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Outdoor Aviaries: Their Role in Promoting Breeding and Good Health – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for basic information on our new line of Outdoor Aviaries.

The influence of natural light, weather cycles and the additional space provided by an Outdoor Aviary often promotes breeding in birds whose reproductive urges have lain dormant for years.

Exercise for Body and Brain

Outdoor aviaries can also serve as exercise areas for birds otherwise confined to cages, and may allow you to keep species which, while they “get by” in typical cages, really do best with more room, at least for part of the year.  Birds which fall into this category include mynahs, larger parrots, toucans, most doves, red-crested cardinals and turacos.

Your pets’ interest in what is going on around them will increase markedly as well – this is good for their well-being, especially as concerns parrots and other highly intelligent birds.

Pheasants, Wild Birds and Other Outdoor Species

Other species, some of which I will highlight in future articles, are nearly impossible to keep unless an outdoor aviary is available.  Included among these are the golden and other pheasants, most quail, fruit doves, ducks and fancy (or “plain”!) chickens.

If, like I, you are a licensed wild bird rehabilitator, an outdoor aviary will greatly expand the list of species with which you might become involved (I tried caring for owls, small herons and gulls indoors…trust me, it’s difficult!).

Along with the fun, there are some special considerations involved in keeping birds outdoors…please write in for details concerning the species in which you are interested.

Further Reading

Outdoor aviaries are indispensible to those who rehabilitate injured native birds, and, where legal, for keeping native birds.  Please see my article Rehabilitating Native Birds  for further details.


Spring’s Affect on Parrots, Budgerigars, Canaries, Finches and Other Cage Birds: Aggression, Nesting Behavior and Other Signs of Breeding Readiness


Inca Tern-PairThe longer days and warmer temperatures that are (finally!) upon us may cause some behavioral changes in our pet birds.  Pet owners are often surprised by this, because even birds that are housed alone may show confusing personality changes and odd behaviors.  Furthermore, the behaviors may not occur every year, even though seasonal temperature and light changes around the bird remain similar.

Aggression Towards People

Take extra care around your birds, especially the larger parrots, during the spring, as hormonal changes can spur aggression even in normally calm, affectionate individuals.  This can happen quite suddenly to either males or females.  It is best to keep parrots away from your face and to supervise them closely around children during the breeding season.

Nesting Behavior

Purple GallinuleHens of most bird species will search the cage floor for nesting material, often quite frantically, when breeding readiness sets in.  If a nesting site is not available, they may carry feathers and bits of material about continually, seemingly unsure of what to do with them but unwilling to let go.  Cocks will become more vocal, and will show greater interest in the hens.

The Droppings

The droppings of female birds may change appearance during the breeding season, becoming larger and, in those species that produce greenish feces, a dark brown in color.

Physical and Behavioral Changes in Budgerigars

The cere (the area above the bill, which houses the nostrils) of a breeding female budgerigar will turn deep brown, and she may become quite destructive.  Cuttlebones and toys that were given scant attention in the past may now be demolished in a matter of minutes.

Amorous male budgies will begin to call while constricting the pupil of the eye and banging the beak on perches and cage bars.  If a hen is present, the male will usually display before her with comical, (to us, at least…hopefully not to the hen!) bobbing head movements.

Further Reading

An interesting article on the hormonal changes that occur in cage birds during the breeding season is posted at http://www.exoticpetvet.net/avian/season.html.

For information on other aspects of bird breeding, please see the following articles on this blog:

Nest Boxes

Infertility in Pet Birds

Overproduction of Eggs  


The Half Moon, Orange-Fronted or Petz’s Conure (Aratinga canicularis) and its Relationship with the Arboreal Black-Headed Termite (Nasutitermes nigriceps): The Uncommon Nesting Habits of a Common Pet


Clad in green plumage, with blue and orange crescents topping the head, the 9-inch-long half moon conure brings to mind a small, feisty Amazon parrot.  These boisterous little birds breed well in captivity and, when acquired young, make delightful pets.  Combined with a relatively low price, these qualities have rendered the half moon one of the most commonly-kept of the conures. Its breeding biology in the wild, however, is anything but common.

An Unusual Limit on Range

The range of the half moon conure extends in a narrow band along the west coast of Mexico and Central America, from Sinaloa to Costa Rica.  The oddly-shaped area it occupies coincides precisely with the northern range of the arboreal black-headed termiteThe conure sometimes forages in areas where the termite does not occur, but it only nests within the termite’s range.

It seems that the half moon builds its nest exclusively within the nests, or termitaria, of this particular species of termite (rarely, conures appropriate abandoned woodpecker nests).

Constructing the Unique Nest

The entrance holes to half moon conure nests are always situated at the base of the mound-like termitaria.  A tunnel is excavated through the hard outer layer of the mound, after which it turns sharply downward into termiterium’s the soft core.  There a small chamber is constructed to house the female conure and her young.

Digging with their bills, the conure pair takes approximately one week to complete their unusual nest.  Both sexes participate in the process, with the male doing most of the “grunt work” during the initial tunnel construction phase.

The Benefits of Nesting with Termites

Interestingly, conures desert the nest for a period of 7-10 days immediately following its construction.  During this time, the resident termites seal off the area, leaving the birds with an insect-free retreat that offers the heat and humidity control for which termite nests are so well-known.

Upon the pair’s return, 3-5 eggs are laid and brooded solely by the female for a period of 30-35 days.  Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge at 6 weeks of age.

An Unhappy Ending for the Termite Colony

It seems that the conures are the only beneficiaries of this arrangement.  Field research indicates that, perhaps due to a loss of structural stability, conure-occupied termitaria usually disintegrate after the birds depart.  The termites seem unable to effectively seal the cracks that eventually appear, and the nest is nearly always overrun by predatory ants.

