground design did nothing to decrease control problems related to rodents, opossums, domestic cats, and coyotes.

Reason No. 2 for rejection

We would elevate the habitat in such a way as to facilitate greater ease of control of pests, rodents, vermin, and varmints.