What food should we be offering our cage and aviary birds?

Birds are traditionally categorised as seed-eaters, fruit-eaters, nectar-eaters, insectivores, and so forth but these artificial divisions serve only as a general guide and most birds consume a broad spectrum of foods, which helps guarantee their survival.

Let’s learn from what happens in the wild:

A wild bird’s nutritional needs change throughout its life. The requirements of young, growing birds are quite different from those of adults and from birds during breeding and egg-laying seasons. Many species also eat more at certain times of the year, storing body fat in preparation for bad weather and also essential for migration, a very demanding activity.

In the wild, birds survive through their access to a very wide choice of “natural” and supplementary food, so if cage and aviary birds are to remain healthy and breed successfully, they need to have a similarly diverse and balanced diet. Successful bird-keepers devote considerable effort and ingenuity to ensure that their charges receive an adequate bird diet. Ill health and poor reproductive success can usually be traced to a dull, repetitive and inadequate diet. Remember our philosophy: healthy diet, healthy bird.

What can we do? Supply a variety of natural (clean) foods.

Although bird-keepers are advised to offer their birds a variety of natural foods, they may not always be able to do so and must resort to proprietary food additives instead. Since it’s hard for us to accept that the vitamin, mineral and quality control of the average store-purchased bird seed diet is generally unknown or misunderstood, it is wise to buy from a reputable source, or, better yet, an expert. Haith’s have generations of seed expertise on site at The Bird Food Centre and you can order with confidence. A balanced diet is essential.

Carbohydrates and Fat

During the digestive process, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the primary fuel in the body’s metabolic cycle. Surplus carbohydrates are converted into fat, which provides an essential store of energy but can, if laid down in excess, prove damaging to health. The fat consumed in food contributes important dietary components that are not obtainable elsewhere but nevertheless essential to good health.

Protein

Proteins, classed as complex molecules, are made up of around 20 amino acids; some of these are not manufactured in the body and must be absorbed from food. As animal proteins generally contain larger quantities and a greater diversity of amino acids than plant proteins, even seed-eating birds will become omnivorous periodically, especially during the breeding season. Young birds, in particular, need higher levels of protein for growth and Haith's Rearing and Condition Food, Egg Biscuit Food and Nectarblend Rearing Food are all very useful supplements which should be offered throughout the breeding season. We must not forget that most seed-eaters rely on insectivorous bird foods to feed their young and Haith's Prosecto Insectivorous Food is the most useful substitute at this demanding time.

Soaked seed

Seeds can be particularly beneficial when soaked, as long as suitable precautions are taken to prevent the growth of mould. Leaving the seed in warm water overnight makes them more digestible and raises their protein content. It must be emphasised, though, that they should not be allowed to soak for too long as this could lead to fermentation, leading to illnesses such as crop-swelling. The secret is to prepare only enough for a single feed and not leave leftovers lying about.

Haith’s have formulated different soak-seeds especially for the seed-eating species. For Canaries, British and Hybrid Species, Haith's Easisoak is the ideal mix and Foreign Finches can benefit from the different composition of Haith's Foreign Finch Soakseed. Of course, pulses like beans also make useful additions to the diet. It is very important that soaked pulses be washed very thoroughly before they are offered as food in order to remove traces of mould and impurities.

Vitamins

Besides the major food categories (protein and carbohydrates), living creatures require small quantities of other essential substances. Foremost among these are vitamins and minerals, which are often present in insufficient quantities in the natural foods fed to cage and aviary birds. They must, therefore, be enhanced with supplements specially formulated to correct these deficiencies. Do not exceed the recommended dosages, though, as some vitamins can be harmful if taken in excess.

Haith's provide a good range of products, such as Budgie Tonic Seed, Kraker Tonic Grains, Foreign Finch Tonic Food and Parrot-like Tonic Seed especially for the seed-eating species which go a long way to counteracting deficiencies in standard seed mixes. A daily supply of fresh, clean green-food contains most of the essential vitamins. However, the two most important, vitamins A and D3, can be provided by means of a special food supplements, such as Vionate Vitamin and Mineral Supplement, which can be sprinkled over the cut surfaces of fruit or damp green food. Frozen green-food should not be given although some breeders advocate a few, thawed-out and crushed frozen garden peas do wonders for their birds.

