Combating Aviary Pests & Predators
Pests and predators are particularly problematic for outdoor enclosures, although in some cases indoor enclosures may be affected as well. Insects, rodents, and wild birds often act as vectors of disease and parasites
. Cockroaches, for instance, may transmit Sarcocystis falcatula
to birds from infected opossum feces. Ants can introduce the worm Dispharynx
among other parasites to an aviary's inhabitants, and wild birds can transmit mites and lice to the finches along with other disease-causing organisms.5
In addition to these problems, insects, rodents, and wild birds may disturb breeding birds
. Predators such as snakes, rats, dogs, cats, and hawks have also been known to actually injure and kill finches
Preventing problems due to pests and predators is the most desired route of combat. Poisons such as insecticides are often not the best method of preventing or attempting to control
pests and predators, and in fact may pose a threat to the finches.5
Other forms of biological control are preferred because they are often safer and more effective.5
Listed below are some options for both the prevention of various pests and predators and for the control of many of these pests and predators in the event that they have already become established. Additional, detailed information (fact sheets) on the pests and predators presented in this section can be found online
Exposure to pests and predators can result in injury
to your birds or may introduce disease
into your aviary. As always, if you feel that any of your finches is sick or injured, the best course of action is to immediately take the bird to an avian veterinarian for evaluation and treatment.
|Seed Moths, Grain Beetles
Prevention: Seed and other grain-based feeds are sometimes contaminated with moth and/or beetle larva, eggs, and/or adults. Although they are generally harmless (nontoxic and they do not destroy wood), these "pantry pests" are very difficult to safely and permanently rid yourself of, and they will find their way into--and infest--just about any dry food your pantry has to offer (bread, rice, flour, other pet food, spices, crackers, cereal, and so forth). Preventing their presence is much easier than eliminating it once established, so keep the following tips in mind.
- Check all containers of feed for "freshness" before purchase--never bring home a container of feed that has bugs crawling in it, or appears to have webbing or a lot of dust in it.
- Freeze any newly purchased bag of feed for 7 days before feeding it to your birds.
- Store all feed in clean, air tight containers (glass jars that pressure seal with rubber gaskets work best), and preferably (if space allows) keep the containers in the refrigerator.
- Properly discard the remains of feed from the birds' feed dish, emptying it into a trash receptacle before washing and refilling the dish. Dumping old feed onto the floor of the cage only provides a breeding ground for the bugs.
- Clean the finches' enclosure frequently, as the lifecycles of these insects is short enough (as short as 27 days) to allow them to reproduce very rapidly.
|Control: If you have noticed any small, brown beetles (often "sawtoothed grain beetles" [Oryzaephilus surinamensis]) or moths (usually "Indian Meal Moths" [Plodia interpunctella] or "Mediterranean Flour Moths") around your household, you likely have an infestation somewhere in your house. The most probable sources are your birds' cage and bags or boxes of dry food you have stored somewhere in your home. Sawtooth grain beetles are particularly good at finding their way into almost any container, even airtight, unopened ones, so do not assume any of the food you keep outside of the refrigerator or freezer is safe from them. Spraying pesticides is not only dangerous, but is also highly ineffective against these pests, so consider doing the following instead:
- Thoroughly clean your birds' entire enclosure, paying special attention to the feed dishes, the floor, and any crevices within the cage.
- Inspect all packages of food (even unopened ones) that you have stored in your pantry or other areas of the house that are outside of your refrigerator/freezer. Discard any package or product that appears to be contaminated. Strongly consider storing all remaining foods that are prone to infestation in your refrigerator or freezer, if possible, to prevent their contamination. If this is not possible, place the dry food in sealed, air tight containers (glass jars with pressure sealing rubber gaskets are preferred) which may reduce the chances of infestation, especially by the moths.
- Empty the shelves of your pantry and any other area (outside of the refrigerator/freezer) where you have food stored, and vacuum every surface and crevice within. Pay special attention to small cracks where bits of food may have fallen, as eggs laid here may otherwise be missed. Although you may wish to wipe down surfaces after vacuuming, vacuuming is the most effective means of removing eggs and larva from your pantry. Discard of the vacuum's bag after vacuuming to prevent escape of the insects.
