Common sense rules for keeping birds in suburbia

From the ABA Newsletter June 2004

Good planning.
Birdkeepers generally are their own worst enemies. Some don’t think. Others don’t care about what their neighbours think. Most if not all religions preach neighbourly love or at least respect for the neighbour’s views. Most problems occur when this regard for your neighbour’s views is lacking.

Planning doesn’t just mean designing where and how to construct your aviary, pigeon loft or fowl yard. It means mentally placing yourself on the other side of your fences to consider the reactions of your neighbours who probably know little or nothing about birds.. It also means checking (anonymously) to see what the Local Council’s policy is – does the council have a written policy for the sort of structures and types of birds you propose?

It is equally important to carefully plan what birds you intend to keep. Remember noisy birds such as, cockatoos and roosters and badly managed racing pigeons are the most common features of complaints to council

Having found out what the council rules are, the next most important step is to meet and to ascertain your neighbour’s views. Depending on many features including the local housing density, the type of people in neighbouring residences [It might be a working class suburb or one where retirees are the norm or it might be semi rural setting. - they can all become problems if mishandled]. As you meet your various neighbours try to classify them as supportive or not supportive of your plans. At the initial visits you can be vague about your ideas – probably best to indicate you love birds and would like to keep some.

With luck, some will be ‘birdies’ themselves, some just love to get along with their neighbours, others couldn’t care less. Take your time with this important exercise. Plan it well. Listen and look with ears and eyes but keep your tongue in check and your feelings and temper under complete control. If you can “Love thy neighbour” you will probably enjoy your birds without interference from the local council.

Very few people know much about birds but many will have heard bad stories about birds and the people who keep them.

The common views are that birds are noisy, they cause smells, they bring rats, mice and other vermin and that bird keepers kill cats or keep savage dogs. Your task is to educate your neighbours about these things.

Next you select your nearest most supportive neighbours. Invite them to meet your family, have a B-B-Q to discuss your plans in some detail and find out if they have any unanswered questions about your plans and the birds you want to keep. This is a most important educational process. If they are still supportive ask them if they will sign a written statement (which you had prepared beforehand) that you have explained everything to them and that they have no objections to your proposal.

With this in hand repeat the process with the other neighbours in the order of probably most supportive to probably most difficult. If you have prepared and conducted your case well the last ones to revisit will be less reluctant not to follow their neighbours leads.

File your valuable document. Revisit it periodically as you proceed with your plans. Add any new neighbours that arrive. Keep your supportive neighbours informed of your progress to answer any further concerns that may have arisen from less supportive neighbours. Word will get around so keep ahead of it before misinformation is spread.

Code of Practice
Make sure you obtain a copy of any Code of Practice that exists in relation to the type of birds you want to keep. It might be a code developed by your local bird club, by the State government or by an industry organisation. Study the Code and plan to ensure that you comply with the code’s recommendations. If your management of your birds falls below these standards blame only yourself if your chosen hobby has struck a snag.

The Associated Birdkeepers of Australia Inc has a well established Code of Ethics for the Keeping and Trading of Birds

Local Council
While the State government may have some rules you have to follow e.g. registration of native birds, it is the local council that is charged with the responsibility of ensuring neighbourhood harmony and that ordinances common to most councils are followed.

However there is a lot of variation here – usually because of past experiences in that council area, Some councils are genuine and realistic so that if there is no disruption to neighbourhood harmony they are not concerned but if a complaint is made that is a very different story. Few councils will be bothered with you regardless of what you do in your own backyard but if a complaint occurs they have to investigate and take action to make sure that harmony is restored. Many complaints are made in ignorance, many because you have done the wrong thing but mostly this goes back further and it is because you have failed to do the right thing – failed to communicate, failed to ascertain the neighbours concerns, failed to answer those concerns and failed to plan properly.

It would be wise to talk to your local councillors. Find out again who would be most supportive of your proposals before you embark on your project. It will make your task much easier if you get into trouble with a neighbour or with the council at a later date.

If you decide to go through the rigourous procedures of having your aviary, loft or fowl yard approved by council you will have less troubles if complaints are later made. You will have to rectify the problem causing the complaint, However, if your structures are not approved and a complaint is made you may have to sell up and move to another location in order to continue your hobby.

Brian Healy