Olde Tymer: Al Muhlethaler, Urban Aviculturist

Sheldon Dingle


In the huge urban sprawl of the Greater Los Angeles area (some 12 million people), tucked away here and there one can still find an ordinary-sized back yard which is in fact a perfect little bird farm.

You can be a bird breeder without barns, land, storehouses and hired help. You don't need five acres for your bird farm.

Alfred Muhlethaler of Valinda, California proves the point.

Muhlethaler has been at the same location a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles for many years. His property is 60 feet wide by 120 feet deep with a large front yard and a large home taking up space. The aviaries are


located in the back yard on a plot about 60 feet wide by 45 feet deep. The back yard is fenced and the aviaries form a large horseshoe that hugs the outer perimeter of the fence. There are neighboring homes on three sides-in one case almost within arms length of the property line.

In other words Muhlethaler lives, as many of us do, on an ordinary tract lot in a heavily populated area.Yet he has a large collection of birds that takes up virtually all the space behind his home. This cannot be done everywhere. In many locations there are specific zoning, health and noise regulations that limit what can be done. One should explore all the pertinent local, county


and state regulations to learn what is permissible and what is not.

Muhlethaler, however, has been keeping birds for about 45 years, having begun with pigeons, ornamental chickens and Budgies while still in the 4th grade. During that time he has, for one reason or another, changed the makeup of his bird collection several times.

Indeed, one of the reasons is that years ago he took his prospective wife on an outing to the San Diego Zoo. He was hoping to share with his bride-tobe the thrill of seeing the exotic zoo birds. Alas, when they got to the aviaries, she held hack saying she just didn't like birds. What to do' Muhlethaler was in love so, naturally, he got rid of all the birds-almost all of them.

The couple married and it was then Mrs. Muhlethaler learned that Mr. Muhlethaler (tricksey birdlover that he is) had kept a small finch aviary way off in a forgotten corner of the back yard. You know the rest of the story. Mrs. Muhlethaler gradually became more accustomed to the birds and the devious Al Muhlethaler gradually increased the number of aviaries and


finally, he built a 16 by 30 foot wooden framed, well planted aviary


and filed it with all the available finches of the time. He tossed in four pairs of Scarlet-chested Parakeets and had Roul Roul Partridge and Jungle Bush Quail running about on the floor.

The finch hreeding proved very successful and Purple Grenadiers, Owl Finches, Peter's Twinspots and most of


the other species reproduced well.

Muhlethaler was so enthralled with his birds that when he arrived home from work he would take his dinner out into the aviary and sit in a chair to eat. Naturally, after dinner he would observe his birds until he fell asleep. Many a bird flew over to perch on the


sleeping hulk and more often than not left a deposit. Muhlethaler's wife, being the understanding sort, would wake him, hose him off and take him into the house after dark.

The wooden finch pens, of course, were not suitable for hookbills. Muhlethaler gradually renovated the whole backyard and installed all steel and wire aviaries. The the finches were gradually replaced with an outstanding collection of parrots and assorted upland game birds and exotic doves.

At the moment, Muhlethaler's collection is comprised of about half psittacines and half doves, pheasants and partridges-with an odd species thrown in here and there.

It is hard to believe, but there are 90 aviaries in Muhlethaler's back yard. The aviaries are quite unusual in that many of them are two storeys, that is, one aviary is built over another one. It sounds weird, but when examined closely, it makes a lot of sense. Certain pheasants, partridges, francolins and the like, are committed ground birds. They do not want to fly up to branch-


es or perches. They feel happy and safe on the ground.

Other birds, the parrots and most of the doves, really like heights. They fly upward to sleep or when alarmed.

The double-decker cages allow both the ground birds and the tree perchers to share the same plot of land but without having to interact. If, for instance, a young parrot bails out of the nest and lands on the ground in front of certain species of pheasants, the aggressive pheasant may well kill it before it learns to fly well. The floor of the top storey cage saves the baby parrot.

And, conversely, curious parrots are not above going to ground and trashing a partridge or quail nest. The double-decker solves many of these problems.

In addition to the unique two storey aviaries, there are a couple of large walk-in aviaries that contain a vast assortment of birds-mostly exotic doves. And, of course, there are a number of smaller traditional flights each containing a pair or two of par-


rots. All the ground space in the back yard has been utilized.

I lost count of the number of species in the collection. There are 20-30 species of psittacines including most of the rosellas (even the very uncommon Green and the Brown's), most of the Neophemas, Princess of Wales (including some mutation colors), Cloncurrys, Blue-bonnets, Barraband's, Australian Pileated, 28s, some Pionus, an odd Amazon or two, some Amboina King Parrots, African Greys, and Severe Macaws. Quite impressive are the Indian Ring-necked Parakeets including about 20 color mutations.

And that is just the parrots.

There are about 30 species of exotic doves and pigeons including the Mountain Witch, Wonga Wonga, Bleeding Heart, Celebes, Key West Quail Dove, Ruddy Ground, Peruvian Ground, Cape, Diamond, Bronzewinged and many others.

Among the pheasant species are Tragopans, Edward's, Grey Peacock Pheasant, Brown Eared and Siamese Fireback.


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