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Which birds for an aviary? And how to keep them happy?

Keeping exotic birds in aviaries (page 60) can be a delightful adventure as long as you know what you're getting into. Like any pet, a bird needs consistent care and-depending on its type-a little or a lot of attention. When purchasing birds to train, look for ones that have been hand-fed from birth, which makes them easier to tame and much more comfortable around humans. Captured wild birds can be very difficult to handle. Know your source. Many exotic bird species are threatened with extinction as their natural habitats are destroyed. Even though such birds can no longer be imported legally, many are still coming into this country illegally. Larger birds are more demanding Cockatoos, conures, macaws, and other large birds are colorful and dramatic, but they're much more demanding than small birds. Single ones usually bond with one person and can be very affectionate. But they require constant attention and may be obnoxiously vocal. As Seattle bird keeper Robert Mock put it, "Buying a large bird is like getting married. It's a 30- to 50-year commitment." Birds kept in pairs bond to each other and may become aggressive toward humans, especially when they reach maturity. If you choose a large bird as a pet, it's best to get just a single one. On the other hand, small, passive birds, such as canaries, cockatiels, doves, finch- es, and quail, need little human interaction. They're very happy and docile in pairs. If you're just starting out, these are good choices. Successful bird combinations Small birds also make the best combinations in mixed outdoor aviaries. Experienced aviculturists report that, with a few exceptions, most finches get along well together and in mixes with button, common, and silver quail; canaries; cockatiels; and diamond, South African, and white doves. But getting the right mix is also a process of trial and error, since individual personalities and situations influence compatibility. Your best bet is to introduce a few birds at a time and see how they do. Some exceptions are cutthroat, green singing, and blood finches. They tend to be feisty and may chase other birds or even throw young out of their nests. Zebra finches have been known to take over another bird's nest. And lovebirds can be aggressive either in mixed aviaries or with other lovebird varieties. During mating season, the larger Australian parakeets can be killers in mixed aviaries. "But a whole flight of parakeets or small budgies is like a collection of living jewels," says Mr. Mock. And they do get along well with diamond doves. For a harmonious aviary, a balance of males and females seems to work best. To keep birds content, make sure you supply a nesting box for each pair and plenty of food, water, and toys (swings, suspended rawhide, bells, and other items available at pet stores). Besides nesting boxes or baskets, you also need to supply material (such as shredded burlap, cotton, dryer lint, dry pine needles, moss, short grasses, straw, or wool) so the birds can line the nest. Varied diet makes for satisfied birds Pet stores sell different kinds of seed for different birds. You can mix these together in feeding dishes, but keep large seeds separate. Finches eat only from the surface of dishes, so you must clean out empty hulls regularly or they'll starve. To remain healthy, many birds (except doves and quail) also need fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. They'll eat almost anything humans eat, but don't feed them milk or spicy, salty, or fatty foods. Supply plenty of fresh water (clean dishes every few days). Favorite foods are apple, broccoli, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, romaine lettuce, and squash. Provide extra protein (you can buy protein supplements) when birds are nesting or feeding their young. Cuttlebone (available at pet stores) supplies minerals and is good for beaks. Dan Osborne of Danville, California, grows millet to feed his finches. He plants it year-round and harvests the seed heads while they're still green. Planted aviaries: the natural look Most of the small birds mentioned above nibble on plants but can coexist with plants as long as plenty of food is provided. Notable exceptions are weaver and green singing finches, which some say eat everything. Most hookbills (except cockatiels) will devour anything in a cage, including wood; keepers of large birds supply hunks of wood for birds to work on. Aviculturists report success with woody plants such as Australian tea tree, bamboo, bottlebrush, camellia, Ficus benjamina, grevillea, honeysuckle, Japanese black pine, Japanese maple, Lady Banks' rose, melaleuca, nandina, pittosporum, podocarpus, rosemary, and star jasmine. Agapanthus, daylily, liriope, and spider plants also survive well. Going on vacation? By using gravity-flow bird feeders (check for clogging) and automatic waterers, some bird keepers say they can go away for a week or two without calling in a sitter. The birds just miss their treats. But you might want to have someone check on the birds and give them their fresh fruits and vegetables. Without automatic feeders, a caretaker should visit every couple of days.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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