by Terry Kramer

IT'S THE COOING OF MOURNING doves, the clucking of banty chick- ens and the soft gurgle of a man-made stream that make Lee and Jenny Simpson's garden special.

Perched on the south bank of Jacoby Creek, their yard features a spacious walk-in aviary landscaped with a waterfall, trees, shrubs and lawn. Flocks of assorted banty chickens, chukars, doves and pheasants inhabit the fowl palace.

The Simpsons enjoyed feeding the birds that visit their garden, but became increasingly disappointed to find that neighborhood cats and wildlife would kill their feathered friends. So last fall Lee built an aviary.

"I thought if we had an aviary we could feed birds and protect them at the same time. And if we gave them a big enough cage they could enjoy their lives, too," he said.

Big enough, indeed. Simpsons' aviary measures 50 feet long, 25 feet wide and 10 feet tall. It is totally enclosed by one- by two-inch mesh wire, which the couple painted black in order to see through it. Stout four-inch by four-inch posts, painted black, hold the wire in place. Attached to the aviary is a sheltered room where birds can nest and get out of the weather if necessary.

Outside the aviary Lee constructed a handsome three-foot-wide walkway made of redwood two-by-twos. The walkway leads visitors along one side of the bird sanctuary, then over an arched bridge spanning the stream, which empties into a small pond. There is an eight-inch-wide, 30-foot-long bed of assorted lettuces bordering the aviary along the redwood walkway.

"We grow lettuce alongside of the aviary. The birds eat on one side and we eat on the other side," Lee said.

Having a water feature inside the aviary is important to maintaining healthy, happy birds. That is why the aviary was built around an existing waterfall.

"It was Jenny's idea," Simpson said of his wife. "The wild birds used to enjoy the waterfall, so we thought the captivated birds would like it, too. And they do. They just love it when I turn it on. They all take showers."

An aviary this size could loom large in a private yard, but the stream, pond and plants surrounding the structure allow it to become a natural part of the landscape. The north bank of the stream is thick with five finger ferns. Opposite this bank is a neat, cultivated bed of assorted perennials and small grasses.

Because the aviary is located adjacent to Jacoby Creek, wildlife like ferrets, raccoons and weasels often visit. But when Simpson built the aviary he took steps to keep the birds safe from attacks.

"It's really designed to keep the predators out," he said. "All around the perimeter I drove spikes way down through the wood and into the ground, so if a weasel or something tries to dig under, it will get to the sharp point of a nail. That will keep them from digging through. So far I haven't had any problem."

Despite Simpson's efforts, ferrets were able to gain entrance. At first Simpson wanted wild birds to be able to visit the aviary to feed and come and go as they please, so he left a space open at the top where the redwood trees poke through. He quickly closed it up after a few birds were eaten.

"When a hawk flies over, the doves and the rest of them panic, but I feel good about it because the hawk can't get to them. We have hawks land on top of the aviary and look in, trying to figure out how to get through," he said.

All birds inside the aviary are domestically raised. The Simpsons also feed songbirds and humming birds outside the aviary. And since they live along a creek, they also tend nesting boxes for wood ducks, feeding them hen scratch during the summer.

Although the Simpsons do not consider themselves bird watchers, they do enjoy having their winged friends in the garden.

"It's so much fun to watch them," Lee Simpson said. "They are extremely interesting because they go through their entire life cycle right in front of you. And they are very tame, docile if you treat them right. They seem to appreciate what you do for them."


Terry Kramer is a Bayside free-lance writer and owner of Jacoby Creek Nursery.

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