A Surprisingly Adaptable Parrot

Birds with strict nesting requirements are generally very sensitive to human intrusion and habitat change.  Surprisingly, however, the half moon conure remains fairly common throughout much of its range.

The termites upon which it depends adjust readily to disturbed habitats, so reproduction can continue if the birds are not harassed.  Studies in western Mexico show that termites in agricultural areas tend to build their nests at lower elevations in trees than do termites in pristine habitats, but it is not known if this affects conure nesting success.

Also contributing to the conure’s continued survival is its adaptability.  Half moons seem equally at home in swamps, forests, overgrown fields, arid scrub or montane woodlands, and often frequent plantations and town parks.

Further Reading

I’ll cover conure care in the future…until then, if you wish to read about general parrot husbandry, please see Avian Nutrition: PelletBased Diets and related articles on this blog.


A popular pet finch, the cordon bleu, also nests in association with social insects (wasps).  Please see my article Nesting Associations of the Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu


An interesting World Parrot Trust article on the natural history of half moon and other conures, which features a photo of a conure-occupied termitarium,

is posted at http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/our_publications/psittascene/2006/06Aug68.pdf



Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons and originally posted by snowmanradio.

Research Update: Carotenoids in Food are Important to the Health and Mating Success of Birds


Carotenoids are compounds that, in most birds, impart red, yellow and orange colors to the feathers.  They are obtained from the diet, and are most abundant in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables.  In theory, a bird with bright plumage is “advertising” the fact that it has been eating well, and is in prime health.  Until recently, however, this theory was largely unproven.

Health Benefits Conferred by Carotenoids

Findings released this month (Feb. 2009) by Arizona State University researchers indicate that carotenoids do indeed provide a great many health benefits to birds, and therefore the “advertisement value” of the plumage is quite significant.  These nutrients seem to enhance both vision (specifically color perception) and sperm quality.

The researchers theorize that a diet high in carotenoids leads to better color vision which in turn allows the bird to find foods of higher quality (brightly colored fruits, for example) and a more fit (again, brighter-hued) mate.

Carotenoids function as antioxidants in people, but it has not been determined if the same applies to birds.

Choosing Carotenoid-Rich Products for Your Pets

Here at ThatFishPlace/ThatPetPlace, we carry a wide variety of bird foods  that are packed with carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables.  There are a number of products available for most types of birds – for starters, please check out Wild and Spicy Avian Entrees, Fiesta Food for Canaries and Finches and Sunny Orchards Nutriberries.

I also recommend as additions to your pets’ diets those foods consisting entirely of carotenoid-rich items, such as Veggi-Crisp Delights  and Diced Blueberries, Raspberries and Papaya.

Of course, a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, with amounts and types tailored to the species of birds that you keep, should also be offered to your pets.

Further Reading

Goldenfeast Dried Sweet Potatoes are a great source of carotenoids and other valuable nutrients.  Please see my product review and notes concerning the many zoo animals which I have found to relish this healthy food: Goldenfeast Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat  


Infertility in Pet Birds – a General Checklist for Breeders of Finches, Parrots and Other Cage Birds


A wide and varied range of factors can lead to low egg output, poor hatch rate or infertile eggs.  Today I’d like to present a general framework for looking at the problem.  I’ll address individual topics in detail in future articles…please also see the other articles on this blog, noted below, for further information.

Environmental Factors

It is important to be well-versed in the natural history of the species that you keep.  Knowing when your birds breed in the wild will give you an indication of what might stimulate them in captivity.  Having a compatible pair is often not enough to insure success – the hen may lay, but fertility can be affected if natural breeding stimuli are missing.  If you are experiencing difficulties, go beyond avicultural articles in your reading and look how the bird lives in nature…most of what we know about breeding animals of all types originated in this manner.

An increase in temperature, day length or humidity/rainfall may be required.  In many cases, light timers, humidifiers and portable room heaters can be used to create the appropriate conditions.

The appearance of a nest box or suitable nest site can be a powerful breeding stimulus, especially when combined with other environmental changes as mentioned above.

Weather and seasonal changes often bring with them novel food items, or an increase in the availability of certain foods.  The provision of live insects is a time-honored zoo and avicultural technique for certain species.  Budding trees, sprouting grasses or the ripening of specific fruits may also be important in stimulating reproduction…again, it is important to study your bird’s natural history.

Behavioral Factors

Same-sex pairs form among captive birds of many species.  For those which are not sexually dimorphic, courtship behavior may not be a reliable indication of a successfully mated pair.  Sexing via feather analysis or laparoscopy may be necessary.

Paired birds that live together but fail to mate are sometimes stimulated by a period of separation.

Imprinted, hand-raised and fostered birds sometimes fail to form pair bonds and mate successfully.

Nutritional Factors

Review your bird’s diet carefully, as vitamin and mineral deficiencies are often behind infertility.  Obesity is a cause for concern as well.

Genetic Factors

Inbreeding can reduce fertility.  Inbreeding depression is especially common among rare birds which originated from a small pool of founding stock.  You may also run into this problem with common species if you consistently purchase your birds from the same source.  Check that your supplier deals with various breeders, to assure that the birds in your collection are more likely to be unrelated.

Reproductive Disorders

If all else seems in order, you may wish to have your birds evaluated by a veterinarian, to rule any of the more commonly encountered avian reproductive disorders.


Further information on this topic may be found in the following articles:

Diagnosis and Treatment of Ailments Affilicting Various Aviary Birds 

Nests, Nesting and Nesting Materials for Finches, Canaries Lovebirds and Other Species

Lighting for Your Pet Bird and the Importance of Photoperiod

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