“We are concerned about the health, welfare and conservation of all birds and particularly the role nutrition plays in each of these.” – David Haith

We regularly share what we know about avian nutrition with experts in their respective fields. These experts can be curators of rare and endangered bird collections (where species may be eventually returned to the wild) to government bodies, such as Natural England.

Two examples of how Haith’s is currently working hard to educate people who feed wild (free living) and Cage & Aviary Birds:

Haith’s PRO Scholarship:

We launched the first Haith’s PRO Scholarship for Studies in Nutrition in 2013. It was awarded to Mr Francis Cabana M.Sc., an intern specialising in zoo nutrition at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, in Devon, South West England. The Zoo is part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. Francis took great initiative and is committed to improving diets for the conservation of rare and endangered species of birds and mammals at Paignton Zoo and other avian collections.

The scholarship revealed ways we could improve one of our key diets, Prosecto Insectivorous, but also confirmed how suitable the diet is for delicate softbills. As a result of the scholarship we now have a bird diet that’s adequate in calcium (Ca) and low in iron. The scholarship also additionally enabled us to create a bird diet that’s even lower in iron which is suitable for bird species that suffer from iron storage disease.

Natural England:

We were pleased to read that Natural England is promoting the supplementary feeding of wild birds direct from farms - so pleased in fact that we decided to pay them a visit, to share our superclean research with them. Our research (conducted by Professor John E Cooper) revealed that dust is harmful to a bird’s respiratory system and that extraneous husk can damage delicate tissues and allow entry of pathogens. We thought it was important to share this information with Natural England.

So far Natural England does not intend to advise that seeds are clean; however, we will continue to lobby Natural England and encourage them to take our advice. We will also continue to educate the general public using the media to spread the word that clean seed is safer seed (see published piece below).

This article was published by Country Life in 2013. Thank you, Country Life.

Mr Mark Hedges
Editor
Country Life Magazine

Dear Mr Hedges

In your Editorial ‘Help to halt the decline in farmland birds’ (Country Life, September 2nd), you rightly draw attention to the probable role of all-year-round feeding in boosting the numbers of certain species of wild bird.

You are rightly concerned that (bird) ‘feeding can change the game, but we must also support the less pretty birds’. The feeding of wild birds is increasing in popularity in Britain and a trend towards species-specific bird food is becoming more commonplace.  Some suppliers have recognised the possible adverse effects of such a focus; John E Haith (Haith’s), for example, which has been involved in the provision of diets for birds since 1937, produces a range of products that is appropriate to all species of garden birds – not just the pretty ones!

However, the contribution of food provided by the public to the long-term survival and success of wild birds depends upon a number of factors, not just quantity and type of food. The quality of the seeds and other constituents that are being fed is also important.  In collaboration with Haith’s I have been carrying out laboratory testing of bird diets, with particular reference to physical features such as the presence of dust (which can be harmful to a bird’s respiratory system) and extraneous husk (which can damage delicate tissues and allow entry of pathogens). My findings to date suggest that the diets offered for sale by different companies in Britain vary in terms of cleanliness and consistency.

In my view, the important message is that, while year-round feeding of wild birds can be beneficial to a wide variety of species (both “garden” and “farmland”), if the practice is to contribute significantly to avian health, welfare and conservation it must involve the use of high quality seeds and other constituents. This could be an opportunity for farmers, naturalists, bird food manufacturers and members of the public to work together more closely.

Yours sincerely

Professor John E Cooper FRCVS
University of Cambridge  

If you’d like to know more about the research and development Haith’s conducts, visit the Haith’s PRO website.