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Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 
By Howard Donaldson


TALK about spreading one's wings! I had kept a Blue Cap Waxbill hen (Erykah), a Bicheno Owl pair (Rodders & Cassandra) and a Cuban pair (Maxwell & Macy) in a 1.8m high x 1.4m long x 0.9m wide cage for about a year. About 20 eggs (owl) were laid with not a single suggestion of one hatching.


Then my wife and I bought a bigger property and I saw my chance! In one corner of the back garden there was an existing concrete foundation on which a small outbuilding once stood, but now it housed a large wooden tool shed. The tool shed would have to go.

I wanted to build a 5.4 metre x 5.24 metre display aviary on this site.

What I started with, a concrete floor, two walls, 30 metres of galvanised mesh, a water feature and tons of cut branches.

I drew up plans to include, rather unusually, I think, a small 1.5m x 1.5m tool shed within the aviary and a smallish soil section in which to grow plants along with the existing wild fig, guava and mulberry trees.


Enter Dave the builder and Jabulani (Jubbs), our gardener. I had a lot of timber, which had been removed, from a decrepit garage on the premises and also a few sheets of asbestos roofing to start with.

The 1.5m x 1.5m tool-shed is in place
and Dave's erected the first corner pole.
The timber framework is coming on a bomb.

After ordering in the galvanised mesh (25mmx13mm) and 10 treated wooden poles, the staple nails and a bag of L-brackets and screws, we got to work. The perimeter poles were bracketed on to the concrete floor and cross-timbers nailed to them. The mesh was given two coats of black etch primer and staple-nailed on to the poles and timbers. The old asbestos sheets were sprayed down with water to rid them of loose fibres dried off and painted with weather-resistant copper oxide paint to seal the potentially harmful asbestos.


These sheets were bolted on above the mesh roof and flashing placed between the existing boundary walls (on two sides north and west) and the asbestos sheets to weatherproof the nesting areas.


Two doors were made of wood poles, timbers and mesh and placed to create a double-door entrance enclosure. This entrance area also gives access to the tool shed which doubles as a birdfeed store from which the birds can be fed through the small window (which was covered with mesh to stop the finches from flying into the glass) to remove the need to enter the aviary and unduly disturb the finches.


A small wooden table was fixed below the shed window to accommodate bowls of fresh water, seed, soft food and the daily supply of chopped-up mealworm, shell grit and gravel.


The old cage was taken into the aviary before the last panel of mesh was nailed on and now acts as a nesting area and perhaps later a holding cage. I have added a three-tier water feature with a pump to ensure permanent flowing water and filled the tiers with stones and pebbles to remove the possibility of young birds drowning.

The doors for the double entrance enclosure are in place.
The galvanised mesh was bolted on
to the concrete foundation using steel screws and washers.
The mesh panels are going on and it starts to look like an aviary!

After the wild fig was cut back, the branches were retained and used as logs around the water feature and in corners of the aviary to provide an ample number of perches of varying sizes.


Nesting boxes have been hung on rubber-coated wire from the rafters in the nesting area. Conifer branches will be similarly hung to accommodate the Cubans and those finches, which prefer to make their nests in branches. I will shortly be adding a number of indigenous seed bearing and insect attracting plants to the soil section and to pots elsewhere in the aviary. Oh, and a number of new finches too!


My local breeder has promised me partners for my lonely hearts club (a young Blue Cap male, Bicheno Owl hen and a Cuban hen) and a pair each of Parsons, Stars, Parrots and Grass finches are on order. In addition to this, I am expecting the custodian of the local bird park to supply me with a selection of indigenous birds, including Twinspots, Waxbills and perhaps a pair of Tambourine Doves and a pair of Quail.


I will be looking to form a mixed colony of compatible birds and hoping for good breeding results. It's sure to be a steep learning curve and an emotional roller-coaster ride!


Durban has a sub-tropical climate with winter temperatures of 10 to 28C and summer temperatures reaching 34C with extreme humidity from January to March.


The challenge is not how to keep the birds warm, but how best to cool them in summer. Good ventilation, shade cloth and a homemade water spray system is what I’m banking on!


Living as we do near a small urban nature reserve, we have a plethora of wild birds visiting our garden, including Bronze Mannikins, House Sparrows, Cape White-eyes, Mousebirds, Black-eyed Bulbuls, varying barbets and any number of colourful sunbirds, not to mention drongos, mynahs, doves, crows and the odd fish eagle circling high above. Loads of monkeys too, trying to steal our paw-paws, mangoes and bananas.


How did my love for birds come about? When I was about nine or 10, I found an abandoned sparrow hatchling while on a holiday down the Natal South Coast. I refused to go home until the baby bird was strong enough to fend for itself. There followed many years of ignorance, including 13 years living in London and seeing only the occasional tatty pigeon, before I returned home to South Africa in 1997 and our immense abundance of flora and fauna.


My wife bought me a pair of Blue Cap Waxbills for my birthday in 2001 and it, err, took off from there. Well, the Blue Cap cock took off before I even got home from work to receive my present. He fled the cage and flew off into the blue yonder but his abandoned hen, the lovely Erykah, got under my skin. I just had to build her something bigger and better than a small cage and the aviaries just keep getting bigger!

And now it IS an aviary! All I have to do is release the three finches from the old cage now inside the aviary. Needless to say, once I have taken care of the feeding and cleaning, there's nothing better than to sit in a deckchair in the middle of the aviary with a fine cup of tea and an even better book!

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