Rico on a swing in the aviary

I remember asking my mother when I was in high school, “Mom, do you think I have what it takes to be a biologist?” Her response to me was “If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it work.” Well, I never became a biologist but am following the same path now that I knew I had deep in my heart 20 years ago and I wish I would have stayed on that path. I am very grateful to have found it again which leads me to this entry.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy, but I’ll tell you what, my birds definitely benefit from it. I can never find an area or enclosure big enough for my birds. My friends have made fun of me over the past several years due to the amount of bird cages I have breezed through. Each time I think I’m buying a huge bird cage, it is only a matter of months before I envision something larger. Well, last year I just couldn’t imagine an area large enough for my birds. I wanted them to be able to fly if they wanted. I wanted Rocky, my Moluccan Cockatoo to be able to run as fast as he could if he wanted to. I wanted Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo to be able to stretch his wings and fly as hard and as fast as he wanted. I wanted to be able to view him enjoying flight while looking around to make sure I was watching him show off. I wanted Murray, my Greenwing Macaw to be able to soar. We’re still working on that one. I wanted an area for my Little Miss Molly Jo to be able to pick her perch and perch for as long as her heart desired while she soaked up the rays.
I envisioned something. This is usually where my husband starts getting a little nervous and wondering what path we are heading next. A friend of mine told me years ago, if you want your birds to fly, you’ll find a way to make it work. You know who you are. I’ve hung on those words for years before I finally started seeing ways to make it work. This post is not about flight though, it’s about wanting something bad enough for our birds and making that vision a reality. It’s about wanting something bad enough in the bird’s best interest and realizing the sky is the limit.
I envisioned an enclosure as large as I could possibly imagine for the small city lot in which we live. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and told him “We need to enclose the backyard!” He said “Ok” and rolled back over and went to sleep. When he woke up the next morning, there I sat in bed next to him all bright eyed and bushy tailed and said “Do you remember what you agreed to last night?”
So there our venture began and oh what a ride it has been. I e-mailed Steve Martin of Natural Encounters (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) because I remembered seeing and noting the netting he had in one of his flights. I asked him where he purchased the netting and he directed me to a company that makes different types of netting. http://www.jacissel.net/ I contacted J A Cissel and ordered samples. I ended up purchasing the right size and strength for my size birds and for my climate. I have large birds and in the winter here in Ohio, we can get a lot of snow and ice. I ended up on the phone numerous times and asked for durability and samples. We ended up settling on what we thought was best for our area of the U.S. We ordered a roll that was 25′ x 100′. Our backyard is 35′ wide by 44′ long. We decided we would splice it together somehow. We ordered a spool of their poly-wire in which to secure and hang the netting (See video below).We ordered poly-wire through the same company. The polywire is strung around the perimeter of the backyard. We have an almost square backyard so one side in which we strung the poly-wire was against the house. The second wall is our 6′ tall wooden fence. The third wall is our garage and the fourth wall, was open yard in which we shared with the neighbors. We secured in the ground 4 4″x4″x10′ wooden beams which made up our fourth wall. In order to string the poly-wire, we had to screw in numerous eye screws around the perimeter. Within those eye hooks is what we threaded in the cable, or poly-wire. To that cable is what we attached the netting with plastic, electrical zip ties.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nfr3X4d3_E]

Heavily iced netting

Over the past year we have had the opportunity to see the aviary exist in the changing of the four seasons. One thing I would like to make very clear is the location of the polywire through the center and the open edge of the aviary for support. There are two areas through the center of the aviary that stretch from the garage, through the center support beams, and attach to the house. This was major support for the netting during heavy thunderstorms, wet leaves, and ice! Without proper placement of these support cables, the aviary would have crashed under the ice for sure.

So, now to see the aviary in motion and duration of the seasons. We were told it probably would not last through our first winter. I’m smiling from ear to ear right now because we made it. This past winter was our first and wouldn’t you know it…..we got slammed with ice and snow more so than in years past. I woke up the morning after an ice storm and the sight was beautiful. Our aviary was absolutely caked in ice. It was absolutely beautiful and the sound of ice clinking in the aviary It was pretty, but my heart was teetering on the future outdoor enrichment vision of my birds in the aviary. I remember staring out my kitchen window just waiting for it to slam to the ground. I envisioned eye hooks popping out one by one around the perimeter of the aviary.I walked out back and took our shovel and slammed it as hard as I could into the netting assuming it would all come crashing down. Quite

Aviary sagging under heavy ice

the contrary. I hit it with the shovel and the netting barely moved. It moved in the slightest bit of a wave like jumping into the middle of the ocean. I thought “Oh dear, this isn’t good.” I hit it again. Same slight wave so I put the shovel away and waited for rising temps. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t think about going out there with a blow drier. If you take a look at the netting closest to the camera in the previous photo you will see the thickness of the icicles hanging. Notice how the netting is severely bowing down toward the ground in weight.