- Clean (vacuum and wipe down) any surfaces (counter tops, floors, spaces underneath large appliances where food may have fallen) that may have crumbs that the pests could survive on. Remove crumbs and other bits of food (if any are present) from the insides of appliances such as the microwave and toaster. Remember to unplug electric devices such as the toaster before cleaning them as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Repeat the above four steps regularly (at least once every 2 weeks) until you notice a decrease in the numbers of pests. Persistence will pay off.
- To reduce the numbers of live, adult moths in your home, you may consider trying one of the following recommendations for safely trapping them:
- Purchase "flour moth traps" (sex pheromone lures, pictured on the right) and strategically place them around your home as explained in the instructions. These traps are only partially effective, and only males are attracted to the pheromone; also, the traps become less effective as more moths enter them, so they will need to be replaced as they fill up.
- Hang pesticide-free sticky fly strips out of reach of the birds, other pets, and children; placing them next to the ceiling and behind shelves where moths congregate is most useful.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment and vacuum them out of the air as they fly about, or off of surfaces when they land. Discard of the vacuum bag when finished.
» Return to list of pests & predators
- Practice sanitation. Rinse food off of dishes before leaving them in the sink overnight. Remove food crumbs and garbage to trash canisters with tight fitting lids, and dispose of the trash frequently. Keep the rest of your home clean (clean up spilled liquids, clean areas behind and beneath cabinets, furniture, sinks, stoves, and refrigerators, as well as the shelves inside cupboards, pantries, etc.).
- Do not leave pet food laying out overnight.
- Keep food (including pet food) in sealed, air tight containers.
- Make sure your home is as "roach proof" as possible--seal any cracks or openings both outside and inside your home with caulk, cement, or screening (depending on the application). Pay special attention to the areas around pipes, air conditioning units, electric lines, electrical outlets, window sills, sinks, bathtub fixtures, and any spaces along baseboards, walls, and cupboards.
- Repair any plumbing leaks and seal all moisture sources.
- Eliminate hiding places such as cardboard, firewood, paper, lumber, and other debris by moving these items away from your home and garage.
Control: If you have spotted roaches in your home or aviary, or if you have an outdoor aviary and roaches are common in your area, you may need to do the following to reduce the threat that they pose:
- Release small geckos which feed on roaches at night into your home and aviary.
- Consider keeping flightless silky chickens which will consume roaches. Because they cannot fly, they are unable to roost on the aviary.5
- Place cockroach traps, baited boxes with sticky material inside, against walls and in corners where roaches are likely to travel. Do not place the traps directly inside the aviary or cage. Make sure the openings to the traps are not obscured. If no cockroaches are caught after 3 nights, reposition the traps.
|» Return to list of pests & predators
- Eliminate pools of standing/stagnant water which mosquitoes may use to reproduce in as little as 3 days. Remove old tires, buckets, cans, plant saucers, plastic kiddy pools, and other water-holding containers from your property, place drainage holes in them, or empty them regularly. Discard of (or drain) any plastic or canvas bags/sheets/tarps outdoors that may trap water (e.g. mulch bags, pool tarps, Jacuzzi covers).
- Keep your lawn mowed and pull weeds regularly, as adult mosquitoes tend to congregate on weeds.
- Repair leaky pipes, air conditioning units, and faucets.
- Unclog rain gutters.
- Remove floating debris from ponds to reduce sites for egg laying.
- Regularly empty and refill pet water dishes and bird baths.
- Stock ponds and ornamental pools with "top feeding predacious minnows" or "mosquito fish" that feed on mosquito larva.
- Encourage natural predators of mosquitoes (such as praying mantises, bats, purple martins, and dragonflies) to inhabit your area.
- Consider screening in the area where your birds' enclosure resides.
- Consider purchasing a "mosquito trap".
|» Return to list of pests & predators
- Avoid feeding your birds sugary and fatty foods, which attract ants.
- Keep the birds' enclosure and the facilities housing the birds clean: wipe down countertops, cabinets, and mop the floor to remove any bits of food that might attract the ants. Store food in air tight containers and empty trash cans daily.
