Aviary Management

Aviary management is best accomplished by the application of the Closed Aviary Concept. The goal of practicing the Closed Aviary Concept is to restrict the introduction of infectious diseases and disruptive factors into the aviary and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases within the facility. It is much easier and more cost effective to prevent a disease than to try and treat it once it occurs in an aviary. Some diseases, such as the avian viruses, cannot be effectively treated and some are very difficult to identify antemortem or in the carrier state.

There are five separate areas in the closed aviary and each should be evaluated separately. These include Quarantine, the Nursery, Isolation, Food and Supply Storage Area, and the Breeding Aviary

Quarantine

The quarantine area should be a separate building far from the breeding aviary, if possible. A foot bath should be used prior to entering and when leaving the quarantine area. If possible, the caretaker in the quarantine area should not work with the birds in the established aviary, but if one person must service both areas, he or she should change clothes after servicing the quarantine area. The quarantine area should be taken care of last to prevent contamination.

All new arrivals to the aviary should be housed in the quarantine area prior to introducing the birds to the breeding flock. This area is the primary defense to protect the collection from infectious diseases.

The length of time that a bird remains in quarantine may vary from aviary to aviary. For most species, 60 days is recommended as the shortest amount of time, although 90 days to 6 months are safer lengths of time. Thirty days should be considered an absolute minimum, but for the safety of an established aviary, 90 days would be better. If a bird is going to break with a disease, it is most likely to do so within the first 90 days of quarantine. If new birds are brought into the quarantine area were other birds are already in quarantine, the aviculturist must begin all over again, starting counting day one for all birds in the quarantine area.

The avian veterinarian and aviculturist must decide the level of testing to be performed on all potential breeding stock. During quarantine, other procedures, such as sexing, deworming and polyoma vaccination may be performed.

Breeding Aviary

The next area to be evaluated is the breeding aviary. The designated breeding aviary will vary from facility to facility, and may be as simple as a room in a home, or as elaborate as entire buildings designed specifically for the birds. Flight cages should be evaluated, as well as the nest boxes, nesting material, feed and water delivery systems, ventilation, vermin and insect control, species placement, lighting, cleanliness, cage construction, noise levels, and traffic patterns.

Breeding birds should receive a hands-on physical examination at least once a year. During the evaluation, birds with abnormalities should receive appropriate testing. Birds should be prophylactically dewormed, they should receive a multi-vitamin injection (if they are on a seed-based diet) and perhaps they should receive vaccination for polyoma virus. Screening for chlamydiosis, polyomavirus, bacteria, fungi and parasites should be performed. Susceptible birds should be tested for PBFD. Some breeders worry that the stress of handling might cause their stock to die. It must be explained to them that if that occurs, the birds were very sick and would have succumbed shortly, in any event. The concept of sub-clinical illness should be explained to owners, as this is the main cause of birds not breeding.

It never ceases to amaze this author that aviculturists will continue to feed and house birds year after year, with no production from the pairs. There are many reasons that pairs will not breed, including incorrectly sexed pairs, incompatible pairs, sub-clinical illness, obesity, parasitism, physical deformity, malnutrition, incorrect caging or nest boxes, improper nest substrate, physically disruptive stressors, or incorrect placement of pairs.

Sub-clinical illness is very common in aviary birds. Chronic bacterial infections will keep birds from reproducing, in many cases. Birds fighting low-grade infections often will not breed, or if they do, eggs may succumb to bacterial infections, resulting in dead-in-shell (DIS) embryos. Internal papillomatosis will often interfere with fertility. Some species of birds breed much better if the pairs are provided with visual barriers between them.

It must be remembered that flock health must always take precedence over the individual bird. Protection of the birds from infectious or management-induced disease should always be of primary concern. Many cases of flock disease are the result of poor management practices. The use of water bowls often contributes to bacterial disease, and water bottles or a watering system are preferable to the use of bowls.

The flock should never receive antibiotics on an empirical basis. Regular antibiotic usage on a "maintenance-type" basis is never a good idea, as this leads to bacterial resistance and it may also lead to sub-clinical disease. Fungal infections with Candida may also occur after antibiotic therapy. Drugs are never a substitute for sound management. When a bird does become ill, it is important to not only diagnose the individual bird, but to identify the underlying management problems that may have lead to disease.

Nursery

The next area of the Closed Aviary Concept is the nursery. This is the location where the young are hand-fed and raised. The nursery can be a designated room in a home, or it may be a separate building. Often the hatcher is incorporated into the nursery area. It is preferable to have a separate area for the incubators, if possible. The nursery should be a low traffic area, and should be kept scrupulously clean. Carpeted floors are problematic for cleaning. Wood, tile or linoleum is preferable. The nursery should be climate controlled, with HEPA filters and good air exchange.

It must be stressed that only birds hatched at the facility should be raised in the nursery. Breeders that purchase babies or trade with other breeders, and place these neonates in their nurseries, will never be able to manage their nurseries on other than a crisis-to-crisis basis.

The nursery should have a method to accurately weigh neonates. Biosecurity is very important when dealing with baby birds that do not have strong immune systems. Care should be taken to ensure that neonates in the nursery are not exposed to any other birds, be they pets, adult breeders or sick birds from the isolation area. Other animals should be strictly forbidden from entering the nursery. Human traffic should also be minimized.

Isolation

Isolation is an important area in the aviary, and is where sick birds that are already part of the aviary collection are hospitalized. It must be a completely separate area from the quarantine area. Some people get confused about the difference between isolation and quarantine. Quarantine is for newly acquired birds, isolation is for ill birds that are already part of the breeding flock. Birds from the established breeding flock should never be placed in the quarantine area because of the increased risk of disease transmission from quarantine birds. Adult breeder birds or sick neonates from the nursery should be hospitalized and treated in the isolation area.

Storage

The last area in the aviary is the storage area. This is the area within the facility where food and supplies are stored. This area should be placed so that traffic through quarantine and isolation is minimized. Feed should be stored to prevent contamination by vermin, birds and the weather.

Preventative flock medicine is a very important component of avicultural medicine. During the non-breeding season, it is recommended that the veterinarian actually visit the facility to evaluate the aviary, including all areas of the facility. Breeding records should be examined to pinpoint which pairs of birds are experiencing decreased fertility, DIS embryos, early chick mortality or other reproductive problems. Nursery records should also be evaluated.

Aviculturists should be encouraged to specialize in one or just a few species of birds. It is much more difficult to provide correct breeding conditions for many different species of parrots. Disease cross-over between the different species may also occur. Keeping or breeding of non-psittacine birds in a psittacine aviary should be strongly discouraged, for the same reasons.

The practice of avicultural medicine is quite different on several levels from the practice of pet bird medicine, The goals of the aviculturist must always be taken into account, and the health and well-being of the flock must always take precedence over that of the individual bird. It must be remembered that often disease in the aviary is a sign of underlying management problems, which must also be diagnosed. The practice of avicultural medicine can be very rewarding, and requires a new set of skills to be learned and applied. It is worth the extra effort.

References

  1. Speer BL. The closed aviary concept, AAV Aviculturist Seminar Proceedings 1991, pp. AMI 1 - 10.
  2. Wissman MA, Parsons B. Preparation for the breeding season. Proc Assoc Avian Vet. 1992, pp, 387-389.
  3. Wissman MA. Avicultural medicine: practical. application of the closed aviary concept. 5th Annual Mardi Gras Avicult Conf. 1994.

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Copyright 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
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