A cage can never be too large. Box cages should have a light-colored coat of paint on the inside and be placed alongside a wall opposite a window. Outdoor aviaries (below) must have a bright, draft-free and dry enclosed section, which can also be heated.

Grass and parrot finches can be kept in cages as well as indoor or outdoor aviaries. The accommodation for these birds depends largely on the available space and facilities. Many species are, however, not quite suitable for cages and such birds must be given indoor aviaries at the very least especially when breeding success is hoped for. If these birds are kept in cages, consideration has to be given to their high level of activity by giving them sufficiently large, roomy cages. Some species, however, can easily be kept in cages, provided certain basic rules are followed.

There are two basic cage types, open cages and box cages. Open cages consist of a wooden or wire frame surrounded on four sides and on the top with galvanized wire mesh. The frame sits on a sturdy base that has a removable metal drawer as a bottom. For ease of maintenance cages in excess of I meter in length should be equipped with two smaller drawers instead of one large one. Unfortunately, in some commercially available cages the base and drawer are too low. The roof of the cage can be either flat or slightly arched. The ratio of length to width (depth) and to height should be about 4:2:3 (e.g. 80 cm x 40 cm x 60 cm). Such a ratio is particularly important for small cages. Again, for ease of maintenance it is better to have several doors instead of just one; all sections of the cage can then be reached without difficulty. Most suitable are vertically sliding doors, which can be purchased already made. A rather convenient arrangement consists of two doors in the front of the cage on each lower corner. This enables the hobbyist to place feed dishes inside the cage without unduly disturbing the birds. It is also essential to have one larger door, through which branches and nests or nestboxes can be introduced. All-metal cages are rather expensive and often they are not available in the required size or shape. Usually such cages are hexagonal or octagonal and have built-in a number of toys such as ladders, bells, towers and other items that increase the price and provide a lot of hiding places for bird parasites. Such cages are totally useless. Hobbyists are also warned against purchasing brass cages: bathing or drinking water, splashed against the brass, will cause oxidation, which then can lead to poisoning of the birds. Suitable cages can be home-made of galvanized weld-mesh wire with a mesh size of I " x 1/2" and a wire thickness of 1.24 mm (18 gauge). The base and removable drawers can be make in any welding workshop. Wooden cages are popular with some fanciers, but they are hard to disinfect and keep clean.

Box cages usually consist of a converted wooden box or crate in which a wire front has been inserted in one of the large sides. Lightweight metal (aluminum) or plastic boxes can also be used for this purpose. Box cages must also have a removable drawer; the slot through which the drawer is removed must have a hinged lid. If it doesn't, birds can escape through the open gap. Wire fronts of different sizes are commercially available or can be made to measure. Box cages should have a light-colored coat of paint on the inside and be placed alongside a wall opposite a window. This permits as much light into the cage as if it were a conventional wire cage. Light from one side only leaves a box cage too dark, so such cages should be kept only in a very bright room. Box cages have a number of uses; to acclimate newly arrived birds, as breeding cages and as flight cages. Their size depends upon the intended use and on the species to be accommodated. Anyone who builds his own wooden frame or box cages can adjust the sizes to fit specific purposes. Several cages of the same type not only look good, but also facilitate easier feeding and maintenance, even if they are not the same size. One always has to remember A CAGE CAN NEVER BE TOO LARGE. The following are some recommended cage dimensions for different purposes and various species.

As a breeding cage for a pair of zebra finches or society finches or as a general cage for some of the smallest estrildine finches, the dimensions 60 cm long x 30 cm back to front x 40 cm high can be used. For the easily bred black-throated finch, Poephila cincta, long-tailed finch, P. acuticauda, or the masked finch, P. personata, about 100 cm x 50 cm x 80 cm is quite adequate. Difficult species require larger cages of about 120 to 200 cm length, with corresponding width and height dimensions. In such long cages, a nest is placed at either end, partially covered by dense branches, and feed dishes are placed in the middle of the cage. The birds are obviously more at ease when adequate hiding places are provided.

Indoor aviaries are basically only large flight cages taken indoors. Usually they are made of wooden frames covered with wire mesh. Depending upon their size, they have two or more trays at the bottom as well as several hatches, through which food and drinking containers are placed into the cage. Doors must also be provided higher up along the sides so that branches and nests can be placed inside. Ideally, an indoor aviary should be placed on a stand, about 30 to 40 cm above floor level. The ratio of dimensions should be similar to those given for regular cages. Various suitable indoor aviaries are commercially available, as well as individual components for home assembly of such aviaries. It is best to place an aviary along a wall, because birds feel less at ease in one standing in the middle of a room. It should also be close to a window so that during the summer months the birds can get direct sunlight through an open window.

