Kevin's "Team Built" Aviary
Photographs by David Stronge
The pair of Gouldians huddled together in the Nanaimo Mall pet shop looked like tiny vultures. Their heads were bald and their colours faded and dull. A trio of zebra finches buzzed madly about them and a dozy Bourke’s parrot sat like a pink statue on the other end of the perch. I hadn’t seen Gouldians since I was a kid in Adelaide, and I’d never been able to afford them then.
These blokes looked like bedraggled sun downers. Damn it though if the baldest one didn’t put his head up and sing a short sad plaintive dirge. As fellow expatriate Aussies it only seemed the right thing to do to give the down on their luck pair a hand.
$300 dollars later I emerged from the pet shop with Ned and Kelly in a round cage with a bag of seed and accessories. My wife, having heard that recent retirees sometimes went off the rails, came home from work to see the pair established in the upstairs spare bedroom. She looked at me strangely, but accepted the eccentric behaviour, hoping no doubt that it would pass.
And that’s how it all began last April 2001. Some furious Internet research revealed that I’d gone about this in exactly the wrong way. The cage was useless. So was the seed and other stuff I’d bought. Ned was actually a female and vice-versa. Keeping them alive in Canada, even on relatively mild Vancouver Island was going to be one hell of a challenge, while breeding would be extremely difficult.
These were not birds for beginners. The books on Gouldians were confusing and contradictory, most of them aimed at Australian conditions. Canadian weather was a major difference. Advice about cages, shelter, feed, heating and handling was all over the map.
Well, that was a challenge. I bought two decent sized cages and joined them together in a proper 5x2x2 flight. Vitamin supplement and iodine drops in their water and really good finch seed, combined with persistent attempts to get the unwilling pair to try other food slowly paid off, and Ned and Kelly, now properly named, bloomed into an utterly beautiful pair of orange headed Gouldians.
I wish I could say it stopped there, but just as one thing leads to another, so one Gouldian leads to another and one finch leads to more finches. I was hooked and craved more, particularly the black headed Goulds.
Finding Gouldians in British Columbia proved difficult, though there were some available in Ontario and Quebec, the airfreight was prohibitive. Luckily for me, I went by chance to a Mid Island Bird Club meeting and met people with amazingly broad backgrounds in keeping cage birds. I was given a mentor, Terry McKinley with vast experience in Gouldians.
Realising that birds in the bedrooms and the seed spill and mess were not acceptable domestically over the long term, I researched aviaries and came up with a design for an inside insulated and outside flight of 12x12x8. It was just as well, because by then I had arranged to buy another three Gouldians locally.
I got a professional carpenter in for a day to help get the 2x4 and 2x6 pressure treated fir footprint and bare frame down and square. I called on my friends to come by for a Saturday in May for a working bee to put the rest of the aviary up on the back-concrete patio. I’d supply the beer and pizza and hamburgers.
My friends include an electrician, a doctor a welder and a machinist. I printed off a rough design and we followed it. Actually, we got a lot further than merely framing and finished the exterior completely, including the skylight, Red Cedar siding, wiring and coloured asphalt roofing. All I had to do was put the insulation in and finish the inside.
Like everybody who builds an aviary the first time I would redesign it now, but it looks pretty good and it’s functional. With the addition of potted apple trees, flax, pampas grass, corn, bamboo, hanging baskets of parsley and other herbs, and slate, lava rock and sand on the floor, the outside flight is quite attractive.
Two insulated doors open on to the outside flight. The inside flight, with total R15 glass wool insulation, wired for heaters and night lights and full spectrum lighting has a series of individual cages on one side and a double inside flight of 2x12x8. This is where the Gouldians will spend their time from about now, November, until about April when it warms up enough for them to go outside.
I say Gouldians, because there are now a round dozen of them, including 4 lovely little grey green fledglings exploring their new world. And them now includes on the other side of the split flight, a pair each of Star finches, Gold breasts, Fire finches, Red cheek cordon bleus, Bluecap cordon bleus and three Society finches.
My search for Emblemas in Canada has so far proved fruitless. But it’s a great joy to sit with a cup of tea in front of the aviary and just observe the goings on and socializing of these marvellous finches.
Like any beginner I’ve made a number of minor mistakes. And one major one. The learning curve is steep and at times tragic. I brought in one black head cock Gouldian from Quebec, and kept him in isolation for a week. He looked ok, if a bit more ragged than my own birds.
The other Gouldians seemed so happy zipping about in the flight, that I felt sorry for this Quebec Gould in isolation, and put him in the flight. He was a carrier and all the Goulds fell sick. Before he died a week later, I’d lost three other lovely Gouldians. Only Terry’s intervention with packets of Save-It prevented the loss of the whole aviary.
Significantly, to my mind, Ned and Kelly were the only ones not effected by the Quebec plague, and I suspect it’s because I’ve had them since the beginning and because of the healthy diet I’ve been giving them they’ve built up strong resistance to disease.
However, as a rank amateur, I’m learning fast. I was a finch steward at the Mid Island Bird Show and learned a hell of a lot in a short time. And the four fledglings, colony bred and parent-raised this September, are what I hope is a healthy sign of things to come.