I have been keeping and breeding cockatiels for over thirty-five years now. It would be fair to say that I’ve built over a dozen aviaries during these years and each time and with each project I’ve thought that “I’ve finally built the perfect aviary!” Many of my aviculturist friends have made this very same statement. The fact of the matter is that no perfect aviary exists and no single design is suitable for all people in all places
There are two key elements to be considered when planning your aviary. First and foremost you must address the needs of your cockatiels. Secondly you should be able to care for and enjoy your birds with relative ease. The better you are able to satisfy these two needs, the happier you and your cockatiels will be.
A cockatiel requires similar things as other animals if it is to live a healthy life. Cages must provide adequate space. Ventilation must be sufficient. Climatic conditions and lighting must be appropriate. A clean source of food and water must always be present. Your cockatiels need to be safe from predators. Vermin and pests must be controlled. While not inclusive, if you meet these needs you will probably have some pretty happy cockatiels.
Indoor aviaries present the most challenges for the aviculturist. All environmental elements that are required to keep your cockatiels happy and healthy must be artificially maintained and routine maintenance and cleaning chores are more labor intensive. Indoor aviaries may be as small as a closet, but more typically are a dedicated room within the house, a basement or a garage.
One advantage of indoor aviaries is easy temperature control and protection from climatic extremes. Cockatiels can thrive in a broad range of temperatures. Sudden changes can cause problems. Most of us maintain our homes in the 60 to 80 degree range and this is well within temperature range for cockatiels. Garages and basements may not be so easily controlled; however, cockatiels will do well with temperatures down into the 30’s, if they are acclimated to it. These lower temperatures are not ideal for breeding. If you are breeding during the winter months, plan on keeping the temperature above 55 degrees. If you need supplemental heating, consider portable, electric oil filled units. They are safer to use than other types of portable heaters and they do not emit dangerous exhaust fumes. You will also need to consider cooling issues during the summer, particularly in garages. If you don’t have air conditioning, you will need to open doors and windows and perhaps use exhaust fans to keep the air moving. In such a scenario, cockatiels should be able to withstand temperatures into the 90’s.
Most indoor aviaries will require artificial lighting. I would recommend the use of full spectrum fluorescent lights. Make sure that sufficient fixtures are used so that your aviary is well lighted. If you are using stacked cages, make sure that the lower cages get proper lighting as well. Broad aisles will help with this. Attach the lights to timers so that there is consistency in their daylight hours. You may use the small outlet timers or purchase a commercial type timer that is hard wired into the electrical circuitry. Both types are available at home improvement centers. Be sure to provide a night light. Cockatiels are prone to night fright and a night light will allow them to settle back onto their perches.
Ventilation is probably the greatest challenge when housing cockatiels indoors. This problem is exacerbated by the feather dust produced by cockatiels. If you walk into your aviary and begin sneezing, you probably have a ventilation problem. Exhaust fans along with open windows and doors can greatly improve air quality, especially during the summer months. Most homes built today are pretty well insulated and pretty air-tight. While this is great for energy efficiency, it can lead to a house full of stale air. You may want to consider one of the various air filtration systems that are available. Ionization type air purification systems are very effective. Also remember that your home HVAC system can suck up cockatiel dander and distribute it all over your house. If your home shares the same HVAC system as your aviary, consider using an electrostatic filter and be sure to clean it often.
Cleaning procedures are important with an indoor aviary. Cages should be designed so that they are easily removed for washing. We use a portable power washer for this task. It easily removes any built up and dried debris from the cage wire. If you don’t have a power washer you may be able to take the cages to a self-service car wash. Cage trays need to be changed on a frequent basis. Dirty cages can lead to problems with vermin and can make both you and your cockatiels sick. You will need to vacuum and wash the walls and floors on a regular basis in order to minimize dander. I know of many cockatiel fanciers who may no longer keep birds because of feather dust allergies. Imagine what this does to your birds as they cannot leave their environment? Dust filled air in the aviary can lead to conjunctivitis and respiratory problems with your cockatiels.
Once you’ve selected the location for your indoor aviary, you need to consider the caging to be used. Baby birds and resting adults need as much flight space as possible in order to properly develop and maintain themselves. At a minimum, I would suggest a 2’ x 2’ x 3’ cage for no more than 4-5 cockatiels. A 3’ x 3’ x 6’ cage would be even better and could easily house a dozen cockatiels. Breeding birds should be kept one pair per cage. The smallest cages used should be at least 2’ x 2’ x 2’ or 18” x 18” x 36”. My preference would be a 2’ x 2’ x 3’ cage. . Space available will ultimately dictate the size of cage that you use. Cages that are built in a rectangular or square shape will allow the best utilization of your space. I prefer cages built with welded wire as they are easy to assemble and do not require a supporting framework. ½” x 1” x 16 gauge welded wire is the most commonly used for cockatiel cages. Other suitable options include ½” x 2” x 14 gauge and ½” x 3” x 14 gauge welded wire. Avoid the use of 1” or larger chicken wire or mesh with bar spacing greater than 1” x 1” as cockatiels can get their heads stuck and hang themselves. Perches should be placed at both ends of the cage to allow for maximum flight space. Cages should also have trays that are easily removed for cleaning.
The aviary should provide a safe haven for your cockatiels; free from threat of predators and vermin. Predators in an indoor aviary are usually your dog or cat. Never assume that because everyone gets along fine when you’re home they’ll be fine when you’re away. Best practice would allow the aviary to be closed off when you’re not around. Invariably mice will show up when a food source is present. Aviaries fit the bill. Invest in a live trap. These units should be placed near the walls, are always ready to go, require no baiting and are quite effective. If a problem develops, you may consider bait stations. These should be secured so that your cockatiels and other pets cannot reach the bait. We use bait that contains bromethalin (0.01%) as any poisoned rodents that in turn, are eaten by your cat or dog, will not poison your pet. Insects can also be a problem in the aviary. We use Camicide as a general pesticide in the aviary as it is very safe around birds. Spray it around cracks, crevices, cage legs, etc. Do not spray it into the cages where your birds will have direct contact.
As you design your aviary, don’t forget your own needs as you will be with your birds every day and you want your time spent there to be enjoyable. These are just a few things you will want to consider:
Maintain wide aisles between cages. Feeding and cleaning chores will be much easier if you have room to work. You may want to use a feeding cart that can roll down the aisles.
Remember that nest boxes take up space. If they are hung on the front of the cage, they will use up a foot of your aisle space.
Don’t add more birds than your space will allow. Aviaries crowded with too many cages are difficult to maintain. Cages with too many birds can lead to feather picking and illness.
Consider stands on wheels or suspend your cages from the ceiling. This will make it easier to keep the floors clean.
Keep an open area for your feed and other aviary supplies. It is so much easier to care for your birds if the items you need are easily accessible.
Paint the walls with gloss enamel that may be washed.
Install a solid, non-porous floor. Carpeting is a very poor choice as it is very difficult to clean.
Use a standardized size of food and water container. If these are generic, feeding and cleaning will be much quicker.
There are endless ways you may set up an indoor aviary. No matter what size you build, these guidelines should help you come up with an environment that is pleasing to both you and your cockatiels.