Disease Prevention in Aviaries

In order to prevent disease and death amongst birds kept under high density in aviaries the aviculturist needs to understand certain basic principles of how the avian species falls ill and the best way to prevent such tragedies.

People can spread disease to birds in aviaries by carrying the infection directly from an infected bird, another aviary or due to contact with wild bird carriers, or humans may serve as mechanical carriers. People infected with certain organisms such as Salmonella, Candida and E.coli can shed these bacteria. Sometimes the diseases may be simply carried on footwear, clothing, hair or hands when people move from aviary to aviary without adopting appropriate hygiene measures. Visitors need to be profiled before entering any aviary. Use chlorinated footbaths placed strategically outside the aviary, at a safe distance from the fence, so that footwear or feet can be disinfected before entering

Contaminated equipment is also a source of bringing disease organisms into an aviary. Never borrow or share utensils unless efficient cleaning and disinfection is instituted. Infective organisms can remain viable for variable periods of time depending on the inherent characteristics of the bacteria species, environmental temperature, exposure to direct sunlight, the material on which it is attached and many other possible factors.

Newly introduced birds should undergo a period of quarantine for at least two months prior to admission and release into the aviary. Isolated birds should be fed last on the rounds and all clothes should be washed thoroughly afterwards.

A bird that appears healthy may still be a carrier. Seek veterinary assistance to test for any organisms or parasites that may be a threat. It is wise to take the necessary precautions by subscribing to certain laboratory tests for confirmation. By taking risks the newcomers can be responsible for the gradual demise of all the inhabitants of the aviary.

Purchase healthy birds from reputable sources at the outset and request avian veterinary certification. Never deal with bargain-priced or smuggled birds. Any bird selling at a reduced fee has to have an underlying problem because no one in their right mind disposes of quality stock even at a good price.

Quarantine allows the birds to acclimatize to local conditions, new diet and awareness of other birds in the area to which they will be introduced at a later stage.

Pests such as mice and rats, wild birds and certain insects such as flies and cockroaches may play a significant role in disease introduction. They may be infected themselves or be carriers and shed the organisms. If rodents have access to the feed bins and troughs they may defaecate in the feed, contaminating it with potential pathogens. Wild birds may perch on the mesh covering the aviary and drop their droppings into the feed troughs, water dishes and the foraging areas on the ground of the aviary. Vermin control around an aviary is an important management requirement.

Stress is an important consideration. The newly introduced birds will be stressed entering a new territory with pressures from the resident flock. The existing birds will also be stressed dealing with the introduction and restructuring of the hierarchy in the new party of birds. Competition levels will rise for perching, nesting and feeding. Stress lowers the bird’s resistance and renders it more vulnerable to internal and external parasites and diseases.

Overcrowding, unsuitable temperatures and humidity, diet changes and insufficient places of refuge are other serious yet common stress triggers.

Compatible bird species, feed supplementation with vitamins and minerals, decreasing boredom and decent, appropriate cage design are good management principles for reducing stress and disease in aviaries.

All bird droppings should be cleaned up on a daily basis. Many aviary owners and bird owners unfortunately allow droppings to accumulate around feed and water venues, in nests and on or below perches. These can pile up and become a serious health hazard. Keep nesting sites dry, clean often or change nesting material frequently.

Cage flooring should be concrete which is easy to clean and difficult for rodents to access. Areas in the aviary can be allocated for piles of sand, gravel and boxes to grow vegetation.

Feed must be of the highest quality correctly and safely sealed and stored. Fruits, vegetables and other forms of soft food must not be allowed to stand for more than twelve hours as they can become a breeding medium for bacteria and fungi. Dampness and humidity are dangerous factors for all bird feed.

Even the water has to be checked for quality. Many birds have died in aviary situations where certain pipes are used to convey water from the outside to the inside. If these pipes are rusted or have any chemicals in them which corrode these metals will have a chronic toxic effect.

Every aviary owner should have a separate, far-removed sick room for any potentially ill birds.

Birds in aviaries are less likely to show early signs of illness. This is instinctive. By exhibiting signs of weakness the other birds may peck it to death. This natural self-preservation mechanism is detrimental in the long-term for bird and aviculturist. Bird owners need to spend endless hours observing to “get their eye in”. Watch the droppings, the breathing rates, the openness of the eyes, general activity, posture of wings, condition of feathers, vocalization etc.

Learn to observe your birds then you will learn to conserve them!

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