My friend Tom Di Nobile lives in the hip and sometimes hippie neigborhood of East Vancouver. A bird enthusiast, he endeavoured to build his own outdoor aviary. Little did he know, it would become the toast of the neighborhood. 

Have you ever looked out to the backyard, and wished to yourself that you spent more time out there? Wasn't that why you got a house with a yard in the first place? Experts agree that the more time we spend outdoors, the better our physical and emotional well-being. Fresh air and natural light can do wonders to increase our energy levels and reduce stress, and not just during the warmer months, when we are more inclined to go outdoors anyway. However, many of us in colder climates find that we spend the majority of our downtime within the confines of the house. Despite the comfort of the couch and remote, many of us battle the winter blues due to not spending enough time in nature, and this affects the quality of our lives. We struggle to find the motivation to get out and enjoy the precious landscape that surrounds our homes.

However, there are some great backyard ideas, and if you happen to already be a bird-lover, this idea will beautify your natural space, make it absolutely unique, and get you out there enjoying it year-round, no matter what the weather. Yes! I'm suggesting you build an outdoor bird aviary. Here's more:

Aviaries are great for birds

Like any other animal, (including humans), birds are nourished by fresh air, the proximity of plants and trees, and daily unfiltered sunlight.

Outdoor aviaries allow birds the exercise they need for enriched physical and mental health. According to lifelong aviculturist, Tom Di Nobile, who is partial to songbirds, the benefits of life in the aviary is evident by the strength of their song. “Whenever I transfer birds from indoor cages out into my aviary, they start singing like crazy!” he says. “They are happier there. 100%.” Another added bonus of outdoor aviaries in the community is that they attract wild birds to the area. This is wonderful for birdwatchers. Says Tom, who keeps mainly finches and canaries, “My wife and I sit out on the porch, and we see goldfinches, pine siskens, and sparrows landing on the aviary in early Spring. It becomes a real symphony out there! This enriches our lives every single day.”

Build the aviary that suits you

When it comes to the construction of the aviary, the panels (including the walls and the roof) should be made from cedar wood and galvanized mesh, which can be thinner and smaller spaced for small birds, such as finches, or thicker for larger species, like parrots. In terms of dimensions, “Bigger is better,” says Tom, but it really depends on the size of your birds, and how many you want to keep. If space is limited, you can also go higher. Whatever works for your yard, even as small as 6 feet by 8 feet, is perfectly acceptable. Tom recommends painting the mesh black or green, which allows for a much more beautiful view of the birds. You may also wish to use the same wood materials to build yourself an accompanying gazebo or pergola. A human outdoor aviary, if you will.

Aviaries can be built into existing structures already attached to your home, such as exterior walls and/or a concrete deck. “Many people believe that concrete flooring is best, because you can hose it off every few days and keep things clean,” says Tom. Concrete floors, as well as ensuring the mesh goes down into the earth at least six inches, can also keep out pests like rodents and snakes.

However, if you're averse to pouring concrete on your property, the natural earth also has its advantages, as you can plant trees and shrubs: “Evergreens such as juniper or holly trees will really beautify the outdoor aviary, and they allow for nesting and a more natural feel.” Although mice won't harm the birds, Tom likes to keep them out, so he devised a unique solution a few years back: “I used to put the seed in regular feeders, but birds are choosy, and they spill the seed all over. It gets a bit messy in there, and seed on the ground is what attracts mice. So instead, I put the seed in 8 “ round cookie tins, and hang them by wire from the roof of the aviary. The birds hop right in, and the tin sides keep the seed from spilling. I haven't had a problem with mice ever since.”

Other options to spruce up your outdoor aviary include English Ivy, which climbs the panel walls on its own, and provides shelter, not only from weather, but also small predators, which can startle them. The birds also enjoy nesting in the Ivy and using it for perching. Tom advises building a night shelter with a “bob hole”, for birds to get in and out, along the back panel of the structure for the colder months. “Even a little shelter for them, against the wind some nights, will do the trick.” For areas where the temperature dips quite low at night, you can insulate the walls or use a heat lamp.

Aviaries provide Popularity and Peace

An aviary in the backyard has given Tom some notoriety within his community in East Vancouver. Neighbours often ask to see what what the birds are up to on their evening strolls, and children are particularly attracted to the outdoor aviary, especially during mating season, when it's possible to catch a glimpse of the adorable babies while the mother is finding food for them. Tom says, “In Europe, where I'm from, birding is a popular hobby, and many more homes have outdoor aviaries. Here in North America, the trend is beginning to catch on.”

Tom hopes that more North Americans will learn to appreciate the serenity that comes with having an outdoor bird aviary in the yard. “Nothing relaxes me like being out there with those birds. Even just sitting on the bench with a coffee in the morning watching them fly, and listening to their music. It's paradise for me."