- Caulk around doors, windows, electrical wires, outlets, vents, and utility inlets; seal any cracks in foundation, walls, etc.
- Trim trees and shrubs away from your house and any outdoor bird enclosures.
- Repair any moisture problems (i.e. leaky plumbing) and replace any water damaged wood.
- Store any firewood off of the ground and a distance away from your home or aviary.
- Bait the nests and trails of ants outside of the birds' enclosure with bait stations made for ants. Do not let the birds or any other pets come into contact with the bait. Several different types of bait (all of which should be labeled for use on ants) should be tried, to find the one that works best. Finding and destroying the ants' nest is the best way to eradicate them. Bait works well for this, but do not use any other methods of control which might inhibit worker ants from bringing the bait back to the nest, since bait needs to be fed to the queen and larval ants to destroy the nest. Bait may require several days to several weeks to take full effect.
- If you are not confident that you can safely use bait, follow the worker ants back to their nest and pour a large volume of boiling water onto it to kill the nest. Be careful when handling boiling water.
- Follow the trail of ants to find how and where they are entering your home or bird enclosure. Seal off their entrance point and scrub the entrance and the trail inside of your home or aviary with detergent to remove the ants' pheromone trail.
- For "California breeder" style cages, or cages on stands, place a shallow pan of water under each leg of the cage/stand to act as a "moat" that the ants cannot cross.
|» Return to list of pests & predators
- The facility housing the birds should be constructed or maintained to discourage rats from nesting in or around the area. Rats are known to tunnel underneath and nest below concrete slabs (which are often used as aviary flooring), so do the following to prevent tunneling:
- Dig a narrow, 2 feet deep trench all the way around the foundation of your aviary, directly adjacent to the foundation. Lay ¼ inch galvanized wire mesh or galvanized/stainless metal sheeting vertically down into the trench. Make sure that you are using enough mesh or metal sheeting to reach from the foundation of your aviary to the bottom of the trench. Attach one end of the wire or metal sheeting to the aviary foundation and let the remainder of it hang vertically down into the trench. Fill the trench back up with dirt to bury the mesh/sheeting. You will need to periodically check the integrity of the metal and replace any that has corroded underground. Instead of using hardware cloth or metal flashing, you could alternatively fill the trench with concrete, poured to a 3-5 inch thickness.
- Wrap galvanized or stainless sheet metal guards around the bases of trees to prevent nesting.
- For any enclosure supported by poles, the poles can be fitted with rat guards or greased to prevent climbing. Please make note that rats can jump pretty high, so enclosures built on poles need to be built high up off the ground.
- Construct or modify the birds' enclosure to thwart the entrance of rodents:
- The floor should be constructed of a material which rodents cannot push through. Using a concrete slab is most desirable for outdoor aviaries since it is easiest to disinfect. Brick pavers may also be used to create a floor which can be hosed down, although it is more difficult to disinfect. The base of the aviary will need to be secured to whatever flooring is chosen. Another option is to lay down ¼ inch galvanized wire mesh as the floor of the cage, and to secure it to the base of the enclosure with staples. Wire mesh used in this manner (in direct contact with the moist ground) may need to be replaced as it corrodes. Any and all of these flooring options need to be protected from tunneling rodents, as described above in Step 1.
- If you can pass your pinkie finger (or a pencil) through any part of the aviary frame, you will need to cover those spaces or gaps with wire mesh or metal sheeting. Mice can squeeze through a space as small as ¼ inch, so using ¼ inch mesh may not be small enough. For corners of the enclosure, bend a 3 inch wide strip of wire mesh or metal sheeting to form a right angle, and staple or nail this bent strip to each seam of the aviary where two sides meet.
- Attaching 2 foot high galvanized or stainless metal sheeting/flashing around the bottom perimeter of the enclosure will help keep mice out.
