Predators Around The Aviary
By Tony Brancato -- Sana Maria, CA
Predators commonly found around our aviaries can be traumatic and dangerous to our birds. The benefits of predators in the ecosystem should be weighed before control is established. Selective killing or removal or predators in the immediate vicinity of our aviaries are often necessary and warranted. Very often, preventive measures are more effective and less expensive in the long run. Success depends on the size and area that needs predator protection. Common practical sense to prevent damage by predators is essential. Most predators are far more beneficial than harmful. Each species varies by its usefulness. Either as a fur bearer, game animal, or a natural enemy of rodents and insects. But, because these animals may attack or frighten our birds they become unwanted aviary visitors. Economic losses as well as destruction of our pet birds cannot be allowed. To classify all predators as vermin is to condemn animals that obviously have a specific place in the ecosystem. Control involves live removal of offending creatures, poisons, lethal traps, and non lethal electrical shocks. Preventive measures entail less drastic measures. Foremost in the prevention category is to make the surrounding area around the aviary or aviaries unattractive to would be predators. A tall fence can be attractive as well as functional Aviary wire can be stapled to a wooden fence three feet above the ground level. The aviary wire should extend at least 12 inches below ground level to deter would be diggers. Fencing will discourage dogs and members of the weasel family from access to the aviary. A single strand of electric wire 8 inches above the ground and 8 inches in front of the fence will further repel predators. Weed control is essential and should prevent short circuiting of the hot (changed) wire by ground vegetation. For a fence to truly be effective there should not be any trees or bushes nearby to help a predator jump over. A strand of electric wire can also be placed 8 inches on top of a flight or aviary. This will deter animals that gin access and try and catch birds through the aviary wire. Making the aviary as tight as possible. Patching up holes and cracks, will undoubtedly make the aviary less lively a home for small rodents and reptiles. Small 1/4 inch welded wire buried at least 12 inches below ground level around the aviary will keep mice, rats, snakes and lizards out. If all these measures fail to keep predators out, it may be necessary to trap the offender. "Have a Hart" traps baited with cat food will capture medium to large animals. Relocation of these creatures than can be accomplished. Although most states allow the killing without a permit or regardless of season, I personally find this objectionable. Several large possums were constantly frightening our doves and trying to gain entrance. We trapped them, one at a time and relocated the animals to a wooded area many miles from our home.
The cat, pet or feral causes the most problems for aviculturists. For most of us, cats cause us the most grief. Not to mention the terror these animals can cause our birds. As a responsible cat owner and lover, our two cats are indoor house cats. Unfortunately the neighbors; cats are not. Cats that are just curious; a strong jet of water from the garden hose usually persuades them not to return to our yard. Feral cats that some thoughtless person(s) abandon are humanely trapped and taken to the county animal control. Cats can frighten birds by climbing on aviard wire. Causing injury and death te stressed birds. Some cats can be extremely persistent and tenacious, around aviaries. Owners are libel for damage and destruction caused by their free roaming felines. Dogs and their relatives (foxes coyotes) Man's best friend can wreak havoc around the aviaries. Birds can be traumatized by a dog or dogs either running around outside the aviary or attempting to get in. Several years ago a long haired Dachshund tunneled into one of my pigeon lofts. Every bird, within reach was killed. Thus ending: nearly twenty years of a genetic project that I had been working on. The birds were irreplaceable. The dog's owner paid for the pigeons but their true worth and genetics was lost forever.
RACCOONS: This predator is found in most, areas of the United States and southern Canada. Classified as both a fur animal and also a game animal. Raccoons are omnivorous, they will eat just about anything. With their "human" like hands raccoons can be deadly aroun the aviary. Raccoons can open latches or use their fingers to pull, dismember small birds through aviary wire. Attacks usually occur at night. Preventing access by raccoons means of hot electric wires secure welded aviary wire is essential. Raccoons have been known to prey all avian species, and even small farm animals including lambs!
OPOSSUMS: Opossums range over much of eastern United States and recently invaded the West. Opossums are classified as both a fun animal and game animal. Opossums are not confined to rural locals. They are equally at home in the city and suburbs. Omnivorous, the opossum will eat anything it can find or kill. Opossums will maul its victims killing every bird it can reach and frighten others to death. Trapping these predators and relocating them is recommended. If relocation is not possible. Trapped opossums can be turned over to county humane societies, animal control, or state fish and game wardens.
WEASEL FAMILY: Members of the weasel family, (skunks, minks, weasels) range throughout the US and Canada. Omnivorous, the weasel family deadly to captive birds. If you are unsure of what species the predator is. Sprinkle flour around the aviary and positive identification can be made by the foot prints. Skunks are common in urban areas, live trapping is best for skunks. Cover the trap with a burlap sack. Relocate or call the fish and game, or animal control. If spraying occurs, mouthwash will neutralize the odor. The weasel family are energetic ceaseless killers and prefer a diet of freshly killed prey. Weasels and mink kill far more rodents than birds and are quite beneficial in the wild. Gaining entrance into an aviary, the destruction is unimaginable. Whole collections can be wiped out. A weasel or mink will kill every bird, piling up the bodies in a neat pile. Traps or poison may be used. Follow manufactures' recommendation on poisons, keep all poisons away from children and pets.
SNAKES: In some areas of the country snakes can be a problem. Many species of snakes are attracted to an aviary of small birds. Snakes will eat eggs, chicks and adults. Snakes can gain entrance through small openings, through cracks. A "tight" aviary will prevent these unwelcome guests. Prevention is the key to keeping snakes out. Remove all debris that serves as hiding places for snakes. Non venomous snakes can be caught and relocated. Call animal control when not sure of species.
ALLIGATOR LIZARDS: Large alligator lizards will eat eggs and small baby birds. These pests are difficult to control and nearly impossible to catch. Quarter inch wire will keep them out.
BIRDS: Birds of prey, roadrunners, etc., can frighten birds. During migration, Cooper hawks, Red tail hawks can scare birds into blindly flying into a wall or wire. Injury and death can occur, sometimes the victim is grabbed through the wire. A hot electric wire on the top of the aviary flight will deter most birds of prey. I recommend that all flights have solid roofs. Birds of prey are less likely to attack aviaries that have solid roofs. Wire topped flights and aviaries are a prime target. Bloody headed victims die of fright, stress, or trauma by the mere presence of these predators. Birds of prey are protected by law. Do not attempt to shoot or trap these predators. Wire topped aviaries and flights can be made less attractive to birds of prey by covering them with shrubbery or having vines cover them.
RATS AND MICE: Rats and mice can cause innumerable damage. Rats can eat eggs, babies and adults. Mice frighten nesting birds into abandoning eggs and young. Rodent droppings carry disease contaminate feed and water. Keep rodents from aviaries by keeping surrounding areas clean of debris. Excess feed should be removed. Fresh bait always available for these pests if one gains entrance to the aviary. I' m sure there are other predators I have not mentioned. Emphasis is on prevention rather than trying to get rid of a predator especially once it has gained access to your birds. Proper planning of your aviary and common sense about predators will ensure your birds will be safe. A little prevention will pay big dividends in the safety and enjoyment of your birds. Not only are our birds valuable in terms of money but also in terms of their intrinsic value to all of us aviculturists.