The Greenhouses

 

The purpose of the Greenhouses, is to provide the birds a way to have additional shelter and heat during the colder months. Eventually, each of the outdoor colonies will have one.

 

Many of our residents come indoors during our cold months, November to mid-March In our area, we usually have fairly mild winter temperatures. The US. Department of Agriculture rates our climate zone, the same as northern Georgia and South Carolina. That zone applies to a narrow band of salt water shoreline, where our Sanctuary is located. We do not have the severe weather Northern Atlantic States.

 

Our heated bird building has indoor colonies that match each of the outdoor colonies. The enclosures are set up just like the outdoor, with wood chips on the floor, natural wood perches, toys feeding stations and usually the music is on. There are skylights, tile floor and a full kitchen for making bird food.

This is how we decide which bird will come and who stays out for the winter months;

1) Any bird that has been here 1 year or less.

2) Any feather picked bird.

3) Old birds

4) All birds that have a disability or physical limitation.

5) If a bird looks cold or uncomfortable.

6) If I have just a few of any species. I hate to bring in a bird to live alone. So, I will bring in the friends to keep him/her company.

7) During the colder months I assess birds daily. I will walk by the enclosures and if have a “feeling” that a bird is cold or uncomfortable, I will error on the side of caution. If there are birds living outdoors, I have to be out there with them. I don’t enjoy working outside in the cold so, if I had my way I would bring them all indoors.

 

The greenhouses are an option where the birds can decide hourly, if they need warmth and shelter, instead of me making the judgement. I thought about how the weather can be the same temperature a couple days in a row and one day, we can feel cold and the next day we’re fine. What if the birds experienced the same thing. The birds living indoors during the cold months, get bored. They can’t see the trees, wild bunnies, heron visits to the Koi pond and so on. The indoor colonies are not as big as the outdoor enclosures.

 

The greenhouse is made of bullet proof plexiglass. The reason I chose plexiglass?  In the first couple of years, I tried different ways, to give them extra shelter. Well, I’m always trying new ways to give the birds more control in their life. None of them worked and here is why.

1) I tried using tarps on the enclosures to provide more shelter at night. I would roll the tarps down at night and up in the mornings, to give them back their view. The Cockatoos and Macaws were obsessed with making holes through the tarps, so they could see. And they were successful.

2) I put metal poles, as spacers to hold the tarps far enough away where the birds would be unable to make holes. They made holes. They made the holes after sunset, because I lowered the tarps at sunset. I also raised the tarps early, around dawn. So, they were busy when it was dark. I was going crazy looking at all those ugly tarps, oh it was so tacky. So, I wasn’t too upset about this tarp option fail.

3) In order to give them shelter, with see through sides. I stapled clear vinyl onto wooden frames. The vinyl was heavy, and the kind cafes would use to protect tablecloths. I thought it would be difficult to reach and pull close enough to destroy. I was wrong They grabbed the vinyl with their toenails and ripped it up.

4) I tried the polycarbonate panels, semi clear insulating panels used of greenhouses. I still have no clue, how they reached them but, they did. Cockatoos/5, me/0.

 

USDA Climate Zones The Cockatoo Rescue and Sanctuary is marked with a Red Dot

Originally, I used the method of passive solar energy for the greenhouse. It consists of metal barrels painted flat black, then filled with water. During the heat of the day, the water warms in the barrels and slowly releases the heat during the night. Didn’t work so well because, the Moluccans started digging under the barrels to nest. I saw the barrels leaning and it was too dangerous. I had to remove them. I am not really comfortable with the solar panels that store energy in batteries….maybe later.

The Greenhouse (right) is showing condensation from the fresh wood chips I just put in. I closed the door to take photos, normally it would have that door open to dry it out. The black cords are for the heaters. There is a small hole, so we can thread the cords outside where the birds cannot access them.

The reason that I chose greenhouses instead of a shed type structure? The birds made it clear, they needed to see out. Based on the tarp trials. Also, a shed, even one with windows and glass door, has dark corners. Dark corners always concern me. I was worried about nesting behavior during the long boring, rainy winter months. I need to be able to spot trouble, as I walk around the sanctuary. There is always the chance of an ill or endangered bird in a corner. The Plexiglass allowed me to monitor the birds from a distance. I really love watching the birds and so, clear walls work for me.     

