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Making Light of Night Fright

by Mark Upton

Normal Split Pied CockAnybody who has ever kept birds will be all too familiar with the alarming thrashing about of their charges which sometimes occurs at night. Racing out and turning on an exterior light reveals a blind fury of birds crashing about in the aviary, breasts heaving with fright, feathers ruffled and faces like that of dingoes caught in a car's headlights.

If your cages happen to be side-by-side, the chances are that group hysteria will result, with everybody joining in the melee. And if you are silly enough to pick up a flashlight in your dash outside, shining it into the aviaries will make the situation even worse.

Normal Split Pied Cock

Rather, you need to talk to them soothingly and quietly, urging them to calm down, and eventually they will. And you hope that anyone who happened to be sitting on eggs or chicks will return to their nest. And perhaps more importantly, that no one was injured... or worse.

Night frights are fairly common and can be the result any number of situations, including loud and sudden noises, car headlights, cats, fireworks and, probably most often, from vermin in the form of cockroaches and mice. Whatever the reason, night frights are a terrifying ordeal for both bird and keeper, and they will happen.

You can help the situation  by providing low wattage lighting in your aviaries, which burns throughout the dark hours. Light will not stop night fright completely but it does allow the birds to at least see where and what it is they are crashing into. It will also allow sitting parents to return to their nests.

To rig your aviaries with lighting would be a very expensive exercise, but for those clever folks who invented plug-in garden lighting systems. These are available from most hardware and chain stores and cost around about $25 to $45, depending on how automatic you want your system to be. We have found that path lights are best in full flights and spotlights under suspendeds.

The light provided is very low and will not disturb your birds' slumber, nor will it attract landing aircraft. It is cheap to run and virtually maintenance free (though the odd bulb will need to be replaced every now and then). More importantly, they are very safe and weather resistant. Some models employ a light-sensitive switch that turns the lights on at dusk and off at dawn, a great device for the forgetful amongst us.

The kits consist of a number of path lights, a transformer and several meters of low-voltage cable. The transformer plugs directly into a 240v power point, the cable (2 strand) is attached to the transformer, and the lights are positioned anywhere along the length of the cable. The sensor is best positioned where it receives no artificial light, as such would affect the 12v lights. Extra lights, cable and bulbs, etc, will be available from the place of purchase.

Depending on the size of your cages, the lights should be positioned far enough apart so that the light is shed fairly evenly. They may be placed in the front or rear corner of the aviary or just outside the wire, or underneath in the case of suspendeds. The cable should be run efficiently from the 240v power source to the end of the line and should also be buried to a depth of around 20 centimetres.

We have maintained such lights in our aviaries for a long time now and (touch wood!!) have never, ever lost a bird due to night fright, nor have we lost young chicks through parents being unable to see their way back home after being rudely ejected from the nest.

True, we do still suffer the occasional flap at night, but they are much reduced in intensity and duration ,with everyone back in bed 10 minutes later none the worse for wear. And the birds don’t have bags under their eyes--the light is subtle enough to allow them to sleep and rest peacefully. Our neighbour once commented though, that he had noticed a group of our birds huddled around a light late one night reading! Perhaps they were.


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