AFA Visits a Members Aviary, Bernie Teunissen

Sharon F. Clause


Located in Riverside County, California, approximately 100 miles due East of Los Angeles is a four acre bird ranch. The lush vegetation shielding the aviary complexes from passersby and the summer heat reflects the permanence of the ranch. Wide, raked, earthen paths thread among the spacious bird pens painted to blend with the foliage. The immediate impression is one of peacefulness and care.

This is "Backache Ranch Bird Park", the culmination of forty years of aviculture as practiced by Bernie Teunissen.

Bernie's practice of aviculture combines hard work, good animal husbandry, and generosity of spirit.

A former dairyman, Bernie has been used to a lifetime of long hours and hard work. He has spent a lifetime of being up from dawn to dusk - and beyond. Retired to his bird park, he put in those same long hours caring for his extensive collection of exotic cage birds and game fowl, deer, cats and dogs, and even a gibbon ape named Tommy! His obvious pride in his ranch reflects the philosophy that one has to put his back into life to get something back from life'

As he showed us his collection, Bernie revealed his knowledge of aviculture in the care he puts into his aviaries. Each pen is clean, airy, and huge! They range in size from 4' x 16' to 28' x 16'. Many of the aviaries are planted; all are landscaped with trees and shrubs to blend into the natural surroundings. The pens have dirt floors kept immaculately groomed, as are the paths and boulevards between the pens.

From years of experience and out of necessity, Bernie has developed his hasslefree system of bird keeping. His feeding system is simple - finch and parakeet seed, wheatberry bread or other breads free of preservatives, sunflower seed, grit, and fresh water. He feeds neither greens nor fruit because he has not found them necessary. He feels the birds thrive on this feeding program as evidenced by good fertility among his birds.

Bernie believes in providing a healthy environment and then allowing the birds to function without human interference whenever possible. He introduces a flock into a pen all at once and then lets it develop into a breeding colony. He tries never to peek into nestboxes (as if he had the time!) or otherwise disturb nesting fowl. His sole interference occurs when baby lovebirds fledge. Because the adults may literally harrass the young to death. Bernie places the fledglings in overturned wire mesh cages in each pen as necessary. The bars are far enough apart to allow the parents to feed their babies through them and close enough together to prohibit the adults from attacking the young.

When cockatiels fledge, he marks one wing of each bird with a water-soluable magic marker. Thus he can not only identify the young, but depending on which wing is marked and what color is used, he can tell when the baby fledged.

Bernie's generosity of spirit is reflected in his commitment to the advancement of aviculture. He and Helen host various aviculturaJ societies annually, as well as inviting educational groups to tour his ranch and view his collection. For example, the African Lovebird Society, of which he is Vice-president, has visited him several tim es. Bernie belongs to several other societies and is currently the president of the Valley of Paradise Bird Club, as well as...

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