Flights, Inside and Out by Gary Hicken USA

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Gary Hicken

I decided it was time someone wrote an article on how to best provide flights for our birds. I know in animal husbandry there are always many different ways to accomplish the same task. So I write these ideas only as suggestions as they have worked for me but may not work for you.

One might think a flight is nothing more than a rectangle of wood and wire. I have found they are much more than a simple box. Sometimes those of us who have done this for many years just assume others know these things already. But I recognize this is not true and we must share our experiences. There is no reason for new folks to make the same mistakes we have if we just share our experiences. This is the reason I wrote this article.

There are actually many different techniques and tips I have learned over the years about flights. Some things I learned from my own experience and some by visiting other aviaries.

Pros and Cons

Let’s start with the topic of flights in general. Most everyone has inside flights but there are many opinions about whether we should provide outside flights or not. I am one who believes outside flights provide more positives then negatives. Here are some of the pros associated with outside flights;

  • Outside flights give plenty of fresh air
  • The budgies natural habitat is outside. Even after years of inside housing the outside instinct has not been bred out of our birds
  • The occasional rainfall/ drizzle is relished by the birds
  • If the breeder has the ability to view the birds it adds to the enjoyment of the birds by watching them play outside
  • Nothing beats sunshine for the benefits it can provide both us and the birds
  • Outside birds are generally more active and it increases their wing muscles for flying

Here are some cons to having outside flights;

  • Wild birds can bring disease and / or parasites to the budgies which would not otherwise have access if it were not for outside flights
  • Cats, birds of prey and curious kids can get to the birds easier when in outside flights
  • If not protected, the birds can eat bacteria ridden soil in the bottom of the flight which can also cause disease
  • Rodents and other pests are attracted to and have better access to outside flights.

    photo001

    Photo #1

The list of pros and cons is not meant to be exhaustive but are the ones I have heard most often when the topic of outside flights is discussed. I believe if done right the outside flight can be a real benefit. How should an outside flight be constructed and engineered for the best benefit for our budgies? (Photo #1)

The Foundation

photo002

Photo #2

Let’s begin with the foundation.  I do not like to have any wood or metal in direct contact with the ground so I always build up a brick wall about 18” high and install “j” bolts on top to allow for firm bolting down of the wood frame (Photo#2). In Utah the snow can easily pile up in the winter so I want to stay just a little higher than the normal snow level on the ground. But even in CaliforniaI built the foundation at the same height because I wanted to keep low level intruders such as mice and other rodents out of easy access to the bottom of the flight. I dig down about 1 brick deep for the first row and then build up from there.

I then build each wall and the top of the flight independent of each other so that I can easily install the wire on a flat surface and also to make it easier to assemble the flight. I use 2” by 2” Redwood lumber for my frame. I use redwood because it is a beautiful wood and I like to stain it every year to keep it nice and red. I do not ever paint any wood in my flights as the birds love to chew it off and it is unsightly and has to be repainted regularly to keep it nice looking. Staining the wood is much easier and is a very quick job once a year. Many people love to just let Redwood turn the nice grey color but I prefer the red. One of the negatives with Redwood is it is very expensive and it is very soft as compared to other harder woods. But the way I build the flight protects the wood, and as you can see, after over 5 years of use it still looks like new.

Photo #3

I do not try to build anything with a lot of height as the birds usually do not use the vertical space very much so I keep them about 6’ to 7‘ high (Photo#3). I like to give them plenty of horizontal space to fly in, so the longer the better. In my case I only have about 8’ long and 4’ wide for each outside flight but it works well for me. I use the same welded wire I use for inside flights (1/2” by 1”) as I want the wire to be very strong with no chance of escape. I also use galvanized wire to avoid destruction by rust. In the past I attached the wire by using 1/2” stainless steel staples as they will not rust. But I have found over the years that the extreme temperatures of hot and cold loosen the staples and they

Photo #5

have to be re-stapled frequently to stop them from falling out. I have also seen budgies chew on them long enough to pull them out with their beaks. Your wire can come loose with little or no warning and before you know it the birds have flown the “coop”. I now use stainless steel pan head wood 1” screws (Photo #5). They almost never get loose and they are permanent. Problem solved.

