Building a Handicapped Aviary for a Disabled Toucan

Handicapped Toucan Aviary

After Pepe’s last fall, we were forced to move him out of the large aviary he shared with Paz and give him some time to recuperate in our house over this past month. What began as full on “cage rest” (time spent solely in his crate while he was weakest so he could recover without injuring himself further) eventually led to half and half crate time and out-of-crate time on a set of low perches in the house that we jury rigged for him.

Pepe's indoor set-up

And while he has definitely made positive strides in his strength and mobility over the past few weeks, it is clear to us at this point that he has reached a bit of a standstill in his forward momentum. He now believes he is stronger than he actually is, which was starting to get dangerous during his out-of-crate time. In moments of bravado, Pepe would try and take flights towards the windows (he was dying to be back outside) and we were having to monitor him incredibly closely to keep him from hurting himself. It was time for a new plan for Pepe’s future.

Our Three-Cans have had the pleasure of living outdoors for all of their lives (from what I know) and being inside the house 100% of the time was a huge bummer for Pepe. I feel like all birds, and especially toucans, really thrive when they are provided with access to the outdoors. It is where they would live naturally and being deprived of the fresh air, sunshine, and other outdoor stimuli is simply unnatural. Towards the end of his time inside with us, we really noticed a difference in Pepe’s mental and emotional state – he seemed dejected and spent a lot of time croaking plaintively and making repeated attempts to go for the windows. We knew we needed to find a way to get him back outside, for his sanity and ours, but there were a lot of issues we needed to sort out in order to keep him safe and not put him in a situation that would lead to more opportunities for injury.

Pepe in the house

We decided to utilize the space next to the main toucan enclosure that we had previously built as an outdoor play gym for Paco. Seeing as how Paco completely disregards the play gym and instead prefers the railing in front of it, we figured the loss would be negligible. We built it before we really knew that toucans don’t have the focus or desire to stay put on a single play gym anyway, so we were happy to put it to good use and build Pepe an aviary around the existing structure.

Paco's play gym

The main predicament we had in designing Pepe’s new “handicapped” aviary (as we have come to call it) was to figure out a way for him to be up high, yet not high enough that he could injure himself when he would inevitably fall at some point from his perches. It really seemed to make Pepe feel panicky (as any bird would feel) when he was placed in his crate below our eye line. Birds naturally feel safest when they can be up higher than any perceived danger. We wanted to give Pepe that sense of security when he was back outside, insuring he could always be above people’s heads who are standing near his enclosure.

The solution that we* came up with was to make a half-floor for Pepe’s aviary. That way, he would have the top half of the space and be comforted with the feeling of being up high, yet protected from falling the full height to the bottom of the aviary. We made the floor out of two separate frames on hinges that can be let down during the times we need to enter the aviary ourselves. When they are lifted, they are secured from below where they meet in the middle, as well as with additional bolts that insert from the outside.

Aviary false floor

Deciding what to place on the false floor as a substrate was another conundrum. We of course wanted it to be easy to clean, but most importantly, wanted to provide some cushion for Pepe’s falls. Our first try was with some rubber entry mats that had a plastic weave on one side that we were hoping would add some “give”. We placed them weave side down though, as we were concerned he could get his toes caught in it. Unfortunately, it was evident that these were a bad choice from the start. After his first couple of falls, he was not able to turn himself over from his back without our assistance due to the mat being too slippery and not giving him anything to grip.

solid rubber mat substrate

We replaced the solid rubber mats with rubber mats with holes in them, the kind you frequently find in restaurant / commercial kitchens. These new mats will not only be easier to clean and allow better drainage, but will also give Pepe something to grip onto to turn himself over when he falls.

Pepe's new floor 2

For perches, we mainly used manila rope, which Pepe seems to prefer – no doubt due to it being easiest to grip. We included a few other branches from our almond tree to add sizing variety for his feet. All of the perches are currently placed quite low to the false floor, making them all an accessible hop up from the floor.

Pepe's new floor & perches

Pepe is extremely happy to be back outside. He has perked up considerably – bathing with signature toucan gusto, sunbathing with signature toucan fanaticism, and generally acting jolly with signature toucan joviality. His mobility has also improved slightly – he seems to land more solidly on his perches when he hops and he moves about with more confidence. While we still have a few kinks to sort out with the new aviary, overall we’re all very pleased with Pepe’s new accommodations. We remain hopeful that one day, if he continues to improve, we may even be able to expand his aviary access further. For now, he’s enjoying the new space and his time back within sight of his flock mates.

Pepe sunbathing

Toucanland aviaries

*NOTE: I would just like to note that while I say “we” a lot in this post, I am mostly referring to David and giving myself a whole heap of undue credit. David is the true creative genius behind this aviary design and without him, I’m afraid I would have come up with something haphazard and made of yoga mats. The Three-Cans and I are incredibly lucky to have David on our team, making all of our lives much happier and much more interesting with his input!

Pepe's aviary sign

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6 thoughts on “Building a Handicapped Aviary for a Disabled Toucan

  1. You and Dave are the most wonderful and caring people. I am crying as I write this. Your Toucan are so blessed to be in your care. Would you mind telling me what type of a handicap does Pepe have? I don’t know how Dave came up with this wonderful design for Pepe, but he really is amazing. Both of you are.

    I have an African Grey, Toby that I have owned his whole life. He is 21 years old. I absolutely adore him. He is such a wonderful bird.

    I knew nothing about Toucans until I started reading your posts. They truly are incredible. (I still know nothing about them), but enjoy reading your posts daily.

    God Bless you and Dave


    • Thank you for your sweet note and kind words, Cindy! I appreciate you taking the time to write. Pepe always had balance issues when we adopted the Three-Cans out of a not-good situation and he would fall from time to time after being given a larger aviary. Socializing him with Paz just exacerbated the issues. We did many tests including x-rays with our vets and weren’t able to determine the cause of his problems unfortunately. We suspect that he may just be very old, though we have no way of telling.

      Thank you for sharing our lives with us, best to you and Toby!

  2. I am so happy to learn that you guys were able to sort out a good solution for Pepe to have a place to live where he won’t be so prone to injuring himself more.He is one lucky Can to have such great loving companions as you both. You both are very good people and I hope to be privileged enough to go to the BVI to vacation and meet you both one day. Sincerely Eric J Kent

    • Hi Eric,

      Thank you so much for your note, I really appreciate your care and kind words. 🙂 We hope to meet you someday too!

      Best wishes to you,

      Chrissann & the Cans

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