by Hunter Holmes
One thing you will quickly learn about us at Unique Drain & Septic is that a couple of us are avid aviculturists. “Avi-what?” some of you might ask. Simply put, aviculture is the raising of birds. Aviculture is one of my favorite aspects of my rural life. Here on the Rurally blog, Josh already wrote about how his pigeons surprised him with some unexpected babies. If you haven’t read that article, click here to give it a read.
I have always been fascinated by mixed aviaries. Think about going into a birdhouse at a zoo. You’ll see a crowned pigeon in this corner, and a rare, exotic warbler high in the trees. Often there is even a pool with some waterfowl. These aviaries are wonderful, and I have always loved spending time in them.
Several years ago, a mother mountain lion broke into our largest peafowl pen and ate the male denizen (the hen escaped but that is a tale for another day). We patched the fence, upped security, and reopened the 1400+ square foot pen. About this time, I became fascinated with pigeons. These birds (perhaps the oldest domesticated bird species) come in so many shapes, sizes and purposes that it is mind-boggling. I decided to build a pigeon loft (as a pigeon house is called) in this large flight-pen. In a short time, I had three breeds of pigeons living in the aviary.
I had about a dozen pigeons and yet that large aviary felt empty. If you research mixed species aviaries, almost invariably the advice given is simply, “don’t do it!” There are very few stories of people trying to have mixed species aviaries and even fewer personal stories of failures with mixed species aviaries. With that relative lack of evidence for or against, I decided to take the leap. I hatched baby coturnix quail and purchased some white-crested kalij (a pheasant species from the Himalayas). Honestly, this mix went well until the following spring. The kalij became aggressive around breeding time, so they got their own pen. It was a quick and easy fix. The quail and the pigeons never had an issue.
The next bird to go in the aviary was a golden pheasant. Goldens are known for their docile nature and incredible beauty. This pheasant, and later his girlfriend, got along swimmingly with everyone in the aviary. Later additions were 2 male kalij (the babies of the original pair) and a few young peafowl. Sometimes, the male kalij would get riled up and pick on the golden, so the golden got a new, calmer home.
Today, the aviary has 2 breeds of pigeon, kalij (males only; one of the two brothers is in the photo above), 2 species of quail (bobwhite and coturnix) and 3 peafowl. All of these birds have plenty of room and get along well. For the most part, the different species simply ignore each other. I have seen a kalij and a bobwhite sharing a dust bath and peafowl and pigeons foraging for grass seeds side-by-side. Everyone is doing well now.
This is not to say that you should throw birds together and ignore them. I have had to move birds in and out of the aviary, because some combinations simply didn’t work. Once I see signs of aggression, one of the species gets its own pen or gets moved to a compatible pen. It takes careful observation to make sure everyone gets along well. Winter and spring seem to be times that warrant the closest observation. In winter, the snow brings the birds into closer proximity in the shelters. In spring, bird hormones are raging and if anyone is going to get territorial, that seems to be the most likely time.
The other factor to consider is food. Pheasants, quail and peafowl all thrive on the same food (a high-protein gamebird crumble). Pigeons on the other hand, need a different diet, typically mixed seeds and grains. Having a pigeon loft in the pen allows me to feed the pigeons separately, and this setup has worked wonderfully for me.
Again, I don’t want this article to encourage carelessness. However, I want people to know that a mixed aviary is very achievable! I love walking in and seeing that many species under one roof. To me, this has truly become a significant piece of my rural lifestyle.
If you are wanting an easy, no-brainer, mixed aviary, it is hard to go wrong with pigeons and coturnix quail. These two species get along extremely well. To separate the feeds, you can simply build a shelf of some sort several feet off the ground and feed the pigeons on that. Just between these two species, there are innumerable breed and color combos.
If you ever have questions about my experience with the mixed aviary, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via the website contacts. I genuinely recommend having a mixed aviary. It can be easy, and it is truly rewarding.
P.S. If you get poultry poop on your clothes or shoes, I have found that Pet Odor and Stain Eliminator works wonders.