I considered using sliding doors around the greenhouse. The tracks would get clogged, the doors have a rubber seal around the glass and I know how those Cockatoos would delight in removing that seal. And, there goes the glass.

The first year, I hung heat lamps thinking the birds would like the heat. None of the birds would go near them. They didn’t the red light on all night. The birds would move out from under the shelter of the roofing panels, just to get away from the lights.(?) I later spoke to some breeders and they had the same experience. 

The second year I made heated perches out of PVC schedule 40 and heat tape. If you don’t know, heat tape is a long electrical cord that emits heat, its used to keep pipes from freezing in cold weather. I drilled lots of small holes on the top side of the pipe. Expecting the heat to rise through the little holes and heat their toes. It worked well for that winter and then the birds decided they didn’t like it. I extended the PVC out of the enclosure so the birds could not reach the cord.

Pictures taken in Fall

I built the Moluccan greenhouse first, using the same steel Costco carport frames I use for the colonies. I didn’t really know how to fit things together ….I made it up, as I went. And, it looks pretty good as long as, know one looks closely. It won’t be winning  any prizes for my building techniques. It works great.

I have always lived in Western Washington, so I know how wet the weather is. I am aware the greenhouses would need to have airflow to avoid mold buildup. Thankfully, there is plenty of airflow. And, the plexiglass is so thick, I did not want to cut the panels any more than necessary.

There is no mold or excess moisture that builds up in the greenhouses. In late summer I close the greenhouses for maintenance. The fresh wood chips need to dry for a few days. I leave the door open for it to completely dry out, before using the greenhouse in early fall. The steel security door has plexiglass attached. In hot weather, I remove the panels to allow the air to circulate.

I built a cage attached to the ceiling, that holds several reptile heaters. The double walled cage is to prevent anything with feathers, from getting too close. There are sensors so, the heat kicks on at 50 degrees or below.

The birds access the greenhouse through a pigeon hole, in the sidewall of the colony. Just inside the hole, is a platform of cage wire with a frame of 1″ PVC pipe. The platform lets the birds stand and decide where they want to go, once inside. Because the sidewalls inside the greenhouse are plexiglass, I had to get creative with perch, platform and ladder placement so, the birds could get around.

 

Fun Greenhouse Story

The Umbrella greenhouse was finished and whenever there is a new structure, we look forward to seeing the birds reaction to the new space. The Umbrella greenhouse was done, we opened the access hatch and placed our bets as to, who would go in first. We would go back and forth, reporting the names of who was joining in. We noticed all the birds in the greenhouse were females. Weird, and then we had a closer look…..one of the males, was playing door man and he was preventing the other males from entering! Ladies only! He wasn’t keeping the females from leaving, just keeping the males out.We waited a couple of days and the door man was not giving an inch. Finally, we took that door man out, and into a time out enclosure. The other males were now free to explore the greenhouse. It was a couple of days before we put the door man back in. He wasn’t interested anymore.

Each of the species who have greenhouses, instantly figured out, what it was for. Without hesitation, they entered the space. Also, the birds don’t want me to lock them out in the late spring when, the greenhouses get too hot. I lock the hatch to make sure no one will get over heated. They try to break the hinges, to get in. I now have grapevines and sterile kiwi growing over the greenhouse roof. The leaves drop off when we need the sun to heat it up. Then, in the spring the leaves provide shade…and grapes in the late summer. 

A friend offered to build a couple of greenhouses for the Sanctuary made from wood. He chose to build them with the wood frame on the outside. I was skeptical because of gravity, those panels are heavy. Evidently, my version didn’t impress him. The finished wood framed greenhouse looks really good.

To keep our daily routines efficient we added food hatches on the outside. This way I don’t have to open the main door, lose heat, or need to dodge the birds to feed and water. 

The first winter of the Moluccan greenhouse, I was hyper aware of moisture issues and who was inside and who was outside. I rounded the corner, ready to feed and my heart dropped.  The greenhouse was all fogged up! It was so thick, I could barely see any birds through the fog. I grab a squeegee and a towel. It wasn’t fog, it was Cockatoo dust. The dust was clinging to the charged Plexiglass. I did squeegee the dust off.

The greenhouses have clear roofs and walls. When it rains, most of the birds will take a rain bath…..even though they are dry and comfy in the greenhouse! 

Our Cockatoo Rescue and Sanctuary was established in 1992. Please consider donating to our non-profit Sanctuary.