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Modern Aviary Design

By Greg Shaw and Leonie Saayman

After visiting many bird farms and bird breeders around South Africa we have some sort of an idea of what is considered the trend in aviary design – for the moment. We are sure that with time, it will morph into something else hopefully something that emphasizes space more than what the current trend seems to be. We all need to take a step back and assess our bird’s needs when it comes to aviaries and the caged environment.

Keeping birds is becoming a popular hobby. In fact, the days of the single African Grey in a parrot-cage is quickly being replaced by rows of aviaries. Aviaries can be beautiful and exciting projects to plan. However, before jumping into this huge commitment, one should always do plenty of research ahead of time. You can avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes by asking questions from other bird-breeders that you respect.

Aviary Floor Plan

There are two different types of aviaries that most bird-breeders build, the free standing full flight traditional cages and the suspended aviary types. The type of aviary that you choose to build depends on your needs and that of your birds. The climate where you are going to keep the aviary is the most important factor. If you live in an extreme climate that gets very hot or very cold, you may want to consider an indoor aviary. Living in the Western Cape, our rainy winters pose a problem, so interior wind and rain protected areas are crucial for success. Mild climates can usually sustain an unprotected outdoor aviary, but one always has to put the welfare of the birds first and rather over compensate now, rather than later. There is nothing worse than spending money on an aviary that does not perform the right function due to bad design. The suspended types are very good for ventilation and they also keep pests and vermin from making a home in a place where they are not welcome but they also have their downfalls, like trying to catch the birds or trying to clean the mesh bottoms. A minimum of 25.4mm x 12.7mm (1inch x ½ inch) with a diameter of 1.00mm (19 gauge) or 25mm x 12.5mm with a thickness of 16 gauge, should be used to facilitate cleaning droppings from the cage bottoms – most of the droppings fall through instead of clinging to the wire.

Aviaries Section A

We think the first bit of advice is to keep focused and breed fewer species, as hard as it may seem it will yield more rewarding results as time goes by. Remember the old adage:”Jack of all trades, Master of none.” We think this is the first difficult hurdle to get over. So Master Jack, cut that bird wish list in half, and halve it again, if you want to succeed.


We have come up with a good concept for an aviary design, we are sure that with a little imagination you could improve on it, but at least it is a place to begin. It can be modified to suit your individual needs and that of the species of birds that you intend keeping. We hope the drawings and plans that we have drawn up will help you to at least start putting pen to paper and to attempt exploring what it is you think you want. The emergence of large suburban areas has also been a factor in changing the face of aviaries. Even the law has become more “aware” of our hobby. Health inspections are now a common requirement and most councils require plans pertaining to these “aviary” structures.

What is aviary design?

Suitability and sustainability play a major role. Personal style of course, comes into it too, as well as the cost. So the design process is a sequential step-by-step reasoning of where the aviary is, what birds you want to keep in it, and then making these elements fit together within the space available. This does require some drafting ability – although nothing arty – to get your idea on paper and to scale. How well you design your aviary will ensure that you get the functioning aviary you want and one you are capable of looking after. Understanding how the size and shapes of the roosting area links to the exercise flight is at the very heart of aviary design so start putting your ideas onto paper. Enjoy this process as it is the time where you can start ironing out all the hurdles that will lie in your path. We have chosen to use an example to work through the process. It is a small breeding setup for medium to small sized parrots, consisting of a set of five aviaries.

Suspended Aviaries

From the photo one can see that the aviary is a brick/concrete block building, clad in dry packed stone (from site). It has a timber roof which has been waterproofed with derbygum (bitumen on 21mm exterior ply on 38mm x 150mm rafters at 400cts). The projected flights are suspended out of the water proofed and wind-tight enclosure and rest on stone plinths. From the floor plan one can see that the entrance door opens into an access corridor one metre wide.

Each interior cage area is 1.5 metres square and is full height, from floor to ceiling. We chose full height to allow easy access for catching and inspecting the birds, it also makes life easier when the vet comes and visits. Both the nest boxes and the feeding stations are attached to the interior frame, thus allowing easy food and water changes as well as nest inspections, allowing the bird-breeder safe access to these from the corridor. This combination of both an interior full height roosting, feeding, nesting area with an exercise suspended flight attached to it, seems to offer the best of both worlds. The interior section does need cleaning often, but nothing that a hose and disinfectant can’t handle. As long as one has good drainage, the chore takes a few minutes.

If you look carefully at the plan you will see that the aviary block consists of five enclosures that will house the same species of bird. Focus on fewer species and build up unrelated breeding stock and you won’t look back. It also means that you can pair up unrelated babies and sell them off as unrelated pairs; also, no need for swopping babies or trying to find mates for them from other breeders.

The suspended cages have frames made with 50mmx50mm galvanized square steel tubing, the galvanized mesh should be an appropriate size for the species you wish to house in the aviaries, it has been stretched around the frames and tied with stainless steel wire. Pop rivets were used to connect the mesh to the frames on the interior walls.

A solid concrete floor was cast and screed with a 10mm fall towards the drains and weep holes. Do not forget drainage, stagnant water is difficult to remove without a good drainage system. The entire ceiling is covered with mesh so that the birds cannot access any part of the wooden beams that hold the roof up.

Once the building was complete it was clad in dry packed sand stone that was chopped on site (in order to allow the aviary to blend into its natural surroundings). Several large trees were brought in to plant between and in front of the suspended cages. We chose indigenous species like Figus Natalensis, Podocarpus falcatus and the protected Milk-woods, trees that would handle the environment and weather. Indigenous shrubs and bushes along with fruiting trees with vegetables were planted below and around the whole aviary. Great treats for the birds when the fruit and berries are in season.

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