Lighting for aviculture

The chance to see our beloved feathered pets displaying their dazzling plumage is one of the best reasons to keep birds! In order to enjoy this experience to the fullest, one must give some thought to proper lighting.

The best source of light will always be the sun. Natural sunlight is made up of various wave–lengths. If this light is allowed to pass through a prism, the light will be broken down into all the colors of the rainbow. Since sunlight contains all colors, this form of light makes things appear as attractive as possible. Walking about town, take a moment to observe the common pigeons basking in the sun. Note how even with these drab, gray birds, the sun can make colors sparkle in the feathering! Sunlight also contains two important ‘colors’ that can’t be seen by the human eye: ultraviolet and infra¬red.

Ultraviolet light is necessary for the production of vitamin D. An overabundance of this light can cause burning, as most of us have personally observed at the beach! Even without a burn as a warning, too much ultraviolet light can cause cancer. Some bird-breeders attest that the lack of ultraviolet light will cause a preponderance of female birds to be hatched. This has yet to be proved by controlled experiments. Infra-red light produces a great amount of heat.

Our birdrooms and aviarys should have as much sunshine as possible. This is usually not enough for good illumination. Only those living in the most balmy and mild climes can constantly allow the outside in. Letting the sun shine right in will also let in the cold, rain, vermin, and disease. In most of the so-called civilized world it will also let in thieves and vandals. Our neighbors might not enjoy the constant chatter and squawking that the birds emit. In more tropical areas, shade – protection from the sun – is important to insure health and comfort.

Often the layouts of our homes severely limits the amount of sunshine available. Older homes, particularly in the northern United States, often contain few windows. Pollution is so bad in many areas that little sunlight makes it through the haze and smog. Our schedules often limit our access to natural light. Winters, it is dark long before most bird keepers get home from work. Basement birdrooms generally have no sunlight at all.

For all these reasons artificial light is a must for the conscientious bird enthusiast. Incandescent lighting, the regular ‘screw-in’ bulbs, is not very good. This sort of light is not energy efficient, burning up a lot of electricity to produce a little light. Colors are not accurately displayed with most incandescent bulbs. Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs are the only serious choice. These fixtures produce a tremendous quantity of light for the amount of electric used. Colors are brought out to a degree never before thought possible.

It is important to use a full spectrum bulb, one designed to be used with living things. Regular house bulbs are either basically blue or red. These bulbs will not let you appreciate the true beauty of the birds. A full spectrum bulb may seem more expensive, but it is money well spent. Ordinary fluorescent bulbs begin to wear out almost immediately. Even though they continue to more or less work, the amount of light produced, the intensity, drops off very quickly. Full spectrum bulbs are designed much better. These bulbs continue to work as good as new for nearly their whole life span.

An important number to learn is the average life of the bulb, which is measured in hours. The serious hobbyist will try to figure out how many months of use the average life will give. Replace the bulb at that time. Even though it may still glow, it will not be working properly. Your pet shop will be happy to guide you in the selection and use of these wonderful products.

The number of hours of light is as important as the kind of light. To breed nearly any kind of bird, strict attention must be paid to the lighting schedule. Birds not breeding should be getting from eight to ten hours of light each day. To bring the birds into breeding condition, gradually bring the numbers of hours of light to sixteen or seventeen per day. This should be done by using a timer on the light fixtures. The timer will be advanced a half hour or one hour per week. Using a computer, one year I raised the lights up by a few minutes each day; there were no special benefits to this action. From between twelve to fourteen hours of light each day, the birds will show a desire to breed. Now, it is best to keep the males and female separate. At this point they may have the desire to mate, but the males might still not be able to fertilize eggs. At fifteen hours of light each day, put the males and females together. Keep going to at least sixteen hours of light each day. I go to seventeen, for I feel that this gives the birds an extra hour to feed the young and still gives them enough time to sleep.

How you add the light is not important. The number of hours can be increased in the A.M. or P.M. This is strictly up to you. It is also possible to bring seasonal breeders, canaries for example, into breeding condition any time of the year.

The biology of birds uses other cues besides light to trigger breeding, though for most species it is all that is necessary. Some, especially the amazon parrots, will also need the temperature of the bird room to be raised a few degrees and frequent showers. This convinces the birds that spring has arrived in the aviary!

It is a good idea to set a low wattage bulb on a separate timer to go on a hour before the fluorescent bulbs go off. A red incandescent bulb is great for this. This signals the birds that the main lights will soon be out, allowing them an hour to eat and to get back to their nests or perches. The red bulb should be left on all night as a night light. A night light gives the birds the chance to see if something startles them in the night. It will also prevent the shock of the bright lights going on all at once.

After several nests of young have been raised, begin to lower the lights, the reverse of how they were increased. Soon the whole flock will start to molt. This is natural and not a cause for concern. Just be sure that the birds’ diet contains sufficient protein to allow the feathers to be replaced. Keep lowering the lights until eight or ten hours is achieved. For years I kept my birds on eight hours of light per day, outside of the breeding season. last year I switched to ten. This amount of light is low enough to give the birds’ system an opportunity to rest – but it gives me two more hours to enjoy my pets!

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Infra-red lamps can be used as supplemental heat for flights, though you must be careful. Make sure that the birds can’t get right at the bulb, for they will be burned! Also require that the manufacturer state that no teflon is used in the bulbs. Many infra-red bulbs are now coated with teflon to prevent breakage. When the teflon becomes hot a gas poisonous to birds is produced – with fatal results! If proper bulbs can be found, position the beam of light in one comer of the flight. If the birds require the extra warmth, they will seek it out. They must be able to also get away from it, for you don’t want to cook your pets! Infra¬red fixtures must be installed by an electrician. With an infra-red heat lamp I was able to keep and breed Lady Gouldians, notorious lovers of heat, in a forty degree display.

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Turning down the lights can affect the mood of a female bird, but opposite to what might be expected. If a single house pet is laying eggs, it is best to start covering the cage so that the bird has just ten hours of light a day. Constant egg laying drains a bird’s system and can kill. The lack of light will slow a bird down that is running on high because of hormones! Diminished light can also help if a male pet becomes overly aggressive because of the breeding season.

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