November is a good time to worm all your birds to keep them healthy throughout the winter. As the weather starts to turn colder they need more of their energy to stay warm so their immune systems can struggle if they are not in tip top condition. We use a wormer which is already incorporated into the pellets when we buy them but the feed suppliers will need a prescription from your local vet before they can sell this to you. It is therefore best to make sure you have enough feed for a week or two when ordering the wormer to make sure there is plenty of time for the feed merchants to get the prescription for you. You may need your veterinary surgeons phone number or address when ordering.
Birds which are not hardy should now be moved to aviaries which can be heated when necessary. Most of these birds do not need heat all the time but it should be available to them so that the shelters will remain frost free and the birds can be shut in on particularly cold days. Heat lamps used for brooders will do the job nicely and usually have a setting to put them on half power if only a little boost is necessary.
Having large numbers of chicks during the summer and Autumn does take its toll on the aviaries and they do tend to get rather muddy by November so after digging out the dirtiest, wettest parts of the pen we add a lot of extra sand or, in recent years, now that we have plenty of hedge trimmings, wood chippings. Unfortunately the West of Scotland can seem to have more than its fair share of rain and some of the birds tails do tend to become rather tatty and can get broken if they are trailing on muddy ground. Bark is a good covering for the aviaries however it does tend to be expensive and like sand will need to be topped up every now and then. Gravel is good for keeping birds much cleaner but is not the nicest base for the entire aviary as it is rather hard on the birds feet. Grass is ideal for the birds to walk on and they definitely enjoy eating it but with some species it can be tricky keeping them on grass as they do eat it or dig it up or even just walking on the same area repeatedly will wear it out. For this reason we do move birds around every now and then so that areas of grass get a chance to recover. Some of the birds eat less greenery than others and so give the grass a better chance to grow back. Our Siamese Firebacks and Swinhoes are pretty good candidates to be housed in a barer pen for this reason. Also due to their small size and weight the Peacock Pheasants are good in aviaries that need a bit of time for flora to reestablish itself. The Tragopans and Mikado's are among the species that probably eat the most grass. At this time of year as plant growth slows dramatically some species will start doing much more damage to plants either by digging up the roots or by eating the bark. The Eared Pheasants will dig more than ever but can be put to good use at times. We always have a multitude of dockens growing but our Eared Pheasants will dig them out with a vengeance during the winter months (they seem to have a taste for the thick roots) so the following spring the aviaries have a lovely carpet of grass, instead of these pernicious weeds, which is ideal for our Tragopans during the breeding season.
Our constant fight against vermin tends to become more frantic now as animals see an easy option for their winter feed in our aviaries. As always the traps for rats and stoats are checked. Poison is laid, under sheds, tubsand mats, to get the mice and our electric wire is in place around the top of the aviaries in case something decides to climb up them. We also thoroughly check the perimeter so that there are no spaces where foxes can get in either by digging or if there are weaknesses in our weldmesh. If there are problems they are immediately sorted. Holes can also sometimes appear in the roof netting which will also need to be patched.
Now that the breeding season is well and truly over and the main rush for buying birds has slowed a little we have the opportunity to spend more time enjoying watching our birds but it is also a vital part of looking after them and as the weather becomes cold we have to watch very carefully for signs of problems with them. Unfortunately birds do tend to hide illness well and can be past helping by the time problems are noticed so any change in behaviour at all should be watched and noted. If birds are being moved it is an ideal time to check they are not underweight, their eyes are bright and clean and there are no signs of lice or scaly leg. Hopefully if birds are well fed and looked after they will be strong enough to get through the winter months easily but as the nights are drawing in do be aware that how the birds are looked after all year round does have an impact on how they will survive the worst of our weather throughout our coldest time of year.