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The aviary

Provide an indoor perching and sleeping area and enough room for outdoor flight. This may include plants or such trees as willow, birch, or eucalyptus. Select these with care because many garden plants are poisonous.

The dimensions will vary with the sizes and numbers of birds to be housed, but a flight area should be long and narrow rather than square-shaped.

For safety reasons, the aviary should have double doors.

If you plan to build an aviary outdoors, you may need to obtain a building permit from the local authority.

NOTE: Mixing different species of birds, such as finches, budgerigars, and lovebirds, is not recommended because the birds may fight.

The cage

Cages are more practical in a classroom or ECE setting than an aviary is.

A cage should be large enough for the bird to be able to extend its wings without touching the sides of the cage and to perch without its tail touching the floor.

The average-sized cage for budgerigars (parakeets) and finches is 60 centimetres × 60 centimetres × 50 centimetres high.

Birds feel more secure if their cage has three solid sides and mesh bars on only one side. This design also reduces draughts.

However, many ready-made cages are open on all sides. One way to fix this is to put the cage in a corner or to provide a small cardboard or wooden box inside the cage for the bird to hide in.

Cage covers are useful for open cages; they provide security and to protect birds from draughts.

The cage and its contents should be easy-to-clean and made out of non-toxic material.

Psittacine birds, such as parrots and budgerigars, will chew wooden cages. so line the cage with paper towels, other plain paper, or newsprint (take care with newspaper because some birds may chew it).

As most birds normally spend their time flying or perching in trees above human height, the cage should be placed well above ground level at human head height or higher.


Cleaning is simple.

  • Replace the cage lining daily.
  • Wipe out the cage and wash food and water holders weekly.

The perch should be a clean, comfortable place for the bird to stand on. Providing a perch of differing diameters helps to exercise the bird's feet.

Place perches so that droppings do not contaminate food and water and so that the bird's tail does not touch the floor or food containers when it is sitting on the perch.

While plastic and wooden dowels are easy to keep clean, they are not as good as replaceable natural branches.

Remember that many garden plants are poisonous (apple tree branches are suitable). Also, do not use sandpaper-covered perches because they can be abrasive and make the bird's feet prone to infection.

As most budgerigars (parakeets) are agile climbers, a single well-placed perch may be adequate. However, finches need two perches, one at each end of the cage. 


Birds of the parrot family are active and intelligent. Toys provide them with mental activity and relief from boredom as well as encouraging exercise and beak activities. Lone budgerigars may form a bond with a toy and try to feed it.

Toys should be safe.

The ideal toys are hanging chains, bells, keys, swings, and mirrors. Other safe items that promote natural beak activities are pine cones, clothes pegs, and egg cartons.

Limit the number of toys in the cage at any one time. Keep them clean and rotate them to maintain the bird's interest. Replace toys that are infrequently used.

Aviary and cage diagrams

  • do not mix bird species
  • provide company
  • mist or bathe three to four times a week.


Aviary diagram.

Aviary and cage diagrams: main features


Aviary and cage diagrams explanation

Two houses for bird cages: one outdoor aviary and one indoor cage.

It is advised to provide company for birds but not to mix species.

Mist or bathe three to four times weekly.

The outdoor aviary is a rectangular structure and no measurements are given. It has a covered sleeping area at one end that occupies a quarter of the total space and has two small entry holes with a ladder leading to them.

The hatch in the ceiling allows birds to fly outdoors, and the double doors at the far end are for safety.

Inside is a small branch for perching, rocks on the ground, and three feeding boxes suspended from the roof.

The cage is square and measures 60cm x 60 x 50cm which is an average size for budgies or finches.

Inside the cage are wooden/natural branches for perches, toys for mental activity, and green vegetable and cuttlefish supplements attached with wire to the cage bars.

In the top right corner there is a small box with an entry hole to provide a hiding place in the cage.

Outside the cage are two small feeding trays and a water tube that the birds can access from the inside.

Use a basic commercial seed mix in the feeding trays, change the water daily, ensure the food if free from droppings (which could  do contaminate the food), and change the cage linings once a day.

How to care for birds


Different bird species have different nutritional requirements.

Budgerigars (parakeets) extract the kernels of seeds or nuts by cracking the hard outer husk with their beaks. Finches and canaries eat seeds, but they can't crack nuts.

The size of the seed should suit the size of the bird. Commercial seed mixes can provide a basic balanced diet. Remove empty seed husks from the seed container every day.

Well-washed green vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, and chickweed, and fruits may supplement the diet. However, never feed avocado because it is poisonous to birds.

Cuttlefish bone and oyster-shell grit provide minerals that are essential for crop function.

Keep food containers off the floor to reduce the risk of faecal contamination.

Column water containers are preferable because birds are unable to bathe in them and it is easy to check the water level. Give birds fresh water daily.


Restrain a small bird in one hand by gently placing your thumb and first finger on either side of its head and immobilising its wings with your remaining fingers. Be careful not to squeeze the bird's chest.

Finches are common cage birds, but they are not suited to regular handling because they may go into shock and die. While budgerigars may be accustomed to handling, they may panic or bite if they are hurt or frightened. Thus, either handle with care or avoid handling them.

Exercising a bird in the classroom is not recommended.


Always feed birds their appropriate diet and keep their cage clean.

Each day, look for normal activity.

  • Is your bird eating, preening, and grooming its feathers? 
  • Check its skin for scabs, dandruff, bald spots, or itchiness. 
  • Check that its eyes, ears, and nares (nostrils) are clear of any discharges and that its droppings are normal. 
  • Check its beak, nails, and feet. Know what is usual for birds.

Moulting (the normal loss and replacement of feathers) is influenced by the time of year, the age of the bird, and the degree of stress it is under.

To keep their feathers healthy, budgerigars (budgies), parakeets, canaries, and finches need a mist or water bath three to four times a week. Another option is to provide them with a bunch of wet chickweed.

Birds like regular routines, and they may take time to adapt to any change, whether it is a new environment, a new food, or a new toy. When changing a bird's environment, provide a quiet time to allow it to settle. Covering the cage provides extra security for the bird.

Finches and budgerigars are active, alert birds. They should sit upright on the perch.

Birds can be affected by viral, bacterial, and parasitic conditions. Sick birds often seem weak and have a drooping, fluffed-up appearance. If you ignore their illness, small birds may rapidly deteriorate in condition. At any sign of illness, or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

Interesting facts about birds

  • Budgerigars weigh about 30–85 grams. 
    • They have two to six eggs and incubate them for twenty-one to thirty days.
  • Finches (canaries and zebra finches) weigh about 10–20 grams. 
    • They have four to six eggs and incubate them for ten to fourteen days.
  • Birds have social needs: they like the company of other birds and the attention of people.


The text and illustrations for this online edition of Caring for animals: A Guide for teachers, early childhood educators, and students (published on Te Kete Ipurangi for the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2005) is copyright © Crown 2005. All rights reserved.

Content has been adapted for the web from the printed version, originally published in 1999 by Learning Media Limited for the Ministry of Education. Although no longer available this publication may still be available in some schools.