The bird room is a room used solely for birds. It must be bright, dry and heatable, and its windows should face south, southeast or east. Ideally such a room should be subdivided into aviaries made of weld-mesh wire; the aviaries should be situated about 50 cm to 60 cm above floor level. Such an arrangement permits the birds to be easily observed and controlled, and aggressive species and specimens can be isolated. In front of the aviaries must be a passageway, used when feeding and watering the birds, as well as to accommodate some smaller cages for various purposes. These aviaries should be constructed in such a way as to provide about one cubic meter per breeding pair. The windows in any bird room will have to be covered with wire so as to prevent any accidental release of escaped birds.

Outdoor aviaries for the purpose of keeping grass finches MUST have a bright, draft-free and dry enclosed section, which can also be heated. One half of the aviary must be roofed over, and the enclosed section should have electrical lighting. At night the birds are always locked up in the enclosed section. A suitably selected accommodation is of paramount importance in successful aviculture. Unfortunately, it is not possible to discuss cages, indoor and outdoor aviaries in greater detail within the restricted framework of this book. Therefore, I would like to draw the reader's attention to the book Building an Aviary by Carl Naether and Dr. Matthew M. Vriends, (published by T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune, N.J.) in which various points are discussed in greater detail. Also, All About Finches by lan Harman and Dr. Matthew Vriends (T.F.H.) is a necessity for every bird fancier.

All weaver finches build completely enclosed nests low to the ground or even on the ground. This fact has to be taken into consideration when aviaries are being built for these birds. Many weaver finches will readily accept artificial nest supports upon which they then build their nests. Several different models of such artificial 'nests' are commercially available. Very popular as an artificial nesting aid is the typical canary shipping cage. This is a small wooden cage originally used for exporting canaries from Germany. Unfortunately, these miniature cages are rather fragile, and nowadays they are rarely available. All that needs to be done to them is to remove a few of the bars along the narrow sides; the birds can then select an entrance and exit. A piece of foam rubber with some nesting material on top is placed at the bottom of the little cage, and the birds do the rest. I have constructed nests out of welded wire mesh with 1/2 " mesh, something that can be made in any required size. The front end is left half open, and a piece of foam rubber of suitable size (12x12x12 cm to 15 x 15x15 cm or larger) is fastened to the bottom of the nest. Roofed-over basket nests are also commercially available, but they are nearly always too small, with an entrance opening which is commonly not large enough. Larger basket nests having wooden lids can be easily cleaned and maintained.

Long nest boxes, commonly used for parakeets, are also eagerly accepted by grass finches. Such boxes, which are invariably too small for parakeets, are rather ideal for finches. One should always fasten a piece of foam rubber to the inside bottom. In the event a breeding pair has been a bit careless in their nest construction, the eggs will not end up on the bare wooden floor or over the bottom grate of the box. One should always select relatively large nest containers, since birds will always utilize the excess space.

Nests are always placed at various levels in the aviary, but never exceeding a height that cannot be reached without a ladder. They should also be sufficiently camouflaged with twigs and branches attached to the aviary wire. Individual nests should be spaced apart, with branches creating visual barriers. The branches should be positioned one above the other, but staggered horizontally so that droppings from birds above do not fall on the ones below. The branches must not impede the flight patterns of the birds. It is therefore advisable to use several small branches instead of a few large ones. Natural sticks (pencil thickness), instead of machine-made dowel sticks, should be used as perches in an aviary. They must be attached to the side walls of the cage so that the birds are not hindered when turning in flight. Most useful are two perches halfway up the sides, and below theseóbut offset in the manner of the branches.

Some thin climbing twigs are also required for the smallest of the grass finches.

During the winter months the flight space has to be illuminated for at least 12 hours daily. Fluorescent lights have been particularly useful for this purpose. During the night a dim nightlight should be left on, because in total darkness the birds tend to panic, which can have disastrous consequences.

In a combination flight and shelter, you have a strongly constructed and very practical aviary, the size of which may be enlarged to suit your special needs and location. It can readily be used for finches, parakeets or other birds. Painted a suitable color to harmonize with its immediate surroundings, this birdhouse will be an ornament in any garden.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca