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his is an excellent design for anyone attempting to protect their birds from insect borne disease; however, for anyone keeping Tanygnathus in areas of the country where losses have occurred, we strongly recommend air controlled environment during those times of year when losses have occurred; midsummer to early fall.


In housing parrots outdoors there are many environmental problems to consider for their safety and comfort such as:

Weather (Heat, Cold, Wind and Rain)
Disease Carrying Insects
Wild Birds
Feral Cats

This "do it yourself" e-handbook will explain how to do that with construction details shown in a pictorial fashion and in addition, explain how to protect the habitat itself from termite infestation and other environmental attacks.

We will not give dimensions in most cases (except for wire etc.) because this concept can be used on any size scale and can even be built on wheels for maximum portability like the one below in Photo 1.  

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Ultimate Outdoor Portable

Notice the solid bottom, solid top, raised removable wire floor, interior nest box and guillotine door in the front bottom center. (You fill the bottom with water and then open the door for flushing.) The removeable raised wire bottom prevents parrot escape while flushing out and keep the interior free of insects. The door must have a very good fit to hold water.


The first thing to do in the planning phase is to make a simple line drawing of what you think you want to build. See layout drawing below for an example:

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Large Macaw Habitat and Play Area

Things to consider carefully when making your layout

As an example of the importance of sun exposure think about the nest box, you do not want the nest box to be unprotected on the west or southwest side of the habitat where the summer late afternoon sun will make it impossible to have birds nesting. (An advantage of a portable habitat is sun control is easier.) So you need to study the sun position at different times of the year to place the habitat in the best position. Also, you have to consider the location of the nest box within or outside of the habitat with the same logic in mind.

Ground drainage is important if you are going to use a wet system, which is the best way if you can. You don't want water pooling under your habitat and attracting insects and varmits. Its a good idea to grade in a slope if you don't have good draining soil.

Wind exposure is important winter and summer and so you need to consider the direction of your prevailing winds. We recommend using the cupola system whenever possible. This means the shelter is vertical so the wind can come from any direction and the parrots can still go up to get out of it when they want to.

Many parrots have been killed and maimed by having open wire bottoms on their flights where wild animals can access the bottom wire. They scare the birds until they fly around wildly and end up on the bottom where the animals grab their feet and chew them off and they either bleed to death or are permanently crippled. The tops should also be covered because wild birds and possums can get on the top and defecate and that can infect the birds with a variety of diseases.

Geographical disease profiling means you and your veterinarian should know what diseases are endemic to your area. For example, if you are in Australia and you do not have the disease called Sarcocystis then you do not have to consider it like we do in Florida where it runs rampant. If your veterinarian does not know what the local risks are you will have to educate him.

In planning the layout you need to decide if you need double access doors or not. Many birds have been lost because there was no double door protection and they just flew out when the habitat was being serviced. We use a double door system for any wild caught birds but tend not to use them with our own handfed breeders. However you cannot go wrong by using them and it gives you the flexibility of being able to use the habitat for anything in the future.

Another option in this planning phase is the tunnel between the play area and the secure area. It depends on the parrots that are living in the habitat. If they are tame and you want to keep them that way then its probably better to move them to the play area by hand in order to keep up the hands on contact with them. But if they are wild, fully flighted and you don't want to handle them then you can use the tunnel to open and close the access. Since you will only feed in the inside of the secure area its not a problem teaching them to move back and forth between areas. For this project I have opted not to install a tunnel since it will be used for Lola and Rico a tame pair of scarlet macaws.

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Lola and Rico


It is a good idea to stake out the exact size of the habitat on the site where you plan to put it. This will help to place it in a convenient spot and let you see how much space it will take up. You can evaluate all of the perameters mentioned previously such as sun, wind etc. in the specific area you have chosen.

You will also want to consider landscaping both for sound control and for privacy for the birds and you. I like to either place the habitat in an already planted area or plan to add a plant barrier around the habitat. Of course the type of plants that you use for this purpose should be thick, quick growing and suited to your climate. In a colder climate this means evergreen plants but in subtropical areas you will have much great choice.

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Habitat Landscaping

Landscaping will give the birds a feeling of well being and filters the sun in summer helping to keep them comfortable. Some birds will enjoy eating the blossoms if you plant edibles like hibiscus.


If your planning phase is completed and your site prepared then you are ready to measure out and mark your construction area. After marking it you can then set your corner posts. It is a good idea to dig the hole deep enough so that you can put a bottom layer of concrete for the post to stand on and then fill up the hole around the posts with concrete up to the surface of the ground. Later you can extend the concrete sleeve up into a form which will give you additional termite protection.

In this example habitat we will use pressure treated (PT) 4 x 4's for our corner posts. Be sure to have your measurements square and your posts plumb vertically.

We will start with the pictorial construction phase by phase.

Notice the stakes which were used to measure to keep the habitat square with the nearest building. Then the posts were set at approximately the same depth. The top can be leveled and the posts cut to the exact same height so an inch or so difference at the bottom won't matter.

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Setting the Corner Posts

The posts are left to set up overnite and the following day the framing will begin as in photo 5 below.

