In 1993 I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer zookeeper at the Sacramento Zoo in California. I started out in the bird department and the very first birds I worked with was a pair of Lady Ross's Touracos. To say the least, I was in awe of these beautiful birds! Of course, after my first day I went right home and described the touracos to my husband, who was equally interested in seeing these birds. So, the next day we took a trip to the zoo and we were both able to admire the beauty and personality of this particular avian species.
Over time, and as I became more of a fixture in the zoo's bird department, my husband and I pursued the idea of obtaining Lady Ross's Touracos (Musophaga rossae) for our own small avian collection. Our persistence eventually paid off in 1996 when were able to acquire two female offspring of the original pair I had worked with at the Sacramento Zoo. Shortly thereafter we were able to add two male birds to our collection, both from the Chaffee Zoological Gardens in Fresno, California.
We set up the first pair, named Simpson and Simone, in a flight inside our home. The space was about 12 feet long x 4 feet wide x 10 feet high (3.5m x l.25m x 3m). We tried to set up the second pair, Ricky and Rosie, in a similar flight but mate aggression on Rosie's part prevented them from ever living companionably together. For the first two years the pair did not exhibit any serious breeding behavior but by their third year the female began to lay fertile eggs and we began hand rearing chicks. As time went by, the parents became more and more capable and the last four clutches were totally parent raised.
By 2000 we were up to our limit in bird cages and flights. We had been considering building a new house for various reasons and the idea of constructing the "perfect" aviary really motivated us towards this goal. We owned an empty lot immediately adjacent to the property where our current home was located. Thus, in early 200 l, we began construction of a new residence with a separate 1,000 square foot (93 sq. m) aviary room as part of the plan.
Our need to construct a completely indoor aviary was brought about by the unusual configuration of the land on which we live. Our house (both current and prior) is located on the Sacramento River and is built up on poles or pilings. This is because in the winter the land frequently floods when the rain and snow cause the river to rise. On a typical flooding year we can have nearly nine feet (2. 7 5 m) of water under the house, so it is impossible to construct anything at ground level for fear of flooding. Also, since the area we live in is fairly rural, we have to contend with a variety of wildlife including foxes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, coyotes, deer and bears who take up residence on our property. These animals would certainly pose a risk to any birds in outdoor flights, giving us one more reason for wanting to keep our birds inside.
By the time we were ready to move all of our birds, we needed more flights than were in the original plan. Thus, we had to decrease the size of some of the flights to accommodate four additional cages for our birds. Right now in the main aviary we house a total of 15 Lady Ross's Touracos, one Green-crested Touraco (T. Persa persa), two Keelbilled Toucans (Ramphastos sulphuratus), and one Green Aracari (Pteroglossus viridis).
The new aviary is essentially one big room with an 18 foot high (5.5 m) ceiling, windows on the south, east and west sides, a linoleum floor, a central drain system where waste water flows into the septic tank and a central heat and air system just for the aviary. The construction is wood frame with sheetrock on the walls and ceiling. The floor is plywood subflooring with a painted-on water barrier over which the linoleum was glued down. The linoleum wraps up the walls about three feet (.9 m) on each side to make cleaning easier. We painted the walls above the linoleum with an industrial water repellent-type paint.
The individual flights were framed out of one inch square (2.54 cm) aluminum tubing. We attached l" x 'h" (2.54 cm x 1.27 cm) galvanized-after-weld 18 gauge wire to the aluminum tube frames using washers and screws. The doors into each flight were made using the same materials. We constructed a "safety porch" (''S" on floor plan illustration) down the center of the room and off of that is the access to 12 of the flights. At the east and west ends of the room we built two connecting flights (you have to walk through the first flight to enter the second one) with their own safety porch. The original concept of having the flights 14 feet (4.27 m) long gave way to the need for the four additional flight cages at the east/west ends of the aviary. However, because of this late change we decided to increase the height of all of the flights to 12 feet (3.66 m). This turned out to be a great idea since all the birds are happy with the additional height which gives them the ability to perch high above anyone who comes into the aviary - adding to their feeling of safety and security.
For the top of the flights we chose a black plastic netting with 1h" x 1/z'' (1.27 cm x l.27 cm) squares. We also used the washer/screw method to fasten this fabric across the top of all of the flights. The plastic has a bit more give to it than the wire used on the sides of the flights and we chose this product based on its flexibility (to reduce the risk of injury if birds flew into it), cost, visibility, and ease of installation.
The aviary has six flourescent light fixtures, with two 8-foot (2.44 m) long bulbs in each, mounted on the ceiling, plus a single flourescent fixture in the kitchen area. Additionally, we installed eight incandescent fixtures, each with a JOO watt bulb, all controlled by a dimmer switch, for a night light. Since the area where we live is somewhat rural we have an ongoing problem with power outages. Shortly after we moved in we experienced multiple nights of the power going on and off and/or low voltage - causing the night lights in the aviary to flash on and off. This caused a great deal of panic in the birds and we needed to come up with a solution for the problem. Therefore, after the fact, we added three 12-volt flourescent light fixtures spaced above the central safety porch area. These are connected to back up batteries located in our garage which are, in turn, connected to a sensor plugged into the household current. If the main power goes off or the voltage drops, the batteries take over and power the emergency lights. This eliminates the flashing and also eliminates us having to get up in the middle of the night to calm the birds and provide an alternative light source.
The aviary has its own heat and air conditioning unit with four elevated floor...