Beloved author of Psittaculture, Tony Silva, and long-time AFA leader Buddy Waskey hosted a tour of select South Florida aviaries in the days leading up to the Organization of Professional Aviculturists’ (OPA) annual meeting. As Florida has enacted a framework of laws favorable to aviculture, aviaries flourish there. The warm weather, though dryer than the average rain forest, sustains parrots and their kind well year-round. Florida is a haven for both the pet industry and the development of husbandry science enabling the conservation of endangered and threatened species.

Florida’s “Right to Farm” Act now covers “the production of birds for the pet trade.” In effect, that means that aviculturists can readily establish aviaries on land zoned for agriculture. Florida Fish and Game alone has the right to come on such a property. On the rear of the Clinic wall above, note the posted permit.

Aviary construction abounds: and the “new” style increasingly features a central aisle with flight cages extending out either side, metal nest boxes, and for smaller birds, even flight cages hung from the central structure to avoid accumulation of detritus on the legs otherwise supporting them. Tony Silva’s aviary and second farm, an aviculture academy under construction, borrow from the world’s great psittaculture practices, especially in the interweaving of practical agriculture with aviary structures.

The first stop on the tour: Tony’s private aviary, an amazingly efficient ecosystem in design and practice: Tony imported trees from from around the globe to provide the fruit of the parrots’ natural diets.  Importantly, parrots prefer fruits with minimal sugar: parrots navigate interspecies competition for food resources successfully as a result. The popular Western practice of feeding companion parrots highly sweet fruit only disrupts the natural equilibrium of their biological systems, exacerbating hormone swings, etc.

Of all trees, the coconut palm is perhaps the most useful of all aviary trees. Parrots will shred the outer husk off unripe palm nuts as enrichment, thereby also ingesting healthy amounts of fiber. The fronds stimulate beeding — and Australian galah cockatoos will even line their nests with coconut palm leaves in lieu of their usual eucalyptus, which is not easily come by even Down Under.  The verdant foliage makes for a shaded, richly oxygenated environment. I thought I had stepped into paradise when I entered the aviary.

Aviary cages for large parrots typically measure 16 feet in length
Aviary cages for large parrots typically measure 16 feet in length

Note the length of the flight cages: for large parrots they typically measure sixteen feet in length, sufficient space for these large birds to fly. Each flight cage bears three heavy perches and a variety of enrichment objects, be they pool balls or palm fronds. You must let parrots be healthy parrots if you will reasonably expect them to be fertile and successful in reproducing. When Buddy Waskey showed me flight cages for the first time months ago, I was scandalized at the lack of access to the birds. Buddy had to hide a smile: these parrots are so aggressive when ready to breed that NOONE would want to be anywhere near them. Conversely, when they are sitting on eggs, they want noone near — do not disrupt such birds, lest they “scramble their eggs.”

Several elements critically must be well executed: water quality, clean bowls and cages, and veterinary preparedness. A neglect of water quality risks the entire flock, as it opens the door to diseases that can rapidly spread via the cage irrigation systems. Once a watering system is installed, the lines are vulnerable to various disease agents. At Silva’s aviary the local well water is filtered, treated with ultraviolet light and also chlorine — for a minimum of two hours.  The amount of chlorine added is a function of the length of the pvc 80 grey pipe: chlorine evaporates more the longer it transits the system. And as for bowl disinfection, not even chlorine is the equal of direct sunlight.

The aviary maintains two quarantine rooms and two nurseries. Because macaws, like rabbits, ingest their immune system from their droppings but the droppings potentially contain microbes dangerous for other bird species, macaw chicks must be kept separately from other parrots. Lucky for Silva’s aviculturist neighbors, Silva’s state of the art clinic keeps extra units of everything to tide parrots from other aviaries over until a vet can be reached.  Of course, as aviaries are in agriculturally zoned land only, a vet typically is quite far. Thus, to culture one’s own samples is critical in diagnosing and treating disease.

One of the few hazards facing aviculture in Florida is hurricanes: all breeders of exotic birds must have a hurricane evacuation plan and an evacuation/travel cage for each bird. According to one aviculturist, warnings for hurricanes typically arrive within seven days of the storm. This makes for demanding work: in the last hurricane evacuating his aviary required the labor of six men working ten-hour days for six days. Otherwise, the inviting constant sun means the birds are housed outdoors and receive more than adequate sunlight and vitamin D, a hormone critical to everything from fertility to whether a bird plucks. (Abundant anecdotal evidence indicates that when parrots who pluck moved to outdoor Florida aviaries, their feathers grow back promptly.)

On a nearby property, Tony Silva constructs his second type of dream aviary: an avicultural institute where students can intern for perhaps a period of six months and learn optimal practices.  Below, some footage from an early morning walk through the developing site.

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