Understanding the Principles of Stress Reduction in the Aviary


Every morning I wake up between
6:30 and 6:45 a.m., stumble into the
kitchen and start a pot of coffee. While
the coffee is brewing, I let the dogs
out, walk to the end of the driveway
and get the paper. Then I return to the
kitchen where I pour two cups of coffee,
take out a prepared container of
soft food and bag of frozen vegetables
and head out to the barn where my
aviary is located. Once there, I feed
the horse and chickens, and then sit
down to watch the birds and drink my
first cup of coffee. At 7:30, I put down
seed, change drinkers, ptit soft food in
the breeding cages and flights, along
with some frozen vegetables, and
then sit again to watch the birds and
drink my second cup of coffee. My
routine is consistent, day in and day
out, broken only by the occasional
rushed morning due to other commitments.
Each of our animals has adjusted to
my routine. Ami whinnies and starts
walking to her stall as the back door
opens -not the first time when I let
the dogs out -but when she sees me
coming with coffee cups in my hands.
As I approach the barn, the budgies
are already starting to chatter, even in
the winter when the sun is not yet up.
As I get about 20 yards from the barn,
one of the roosters crows and I can
hear the turkey and hens starting to
rustle around. When I sit with my first
cup of coffee, none of the budgies go
down for food. It is only after I put the
soft food and vegetables out that the
first will fly down to see what the
goodies are for the day.
As I became increasingly aware of
these routines (habits), both mine and
the animal's, I was struck by the
thought of a number of a1ticles I have
read over the years regarding need for
consistency and routine in aviary
Routines (habits) conserve mental
energy by eliminating the need to
think things out in advance and to
make moment to moment decisions.
Physically, they eliminate random
purposeless motions. When altered
over a period of time, they cause little
stress because of our ability to adjust
our behaviors and create new behaviors
based on our experiences with the 

new situation. Although budgies do
not possess varying degrees of intelligence
like we do, they do possess the
ability to learn specific things. Biologically,
this makes a lot of sense. There
is a real reproductive advantage for
any species which happens to have
the capacity to modify its behavior in
specific ways when confronted with
variability in its environment. So, not
unlike us, changes in routine over
time are met adaptively with little
need for our concern. However, I
have also recognized how natural my
own routine feels and how out of sorts
I feel on those occasional days where
it is interrupted because of o"ther
This feeling, "out of sorts", is my
body's physiological response to the
stress caused by sudden change.
Without routine, in a constantly
changing, unpredictable environment
this physiological response is intensified.
In humans we refer to it as anxiety.
In a biological sense it means that
we are expending an inordinate
amount of energy adapting to environmental
In the animal world, the ultimate
consequence of all behaviors is the
ability or inability of the individual to
transmit its genes to the gene pool of
the next generation. All behaviors
center on finding food, avoiding predators,
locating a mate, inducing a mate
to breed and caring for the offspring
of that breeding. When budgies are
required to expend a lot of energy
adapting to changes in their environment,
it interferes directly with their
ability to conserve and focus their
energies on these objectives. In this
respect, while routine is certainly
impmtant to the conservation of energies,
it is not the only adaptation to an
environmental factor that represents a
threat to our budgerigars' ability to
ultimately pass on their genes.
While most fanciers would
acknowledge that sudden and dramatic
alterations to routine or management
practices, such as changing
feeds or feeding schedules should be
avoided when possible, few have considered
the stress exerted on their
birds by the addition or removal of a
number of birds to or from their

That budgerigars have some sort of
established social order and display
social behavior in the wild is arguable.
The establishment of flocks seems to
be regulated by the density of available
seed rather than by the need for
social interaction. As local crops are
abundant, flock size is large. As the
food sources are more geographically
dispersed, the flock sizes are smaller.
In observations of nesting hens sl1aring
the same nesting sites and sometimes
the same nest holes, the comparability
seemed more a response to
necessity (the absence of other nesting
sites in that locale than to the
desire to "be together:' Even the degree
of strict pair bonding that we
observe within our aviaries may not
be observed in the wild, as single hens
have been seen to copulate with one
cock and then immediately accept a
second and third cock without leaving
her position on the perch. What social
interactions do occur within the feral
populations seems mostly to center on
activities associated with reproduction.
In this feral setting, the impact of
environmental stress caused by the
changing densities of the flock are
counteracted by the fact that loosely
bonded groups tend to break off together.
The impact of sudden individual
deaths due to predators, while it
may require adaptational changes for
those other individuals loosely
bonded to it, has essentially no affect
on the flock as a whole due to the
sheer numbers of individuals involved.
In comparison, it has been fairly
well established that within an aviary
and especially within a flight some
sort of established social order does
exist. One, seen infrequently in the
wild, is a hierarchy of dominance, or
pecking order as one would find in a
flock of chickens. This has been evidenced
not only in feeding trials and
situations of overcrowding, but is dramatically
demonstrated by the territorial
behaviors of the hen in defense of
the nest box and immediate vicinity of
the nest box in colony breeding situations.
While cocks, other than the pair
bonded mate, are allowed to sit on the
box perch without reaction, other
hens are attacked savagely and only
the pair bonded cock is allowed to
enter the box.