Rico in flight

So, we went through numerous ice storms in the winter of 2008. Whew! On we moved anticipating the spring of 2009. At times we, the birds and I, could not wait. If they showed the interest, I gave them the opportunity to interact with their environment. What a ride, joy, and learning experience that was.

In an aviary built from the netting in which mine is, the birds should not be left outside unsupervised. Last year I found something had chewed through the netting at ground level. I believe it was a raccoon. I have also seen a feral cat caught up in the netting. He found his way in but

Ah! Summertime preening in the aviary again

could not figure how to get out. I’ve seen animals get trapped in the aviary, including birds and when they realize they are enclosed they tend to get extremely nervous and scared.

I’ve seen hawks come too close for comfort, especially when I have a bird hanging from the top of the aviary. When the birds are out in the aviary, so am I. We are out and we are loud and we can be very active. I also love to sit at the patio table and work on projects on my computer while my birds run, fly, perch, and play around me. It really is my favorite place to be. Nothing like having a cup of coffee in the morning while reading a book and watching a beautiful Green-winged Macaw preening in the warmth of the morning sunshine and knowing it can be done safely. Murray, my Green-winged Macaw is my bird that does not fly…at least not yet, but the added comfort and security in the aviary netting provides is indescribable.
I’ve been asked many times if the birds will chew their way out. What is so exciting about aviary netting, I thought. My response is if the enrichment contained inside the netting exceeds that of the netting itself, it shouldn’t be a problem. Rico flies to the netting all the time and never chews on it. He flies to the side of the netting in which are closest to the neighbors grilling out and he hangs on the side and watches. He flies to the netting above the door to the fence. There he hangs on the side and watches the neighbors having their cookouts or watches the cars coming down the street. Never have I had an issue with the birds trying to chew their way though. Rocky my Moluccan Cockatoo likes chewing on the netting so I provide small pieces of netting that hang throughout the aviary and on the backs of the chairs so he knows where to go to chew while I make the areas in which the netting hangs very convenient for him to perch and chew.
With the space the aviary provides I encourage many natural behaviors such as foraging, flying, and training. Watching these behaviors in a large area like this is really fascinating to watch. It also allows the birds the opportunity to interact and respond to the environment outside of the netting. In this particular video, I edited out the 5 minutes prior that Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo spent manipulating the acrylic treasure chest in order to retrieve the almond that you will see him extract in the video. After he extracts the almond he looks for a place to perch in order to eat the almond. You’ll see the extended flight he takes in order to find a comfortable place to perch which ends up being on me. I love this video because I can see how intent Rico is on getting this almond and how hard he works for it. The almond is a reward large enough to encourage and maintain the length of foraging in order to retrieve it.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AteEqCCpdM]

View of the aviary from the neighbor's yard

If you wonder what the neighbors think, I have never received a complaint from the sight of the aviary. Most people say they don’t even realize it is there. It also give a really neat feeling sitting inside the aviary and I don’t know how to describe it. It feels like your are outside but almost feels like a huge atrium. In order to help you, the viewer be able to visualize what this may look like from a neighbors point of view, I went to the neighbor’s back yard and took these photos. My neighbors enjoy sitting in their back yards and watching the birds fly and run around on the ground.

Rocky, my Moluccan Cockatoo knows how to fly but prefers to run. I remember telling my husband once “If would love to have an area in which Rocky could run to his hearts content.” He absolutely loves to run. If you want it bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it work, and that we did and you’ll see it in the video. I also sit in the back yard at the patio table and toss a ball to the middle of the yard while my husband sit and laugh watching Rocky chasing and retrieving it. Rocky has a lot of energy and needs a way to burn it off. I couldn’t ask for a more area to provide him.


Rocky is my bird that likes to chew on the netting. Did you see what he did in the video above? He stopped to chew on it but then found the enrichment provided inside the netting more enriching than the netting itself.

Two goofballs in the aviary

I will continue to add my ventures and changes I’ve made to the aviary here. I will always come back and add the different opportunities I provide to the birds. Those of you that know me know that my camera is always attached to me somewhere and that is because I love to share my experiences and ideas with other bird lovers. My husband and I are already working on a new idea for the birds. This one will blow the aviary out of the water. Enjoy and feel free to contact me with questions.

Do you see the two cockatoos in the photo to the left?