Avicultural Medicine: Visiting the Facility

Key Points

  • The aviary visit should be scheduled during the non-breeding season unless there is an emergency.
  • Begin the aviary visit at the food storage/preparation room.
  • Evaluation of the water supply is also important.
  • Evaluate the cage, perches, nest boxes, nesting material.
  • Don’t forget to evaluate the environmental enrichment provided to birds as well.


The site visit allows the veterinarian to appreciate intricate facility details. Unless there is an emergency, schedule visits during the non-breeding season and only visit one site daily to prevent potential iatrogenic contamination of facilities. I usually schedule appointments in the morning prior to going to the clinic. An aviary map or blue print of the aviary layout will help you visualize where birds are in relation to each other. In cases of disease outbreak, aviary and traffic flow maps can help detect abnormal patterns (Fig 1).

Traffic flow map

Figure 1. Traffic flow maps may serve to identify abnormal patterns in cases of disease outbreak. Click image to enlarge.

Site visit

The aviary visit should start at the food storage/preparation room.

  • This area must be kept clean and the food properly stored in pest-proof containers. Storage of feed bags on the floor is unacceptable. Outdated food must be discarded.
  • Fruits and vegetables must be properly refrigerated.
  • Food preparation utensils must be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Traffic in and out of this room should be minimized.

Evaluation of the water supply is also important.

  • Is water carried to the aviary or is the facility equipped with plumbing?
  • Is the water from a well or city supply?

Evaluate the cages:

  • Are enclosures size-appropriate?
  • What is the cage material? Most cages consist of welded wire to prevent birds from chewing through the cage.
  • Wire spacing at the cage bottom should be large enough to prevent the build-up of feces and food underneath perches and bowls.
  • Hanging cages from the ceiling will minimize the disturbance of the birds by rodents and some crawling insects (Fig 2).
  • Breeding pairs should have a visual barrier between cages to prevent male territorial fighting, which will interfere with breeding activity. This is particularly important in Amazon parrots (Amazona spp.) and cockatoos.
  • Separate loud species such as many South American birds (i.e. conures, Amazons, and macaws) from shy species such as cockatoos, African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus), and Eclectus parrots.
hanging cage Rivera

Figure 2. Breeding pair of caiques in a hanging cage. Photo credit: Dr. Samuel Rivera. Click image to enlarge.

Evaluate perches:

  • Perches are essential for bird well-being. Perches are needed for social interaction, courtship, breeding, and nest guarding.
  • Natural tree branches and non-treated wood are most frequently used but require constant replacement. Chewing on natural branches also serves as environmental enrichment.
  • Perch diameter must be size-appropriate for the species.
  • Perches should be securely stabilized. Loose perching can lead to decreased production due to the inability of the pair to copulate.
  • A minimum of two perches are needed, one across the front of the nest box and another one at the opposite end of the cage.

Evaluate nest box number, size, location, and design:

  • Recommended size, material, placement, and design will vary greatly among aviculturists.
  • Psittacine birds are cavity nesters, and attempts should be made to simulate this practice in captivity. The depth of the nest cavity should allow for privacy and security.
  • Nest boxes can be made of wood or metal, however wood provides better insulation (Fig 3). Metal boxes can get very hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, however metal boxes are easier to disinfect, are escape proof, and waterproof.
  • Nest location is also important. The box should be located high at the back of the enclosure.
  • Most birds enjoy a nest box with a long entry tunnel. Birds that share the nest box, such as African grey parrots, benefit from an “L” shaped box. This will prevent damage to the eggs and/or chicks when males dive into the nest box when frightened.
  • Macaws and cockatoos need large nest boxes. Overcrowding can lead to trauma to the chicks from the parents or each other.
  • Is the inside of the box near the entrance lined with wire mesh to allow easier movement in and out?
  • Does the nest box have a door that allows easy visualization of and access to eggs and/or chicks? While inspecting the nest box, the parents may be locked out to prevent accidental damage to the eggs and/or chicks.


conure nestbox rivera

Figure 3. Sun conures in a wooden nest box. Photo credit: Dr. Samuel Rivera. Click image to enlarge.

Nesting material should be clean, nontoxic, and dry.

  • Avoid sawdust, potting soil, mulch, or moss as they trap moisture and promote fungal growth within the dark nest box. Aromatic wood shavings such as redwood or cedar should also not be used.
  • White pine shavings or eucalyptus boughs are ideal nest material. Natural bark chips and branches are recommended, as birds will chew the material to the preferred consistency. Replace nesting material after each breeding season.

Water and food bowls should be cleaned and disinfected daily. It is ideal to have a duplicate set of dishes as this will make feeding and watering go faster. If automatic watering systems are used, the system should be flushed on a regular basis with a disinfectant, such as bleach.

Indoor facilities must have proper ventilation to minimize the build-up of air pollutants. All facilities must have flooring that is easy to clean to prevent the build-up of waste material under the cages.

It is also important to evaluate environmental enrichment provided to birds, as this is important for their overall behavioral and psychological well-being. Some clients place toys in the cages on a regular basis. Natural perches, pine branches, and pine cones are also great environmental enrichment items.