Haith's do not add powdered yeast to their seed mixes to provide essential B vitamins as it is only required occasionally and in small quantities. However, it is easy to apply by making the seed sticky with a few drops of cod-liver oil before sprinkling the yeast and mixing thoroughly. In this way only the minute quantities required are taken.
Calcium (Ca)

Although calcium demand is particularly high in Spring/Summer, because of the breeding season, birds also need calcium in autumn and winter.  Declining daylight length and intensity mean that natural ultraviolet light (UVL) is in short supply.  UVL is needed to synthesise vitamin D3 in the bird’s body and this (vitamin D3) is in turn needed to stimulate absorption of calcium from the intestine.  It is clearly essential, therefore, that there is adequate calcium available in the diet to be absorbed and utilised.  Further, in late winter, as spring approaches, the need for calcium begins to rise as the female bird prepares to produce shell (CaCo3) for her eggs.
A diet that’s insufficient in calcium can mean deficiencies in skeletal development, egg production and other important bodily functions can result. Young birds that are calcium-deficient can grow abnormally, leading to bowing or fractures in bones. However, a diet that’s adequate in calcium is likely to lead to:

- Better skeletal development
- Larger broods
- Higher fledgling success
- Eggs with correct shell thickness and less likely to break
- Optimal body condition in adults
- Calcium also helps provide roughage
- Germinated seed

Most birds enjoy germinated seeds, which provide a rich source of Vitamins A and E. Pre-soaking in lukewarm water for about half a day is necessary to convert starch into dextrin, a form of sugar. Thoroughly rinse the seed in clean water before allowing it to drain, and then keep it covered with a damp cloth in a warm place. Regular rinsing and draining every few hours will discourage fermentation and the growth of mould. After 24 hours the seed should start to germinate and be ready for the birds.

Finches and canaries relish Haith’s germinated seed, but offer it only in smal quantities, as a supplement mixed with the main bird diet. Gerinated seed is also important during the rearing of chicks when it can be used instead of commercial rearing foods. Offer only in small quantities, though, otherwise parent birds will feed their chicks nothing but germinated seed.

Haith’s have formulated different soak-seeds which can be germinated. For Canaries, British and Hybrid Species, Haith’s Easisoak is the ideal mix and Foreign Finches can benefit from the different composition of Haith’s Foreign Finch Soakseed. Of course, pulses like beans also make useful additions to the diet but it is very important that soaked pulses be washed very thoroughly before they are offered as food in order to remove traces of mould and impurities.

Minerals

A well-balanced diet should ensure that birds receive all their essential minerals. When deficiencies do occur or when additional minerals become necessary, (especially during moulting or in the breeding season), numerous commercial additives and supplements are again available.

Haith’s produce their Mineralised Grit which is especially suitable for seed-eaters. ALWAYS adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions when supplementing bird diets, as overdosing may be extremely harmful. Seed-eaters will also benefit from Haith’s Grits and Cuttlefish Bone which should both be available to all seed-eaters as a matter of course.

Making Changes

Cage & Aviary Birds are very sensitive to change and this is particulalry noticeable when changing diets or feeding routines. Any variation in bird diets should always be carefully controlled and monitored. Only make changes if you think it will be beneficial to your birds or for good reasons such as quality or regualarity of supply difficulties and then slowly and gradually by offering new and old as a mixture while gradually phasing out the old. Careful observation of the birds’ condition is essential while this is taking place as the new mixture may not be accepted; although this is unusual for normally proven diets.

Quantity of Food

The amount of food offered to cage and aviary birds should always be in excess of their intake to ensure they always have an adequate supply, however some birds prefer one fruit or seed to another and the disliked ones, which may be beneficial get left behind. This is not unusual, particulalry amongst some of the small finches and alternatives should be offered to maintain variety and nutritional balance. Weather and the breeding season also play a part with there being greater demand in colder climatic conditions and changes in preference when breeding. The volume of food is therefore difficult to predict for each and every bird. From experience small seed-eaters consume between 6 and 8 gm pr day but it is really a matter of trial and error and again careful monitoring may be necessary.