To Prevent Destruction

Next I install ½” aluminum angle molding along all wood surfaces which have a corner the birds can chew on, both inside and outside corners, to prevent destruction of the wood frame and possible escape (Photo #6). I never have

Photo #6

to replace any portion of the flight main frame as the birds cannot chew the wood beyond minor damage. Another problem solved.

Next I put down landscaping cloth on the bottom of the flight to keep weeds from growing inside of the flight and to allow any water or other material to pass through the rock and into the ground. I stopped using plastic as when it rains the water will not go through the plastic and will build up inside the flight and cause trouble if the birds get to bacteria laden water. I also never put feed of any kind in the outside flight to avoid attracting rodents and other pests as well as having seed or other food deteriorate on the floor.

Photo #7

Now I install about 4” of ¾” to 1”gravel on top the landscaping cloth so that the birds cannot get to the soil and rodents have nowhere to go in the flight (Photo #7). I do not use sand or pea gravel as it is too small and not porous enough to let debris work its way through the bottom of the flight. In years past I have had mice make nest holes in the soil of the floor of the flight and it proved to not only attract them but was a very nice place for them to live and breed baby mice. With the rock on top of the cloth I have had zero rodents and the birds still love to go down and chew on the rocks for the minerals and other things they get from this activity. I know many folks who want their birds to go to the bottom of an outside flight to get the benefits from the soil. However, I have found the harm it causes outdoes the good so I do not want the birds getting to the soil in the outside flight. This rock also allows all bird excrement to pass through the rocks into the ground when it rains and is moved around by wind and the bird’s activity. I never have to clean the outside flight. I have never seen a buildup of anything as a result of this practice. Again, I put no food of any kind into the outside flight.

Photo #8

Finally I use both fixed and swinging perches for the birds to exercise on, sleep, etc. and let them decide where they want to perch. I also put in branches from my fruit trees which the birds love to chew. I also use hemp rope and other items for the enjoyment of the birds and to fill their needs (photo #8). I use the pictured bamboo blocks which the birds absolutely love and will chew out the block very quickly. I try to keep enough on hand to let them get to it whenever thy please. Budgies do not just chew on wood for fun, but it has been proven they do it for nesting purposes as well as getting some nutrients from the wood itself.

This completes the ideas and advice I have for the reader regarding outside flights. Let’s move on to something nearly every budgie breeder has, the inside flight.

Inside Flights

The number of inside flights is completely up to each person’s need but I always build 3 (8’ long by 6’ wide) inside flights. During the breeding season I separate the cocks and hens. I also like to have a place to put the youngsters once they leave the nursery but are not yet ready for the adult flight. I also use the 3rd flight as a way to house those birds I will eventually sell.

The inside flight has its own unique requirements which are different from the outside flights.

Photo #9

Let’s start again at the foundation. Over the years I have had wood on the bottoms of the flights, then concrete and now I use ceramic tile (Photo #9). I also used to like to put a drain in the flight or slope it away from the aviary so I could turn a hose on the bottom and wash it out. I have stopped all that as the way I do it now works well for me.

I put a little washed sand under each perch area which makes cleaning very easy and the birds love to eat the sand as part of their grit diet. We vacuum the flights daily to keep them free of feathers, filth, etc. This is part of our desire to have birds free from illness caused by a dirty environment. (I never use antibiotics or other preventative medicines of any kind.)

 

When building the walls I have learned some valuable lessons. I have several goals in mind. I want to protect the wood so it is not chewed to pieces, I want to keep the cock and hens from being able to see each other during the breeding season when I split them up, I want them easy to clean, I want to be able to see the birds profile as it is just as important as the frontal view and I want them to have plenty of room to exercise, fly and feed. I use Melamine on all the sides except the front as it is very easy to clean and never needs painting. I have all the inside and outside corners protected from chewing so there is no damage

Photo #10

(Photo #10). We have all observed that birds love to climb up, down and across any wire surface they can find. The outside flight has a lot of wire as I want as much sunshine and open air as possible.