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Starting the Framing-In

The floor joists are added and then the side boards of the cupola. Everything is kept inside the 4 x 4's so that the wire layer spacing will be easier to accomplish. The cupola is formed by 2 x 12' yellow pine boards. Its important to pick out straight ones so the joint is even all the way around.

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Framing in the Cupola

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The Cupola from the Inside

The photo of the cupola from the inside gives a good idea of the privacy and shelter that it provides. The nest box will go up inside the cupola after it is lined with wire. Perches will run in front of the nest box entry which will be very secluded and give them maximum privacy. They can then decend to lower perches and the bottom of the flight anytime they want to. The vertical depth of the cupola is 24" and is constructed from 2 x 12 inch yellow pine for maximum insulation from heat and cold. After the wood shrinks then a silicone seal will be added from the outside at the junction between the two boards forming the cupola.

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Lola in Cupola

Notice the wood is lined with wire for two reasons, one to prevent chewing out and the other one because it allows them to climb around on the walls which they like to do. You can see from the perch Lola is on that the entry to the nest box is just to the left of the photo and she can actually just hop right into it from the perch. The access door to the nest box cannot be seen in this photo but is within easy reach just to the left of the photo area.

Also, notice the perch that runs forward toward the front of the habitat and is connected with the perch she is sitting on. This allows them a lot of flexibility in positioning according to their own comfort levels. Also, notice that the nest box is on the north side of the habitat away from the hottest sun and that there is a vent space over the top of it.

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Forming the Bottom Tray

We use white aluminum sheeting over pressure treated plywood, fastening it down with both waterproof glue and heavy stainless steel screws. This design has three panels (front and both sides) where the sheeting is running up six inches and bent over the top of the side boards. The back has no sheeting running upwards because that is where the drop door opens for hosing out the daily excess food bedding etc.

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Covering the Tray With Wire Floor

Notice some important details in photo 10. The center support joist is a 2 x 4 and the side joists are 2 x 6. This is important because the support joist allows us to enter the habitat physically for any reason we might need to plus it gives 2" clear between the bottom of the support joist and the aluminum sheeting. This allows for a completely clean sweep when hosing out because there is no place for bugs or debri to hide.

Again, notice the back of the tray is open, except that it will be covered with the same wire that is on the floor to prevent varmits from entering should the drop door be accidently left open. However the 1" x 2" wire will not prevent small rats or snakes from entering so care needs to be taken in establishing a routine habitat servicing that makes sure the drop door is properly closed and latched.

You cannot use a finer wire there than the size of the floor wire because if you do larger pieces of food will drop thru the floor than can be hosed out.

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Adding The Wire

Notice that the wire is being added on the inside of the 4 x 4's so that we have the four inches of the 4 x 4 to add the spreaders (2" apart) that will keep the wire away from the mosquito screening and the outside hardware cloth (squirrel proofing) away from the mosquito screening on the outside also 2" apart. It seems simple but its hard to explain, see photo 12 for more detail.

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Beveled Spreader Close up

The beveled spreader is cut from a yellow pine 2 x 4. You can see the bevel clearly and all this is for is to make the hosing out easier and quicker. The entire 2" of the 2 x 4 goes between the bird wire in the inside and the mosquito screening on the outside of the 2 x 4. (The screening looks like it has big holes in it but that is because of the magnification of the photo, its actually a very fine mesh mosquito screening.) There is no good way to show the next level which is another 2 x 4 but no bevel between the screening and the outside hardware cloth. Also notice that the bevel begins about 2" above the bottom wire, this is so that when you are hosing the wire the debris will not be pushed beyond the wire by the water pressure giving you more debri to remove.

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Concrete Footer

Note that the concrete footer is poured to join the initial concrete poured around the posts when first set. We use an inverted throw away plastic flower pot to make the footer pour mold. This protects the underground part of the post from termites and we use pressure treated wood for these posts.

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Adjoining Playpen Frame

The playpen is a much more temporary structure but even here the posts are set in concrete. Since there is no feeding done here only bathing and sunning for short periods (2 hours maximum) it is not screened. We used to let them loose in the backyard but since the Bald Eagle took my big Koi I don't feel comfortable without some protection for them.

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The playpen under construction with the swing, slide, and tree in place

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The finished habitat with its adjoining playpen. This habitat would be suitable for any tame parrots or parrots that are clipped. If you want to use it for wild caught unclipped parrots you would need a small service compartment with a latching (from the inside) screen door which would be very easy to add. It could be made of a single layer of mosquito screening and would then be an adjunct to escape proofing and eliminating the entry of insects when the habitat door is open.

In summary, the examples here of the portable habitat with the drain portal in the bottom and the larger permanent habitat with the flush door in the back are only two of the infinite possibilities for "ultimate" habitat construction providing protection from injury and disease and at the same time maximizing the comfort of the occupants. In only takes a little imagination and a bit of "putting yourself in their place" to come up with highly liveable environments. A word about the cost of these type of habitats. They are much more expensive than the ordinary wire hanging flights usually used by most breeders. However, the initial cost is recovered by the much better health resulting in fewer vet bills and parrots more likely to reproduce.

--Eclectronically Published by: Veterinary Resources Americas, Inc. April, 2000. M. L. Simmons, DVM, President. Reprinted with permission.

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