- One layer of mesh may be sufficient for most indoor use, but outdoor enclosures should use two layers of mesh attached to the aviary frame, separated by at least a 2 inch thickness (one layer on one side of the frame's stud, the other layer on the opposite side). To accomplish this, attach one layer of mesh (¼ - ½ inch) to the inside of the aviary frame. Attach a second layer of mesh (¼ or smaller) to the outside of the aviary frame. If you are worried about wasps and other pests, you can use screen as your outside layer of mesh, but be aware that screen tears easily. Do not use screen as the inside layer as finches often get their toenails stuck in it, and this may lead to injury.
- Place snap traps (preferably ones with an expanded trigger) in areas frequented by the rodents (along their runways or against walls where rodent droppings or gnawing and damage are evident), but where no birds, children, or pets may reach them. One way to accomplish this is to place the traps inside of a box with an entrance hole that is just large enough for only the rodents to enter (or purchase pre-made bait boxes). Never place snap traps or bait boxes inside of the aviary. Baiting snap traps with small pieces of ground meat is particularly effective, but always exercise great caution when using these devices.
- Another type of trap you can use is a multiple live catch (multicatch) mouse/rat trap. Brand names for this type of product include: Kness "Ketch-All" Automatic Mouse Trap, Victor Tin Cat Repeating Mouse Trap, and the "Rat Katcher" Repeating Rat Trap. This device traps live rodents inside of it, entices more rodents to enter it with the scent of already-captured rodents, and can hold up to a dozen rodents before it needs to be emptied. Do not release live rodents, as they will most likely attempt to reinfest your home and aviary. Instead, one option is to submerge the trap under water to drown the rodents.
- If you have access to a barrel, you can fill it half way high with water, and teeter a plank of wood on its edge, hanging over the inside of the barrel. Bait the end of the plank with ground meat, and as a rodent tries to run to the end of the plank to take the bait, the plank will tip and the rodent will fall into the water and drown.
|» Return to list of pests & predators
|Snakes, Cats, Dogs, Wild Birds
- Construct or modify the birds' enclosure to thwart the entrance of predators:
- The floor should be constructed of a material which predators cannot push through. Using a concrete slab is most desirable for outdoor aviaries since it is easiest to disinfect. Brick pavers may also be used to create a floor which can be hosed down, although it is more difficult to disinfect. The base of the aviary will need to be secured to whatever flooring is chosen. Another option is to lay down ¼ inch galvanized wire mesh as the floor of the cage, and to secure it to the base of the enclosure with staples. Wire mesh used in this manner (in direct contact with the moist ground) may need to be replaced if it begins to corrode.
- If you can pass your pinkie finger (or a pencil) through any part of the aviary frame, you will need to cover those spaces or gaps with wire mesh or metal sheeting. Small snakes can squeeze through gaps left uncovered. For corners of the enclosure, bend a 3 inch wide strip of wire mesh or metal sheeting to form a right angle, and staple or nail this bent strip to each seam of the aviary where two sides meet.
- Attaching 2 foot high galvanized or stainless metal sheeting/flashing around the bottom perimeter of the enclosure will help keep snakes out.
- One layer of mesh may be sufficient for most indoor use, but outdoor enclosures should use two layers of mesh attached to the aviary frame, separated by at least a 2 inch thickness (one layer on one side of the frame's stud, the other layer on the opposite side). To accomplish this, attach one layer of mesh (¼ - ½ inch) to the inside of the aviary frame. Attach a second layer of mesh (¼ or smaller) to the outside of the aviary frame. If you are worried about wasps and other pests, you can use screen as your outside layer of mesh, but be aware that screen tears easily and may not protect against larger predators such as cats and dogs. Do not use screen as the inside layer as finches often get their toenails stuck in it, and this may lead to injury.
- To discourage entry by snakes, build a "drift fence" (36" high ¼ galvanized mesh buried 6 inches deep and slanted outward at a 30° angle as pictured on the right. Make sure that the gate fits tightly and swings inward. Keep the fence clear of all vegetation to prevent climbing).
- Install a larger fence to discourage entry by dogs.
- Trim tree branches and shrubs away from your aviary to help prevent wild birds from contaminating your aviary with feces, as well as to prevent tree-climbing cats, snakes, etc. from reaching your aviary as easily.
- Consider adding "bird spikes" to the top of your aviary to discourage wild birds from perching on it.
|» Return to list of pests & predators
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