My Story

Posted by William Niven on

There are times when I pause and reflect on the happenings of my life. I think about all that I have done, all that has happened to me and all that remains unfinished. A military officer, businesses I have owned, a career as an airline pilot and licensing as a psychotherapist all have been parts of my life at some point but throughout all of my adventures has been my love affair with birds. It began over twenty years ago; perhaps many years more than I care to remember. I was attending a family dinner and telling all that I needed a pet of some kind to round out my life. My sister-in-law, who worked in a pet store at the time, surprised me the following day with six little finches. She talked about the birds briefly, gave me a book on "care and feeding', and then left. I did not know it at the time, but huge doors were about to open for me, perhaps even the very orientation of my life was about to begin.

I remember sitting that night watching these little birds. Looking them up in my book, I found that they were Zebra finches. I marveled at their color, the sounds they made, how they moved and everything else I could observe about them. The love affair had begun. It wasn't long before I had purchased more books, different foods, another cage and more Zebras. I gave my birds names and studied their different "personalities". Then there were more books, more cages, more birds, and more of everything "bird". I was hooked; perhaps in a way many of you began your bird careers.

Over the years I've raised all sorts of finches, canaries, cockatiels and small parrots. I have extensively experimented with seed blends, supplement blends and various medications used for treating ill or injured birds. I have no doubt I've tried every product available related to bird nutrition. I formulated my first vitamin supplement for birds many years ago and have been refining this formulation ever since. I am personally very interested in what works well in bird health and nutrition and exclusively use only my own supplement formulas to care for and breed my own birds. It is no surprise that I have an interest in supplement formulas because my father obtained his PhD. in Food Technology from Cornell University and served as Director of Scientific Research for Del Monte Corporation for many years. Nutrition discussions were commonplace growing up in my home and my father taught me how to formulate my own vitamin/mineral supplement when I was a teenager. I have been making, and every morning taking, my own "vitamin/mineral/amino acid/herbal" supplement for years, and I must report, I am very well.

Several years ago I was talking with a breeder friend of mine who raises Lady Gouldian finches. He went on to tell me how difficult it was to raise this species in captivity, how delicate they are, and that they are under appreciated because of the problems associated with breeding them. I bought four Gouldians from him that day and have successfully raised many generations of Gouldians over many years now, keeping around 200 specimens at a time. Ultimately, my relationship with Lady Gouldians has become exclusive and has largely defined my participation in the bird community. My flock consists of normals in all colors, blues, yellows and silvers. I bred Gouldians in my home for many years but quickly ran out of room. At one point, the dining room, basement and bathrooms were all full of birdcages. It occurred to me that I needed a bigger space, perhaps a building, to continue breeding my birds.

Three years ago work began on a 1600 square foot aviary, built next to my home, to house and raise Lady Gouldian finches. I wanted the aviary to be something very special, unlike any other aviary ever built. I spend lots of time properly caring for my birds and wanted a building that would not only provide a living environment which would compliment my Gouldians needs, but would also reduce the hours needed to care for my birds.

About twelve months ago, I began moving my birds into their new home. I am very excited. The aviary itself is a one of a kind. The environmental controls and all manipulations needed to feed, bathe, water, and breed the Gouldians are external to the flights. I rarely enter the flights and I think the birds would rather have it that way anyway. Here is how the building works:

The aviary is 1600 square feet and contains sixteen 8 x 7 x 5 flights. Each flight houses anywhere from four to ten breeding pairs of Gouldians. At the far end of the building is a 10 x 12 room where I cage breed selected birds. As you enter the building you step into the "prep" room, which is equipped with an air conditioner and full kitchen facilities. It is here that I prepare the daily meals, care for sick or injured birds, and generally conduct the business of the aviary. All meals, supplements, and equipment are placed on a cart which I push "down the isle" making feeding and caring for the birds much easier than when they all were housed in individual cages.

Air Quality – There are eight Oreck room air purifiers located throughout the facility. These purifiers cycle the entire atmosphere of the aviary every 20 minutes or so.

Automatic Floor Washers – This is the feature I like the best. Inside each flight there are 50 spray nozzles located inside square aluminum extrusions on all four sides of the floor. These nozzles are connected to timers which periodically open and close water valves resulting in the concrete floors of the flights to be washed as often as they are programmed to do so. The cleaning schedule is determined by how many birds live in each flight. Perches, nest boxes, feeders, etc. are strategically located so that droppings only land on the floor and most of the flights are automatically cleaned once per day.

Lighting – Each flight has a 2 x 4 skylight above it for natural lighting as well as two fluorescent lighting fixtures providing full spectrum lighting. The light fixtures are connected to timers so that I have the capability of controlling the amount of light the birds receive each day.

Heating – I chose to heat the building with portable electric heaters. I am uncertain of the safety issues regarding gas heaters where birds live and ultimately wind up having greater flexibility with the portable heaters I use anyway. The portable heaters can be programmed to operate only when the temperature drops to a certain point and since my home is equipped with solar electric panels on its roof, heating electrically is more economical than any other energy source.

Seed Hoppers - Since the floor washers drain into the septic system for the house, it was necessary to devise a means of feeding the birds without having seed husks fall onto the floor. Seed husks would eventually clog up the septic tank and leach lines. Seed hoppers to accommodate twenty birds at a time were fabricated from sheet Plexiglas with a system of having the seed husks fall into a very large tray located underneath the hopper itself. The trays are periodically emptied. The birds have to actually fly into a little room to find their seeds. The system works like any commercially available seed hopper except that these hoppers are much larger. They work perfectly and with as many as twenty birds living in a flight, not one seed husk ever reaches the floor.

Softfood – Each flight is provided with a door, which when opened allows me to place any type of non-seed food in a feeder for the birds. The feeding trays can be removed for cleaning from outside the flight.

Bird Baths – Each flight is equipped with bathing facilities, which can be refilled with water from outside the flight. Each bath can be removed, closing a door behind it, for cleaning.

Drinking Water – Each flight is equipped with two large Lixit water bottles for the birds to drink from. I prefer teaching my birds to drink from these bottles, as their water stays much cleaner in that the birds do not have the opportunity to bathe in their drinking water. I usually change the water every two or three days, or sooner if I am adding supplements or medications.

Nest Boxes – This arrangement is another one of my favorite features. From inside the flight, one side has several perches leading to holes in the wall. The holes appear to lead nowhere but they are actually constructed like many commercially available Gouldian nest boxes. When the birds investigate the holes they find that they lead to another perch inside the wall then on to another wall with another hole in it. Behind this last hole is the nest box itself. When the breeders are in their nest box they cannot see outside nor can other birds see inside. The males usually sit on the outside perch surrounded by artificial plant leaves, guarding the nest. The Gouldians breed very freely with this arrangement and feel very safe in their nests. Because of the success of these nest boxes, I rarely have the need to foster any eggs or hatchlings and I have never had a baby pitched from a nest. Of course, the nest boxes are actually external to the flight all having a hinged top where I have access to the contents of the nest. There are ten nesting sites per flight and the boxes were custom built to match the breeding system.

Nesting Materials – Each flight is provided with a large box filled with nesting material. The box is actually external to the flight so that I can replenish or replace the Gouldians nesting material as I wish. After many, many trials with different nesting materials I have come to use only straw for the birds. Straw seems to be readily accepted and the birds build many interesting nests with this material. The only drawback to this system is since the nest material is always available to the birds, some enterprising pairs always seem to choose the nest material box as the place to build their nest. This has happened several times and as such, I must always be vigilant when I open the nest material box.

Music – My next experiment is to provide the birds with soft music during daylight hours. I'm working on this.

Management of the cage breeding room is very conventional. Gouldian pairs are housed in individual cages and fed, watered and bred much like any other breeding room. I spend many hours, though, cleaning cages in this room listening to the automatic floor washers cycle on and off down the hall. Will somebody please build a birdcage that has the capacity to clean itself?

The aviary has generated some interest with local bird clubs. I have given "tours" of the facility to local clubs who come see the building and how it works. I am thankful for these opportunities.

Looking back I marvel at how my life was changed by six little Zebra finches. I think it's fun to remember how the dots are all connected in our lives. We all have stories to tell. It's all part of being here living the lives we create. This has been my story and thank you for listening.

William Niven
Morning Bird, Inc.

1 comment

  • Also want to know where to get outher breeds of finches

    Would like to purchase a pair of normal red headed gouldians on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published