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Bullying in the Aviary

Guest Author - Melissa McIntyre

Aviaries are one of many ways to bring birds into your home. Generally, an aviary is an enclosure large enough for all the birds in it to comfortably fly. Aviaries usually house small finch-like birds, such as canaries, waxbills, or true finches, but may also make great homes for softbills, quail, and parrots. Aviary birds are not usually tame, though there are exceptions. Some enclosures are large enough to house a pair or even a colony of large parrots, while others may be small and house only three or four pairs of small finches.

It is important to understand the species you wish to keep in an aviary, as some prefer to be kept singly, in pairs, more females, more males, in large groups, or small, and bullying may result if these preferences are not met. Additionally, some species may not mix comfortably; it would be unwise to mix smaller species with larger ones, and is generally not advisable to introduce new birds to an established flock without an introduction processes. Since most aviary owners wish to have more than one pair of birds to view, the best aviary birds are highly sociable. This allows them to be more comfortable with other birds in close quarters. However, even the most sociable birds may succumb to bullying in certain situations.

Signs of bullying vary in severity. Bullying can be as simple as one bird chasing another from the food dish or a certain perch, or as severe as maiming or killing the other bird. Bullying usually starts as fairly minor, but will generally progress if the situation that caused the bullying is not remedied. In severe cases of bullying it is always best to remove the offender or offenders to prevent injury to the victim.

Please be aware that the terms “bully” and “victim” are very emotional words. The “bully” may be seen as bad tempered, mean, or even cruel. This is not the case. Bullying is a product of their environment and the social structure of some flocks. The “bully” is not being cruel- they are simply acting by their natures. By rearranging their environment, we may be able to prevent or stop most bullying behaviour, as the “bullying” birds are not innately mean animals.

Most bullying behaviour is sexually driven, and often between same-sex birds. Males may bully other males to try and drive them from their territory, but since they are in cages, the victim bird is stuck with the bully and the issue may escalate. Females (or males, depending on the species) may battle over nest sites. In most finch species, having more than one female per male may ease tension during the breeding season. All nests in an aviary should be identical and all at the same height- preferably as high in the aviary as possible. There should be at least one more nest than pairs in the aviary to prevent competition. There should be a variety of perches available, preferably two at every level of the cage (top, middle, bottom) to allow birds to escape each other if one becomes too rough. Live or fake plants (please double check to make sure they are not toxic) allow birds to escape each other’s line of sight and possible persecution. There should be multiple feeding and watering stations all around the aviary, to make it difficult for bully birds to prevent their victims from eating or drinking. By watching your birds interact, you may come up with more ways you can prevent or solve bullying problems. Adding another perch to one side might help, or switching the cage furniture around more often may disrupt any dispute over territory.

Enrichment items (non-toxic leafy plants, foraging items, live food, toys, etc) may also decrease bird-on-bird aggression by offering interesting distractions. A bird busy extracting romaine lettuce from a feed cage is too busy to bother its cage mates! However, no amount of enrichment will solve the problem if the enclosure is too small. Requirements for space vary according to species- society finches are generally more likely to do well in smaller quarters than starlings, for example- however, no bird should be expected to do well in an aviary where they do not have ample space. If you are unsure if your aviary is large enough, it isn’t.

Aviaries are supposed to be a peaceful, enjoyable addition to your home or garden. By observing the bird’s interactions, we may spot bullying before it becomes serious, or resolve the problem before it becomes dangerous.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Melissa McIntyre. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Melissa McIntyre. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Jan Wagner for details.

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