Wire To A Bare Minimum

In my inside flights it is a different story. I want to view my birds in good

 

feather condition, as nothing is quite as ugly as a bird with its tail bent 180 degrees and/or has bunch of torn up flight feathers. I also want to keep those birds which I am preparing to show in good condition. If they have wire all over the place they will tear up their tails, flights and other feathers by crawling up and down the wire. Therefore, I keep the wire to a bare minimum. I only use wire on the front. Even there it is kept to a minimum. I use stained ½”plywood, (don’t want to have to paint anything in a flight), on the top and bottom. I found that if I come up about 2’ from the bottom with plywood, I can still easily view the floor and all the birds, but I can also keep most of the feathers and seed husks inside the flight which keeps the breeding room much

Photo #11

cleaner and makes it easier to vacuum the flights as the debris is kept in a smaller space (Photo #11). I also come down from the top of the ceiling with another 1’ piece of plywood to keep the birds from getting to the ceiling and causing chewing damage (Photo #12). I make sure I stop the wire well below the ceilings because if the wire goes all the way to the top then the birds will simply crawl up and start their chewing into the ceiling. (Many years ago I had a hen chew a hole through the ceiling and into the attic. I did not have a crawl space so she ended up dying in the attic. I could not get to her.) Be sure to make it impossible for the birds to get to the top of the flight.

Photo #12

Next I installed fiberglass frame windows. In years past I had a simple small wood door I opened and then closed up at night so the birds could travel back and forth from the outside to the inside flights. I found the birds loved to chew a hole there and had to put metal molding on the door but it was still hard to keep them from ruining the door. (You can tell how much I dislike chewing damage). In my current aviary I decided to use the same double pane window I use in my house. But the ones in my home are vinyl framed. I thought the birds might damage vinyl frames. So I used an even more expensive fiberglass framed window in my aviary.

However, this turned out to be a very good decision as the birds cannot even make a dent in the fiberglass frames. (I also have my alarm system encased in the walls so the windows are all alarmed). I simply open the windows from inside the aviary and the birds come and go as they please. At night they are simply closed and locked up until the next day. (Some birds hate to go back inside and have to be caught and put back inside after dark).

Perches Fixed

Photo #13

Following this I installed both fixed and swinging perches (Photo #13). The fixed perches are set so that the birds are seen in profile as I want to see the bird’s stance, style and backline as much as I want to see their heads. This gives me a better way to evaluate the birds without having to catch them up and put them in a show cage. I also put aluminum molding on all the framing of the fixed perches so I can just replace the ¾” and ½” dowels as they get chewed apart (Photo #14). I left enough room so I could just pull out the broken dowels and slide in new ones without having to pull out the whole perch frame. I put in just one small finish nail at the end to keep the perches from spinning in the holes of the frame, but not too hard to find and pull out when I need to change a dowel. I have learned over the years how to reduce the amount of work it takes to keep up with maintenance by following these simple types of plans.

The last thing I do is to place the feeding bowls on the floor of the flight. I used to hang feeders from the side wall of the flight but I have since seen and liked the way some of the best breeders I know feed out of separate bowls on the floor. One bowl for regular seed, one for a mixture of millets, one for special grit and one for soft food. These are fed all year round. I also feed millet sprays all year round. Feeding is a whole different topic.

I hope this article will be of help to those who have and want to change or those who want to build flights. Again these thoughts are meant to be suggestions and an explanation of what I do and why. Hopefully it will give you some ideas you may want to use.

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About the Author:

Gary Hicken was born in Provo, Utah, and was raised in Southern California.


Exhibiting budgerigars became a real hobby for Gary in 1975. In 1980 he won the American Budgerigar society’s Intermediate Breeder of the Year award, at which time he became a champion.


In 1984 he tested to become an ABS judge, which he passed successfully. He is currently serving as ABS President.


He has judged the World Budgerigar Show in Brazil, the National Show in South Africa and has judged all over the U.S., Canada, and has had the privilege of visiting many great breeders across the world.


Gary and his wife Kathy received the ABS Champion Breeder of the Year award in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2011. They have won Best in Show at the largest budgie shows in the U.S. on several occasions.


Gary retired from the Buena Park Police Department in California in 2004 as Chief of Police after 29 years of service. He and Kathy have been married for 40 years and have 5 children and 15 grandchildren. Gary and Kathy moved to Lindon, Utah, in 2005, where Gary is currently serving as the Chief of Police for the Cities of Saratoga Springs / Bluffdale.

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  1. Good observation and points Gary Hicken.

    Habib Ur Rehman,Pakistan

  2. Marla says:

    Thanks for sharing this info. I find it very helpful.

  3. george smith says:

    ihave a shed 6ftx8ft is this big enough to house budgerigar how would you lay it out to breed and a flight

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