Another Lesson in Aviary Management


by Kevin Goulter

I have found many ways of reducing my stock of birds in the past but recently I excelled beyond my previous standards.

The old adage, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is an appropriate standard of performance that we as aviculturists must continually strive to achieve. Whilst my aviaries are not perfectly clean to dinner plate standard they are nevertheless cleaned weekly, so accumulated debris does not occur.

One Saturday morning I noticed a cock Yellow Vented Blue Bonnet (Northiella haematogaster) looking unwell and immediately took him to our veterinary surgeon for attention. That evening, the initial diagnosis was that the bird showed clears signs of heavy metal poisoning. I assured the vet that my aviaries were not new and had not been refurbished with new wire. Obviously the vet's early diagnosis could not have been correct (I would know about that) but the vet was far from convinced with my confident story.

X-Ray of Blue Bonnet Parrot - Northiella haematogaster, Showing metal particles as bright areas. Supplied by and courtesy of Mr Kevin Goulter & Dr D.J. Needham, SA

On Sunday evening the vet again phoned to double check on the conditions in which the bird was housed. Again I insisted that there was nothing new in the aviary to cause "Heavy Metal" problems. I was then informed that the birds condition was continuing to deteriorate and that an x-ray had been taken. That x-ray showed a particularly heavy concentration of metal in the gizzard and bowel of the bird - a fact that caused me some consternation.

It was later on Sunday evening whilst discussing the matter with an avicultural friend that he asked if that particular aviary had been one in which I had made a minor structural change by shifting a door. I had drilled out four aluminium headed pop-rivets to remove the hinges from the wall inside the aviary but I did not pick up the shiny little pieces of aluminium shaving from the floor. It, quite simply, did not occur to me that the collection of these little pieces was necessary.

The bird died on Monday and the vet asked for the hen to be brought in for examination. An x-ray showed signs of metal in the bowel but not to the same extent as the cock birds. After about two weeks, and some concerns for the bird, it was returned to the aviary. A follow up x-ray a week later showed the hen bird had picked up yet another small piece of metal which she obviously found after I had carefully cleared and dug the aviary floor whilst she was hospitalised.

While it was an expensive lesson, the knowledge gained will be invaluable. Without the trip to the vet, I would have decided that worms, virus chill, etc killed my Blue Bonnet.

The visit to the vet did not help the cock (although the hen was saved) but an important management problem was identified which in the longer term will prove to be a livestock and money saver.

For those who think this may just be an isolated incident, it is interesting to note that noted Victorian Naturalist, Mr. Len Robinson, told me of his loss of a Hooded Parrot (Psephotus dissimilis) through a similar sequence of events and of the very careful attention he now gives to this aspect of aviculture. My experience with the hen finding a subsequent piece of metal emphasises the need for that careful attention.

Footnote: Special thanks to Dr D.J. Needham for his perseverance with the birds and for his contribution to this article.

Want more information on this subject?

Handy Hint:

Parrot Society of Australia member Mike Randall advises members who work on steal aviaries to go around the area thoroughly with a magnet to pick up any harmful shavings or other pieces of metal to prevent the birds from eating them. "It's amazing how much metal you pick up", Michael says.


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