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Healthy diets, healthy birds – synchrony through science

Friday, 13th June 2014

A link up between two British organisations, a conservation charity and a bird food specialist, has led to a pioneering development that will help change the way birds are fed in the UK.
Royal Zoological Society of Scotland Previously not listed on packs, the project will eventually enable the correct identification of the fibre, protein and mineral level compositions of bird food. This unique alliance between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and Haith's has seen a joint investment in a collaborative research programme that shares collective knowledge and uses science to accurately unlock the secrets of seed based avian diets. The first results of the collaboration were formally launched at the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) AGM at Yorkshire Wildlife Park on Wednesday 12 June.

As well as allowing domestic bird owners to make more confident and informed choices, the results will now lead to a zoo nutrition database for birds that will help construct diets with even better levels of nutrition. It is also hoped the knowledge will reduce the cost of mixes - helpful for zoo and aviary budgets. This is the very first time this has been done in the UK.

Andy Beer, Nutritionist for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "When bird seed is currently purchased, the mix of millet and various seeds is identified on product packaging, but there is no way to know the nutritional composition of the feed birds are being offered. This is true for the bought mixes given to birds in zoos, wild fed bird and domestic bird mixes. It is important that a greater level of nutritional understanding of what birds are fed is developed. This includes such parameters as protein, oil and fibre content, as well as levels of essential minerals like calcium, phosphorous and iron - vital for bird health."

Simon King, Associate Director of Haith's, continues: "We are excited to have collaborated with RZSS to develop an undertaking driven by nutritional analysis, collaborative research and knowledge. We believe it is important to challenge the old-fashioned endorsement that diets must work because they (the birds) breed every year and this project redefines and strengthens what we already know about diets for seed eating birds. Our findings are now going to allow the generation of bird diets based on science.

BIAZA AGM"Using Near Infra-Red Spectroscopy (NIRS) analysis, led by Andy Beer at RZSS, laboratory analysis of the indicative composition of bird seed that Haith's sell has been determined. Potentially, this will enable the Company to provide accurate information on the label over time. Currently manufacturers have relied on spot checks and one off analysis. This knowledge will be used to further improve our range of SuperClean™ avian zoo diets, under the watchful eye of Professor John E Cooper FRCVS, FRCPath, our longstanding adviser."

Andy, RZSS' nutritionists, continues: "The results of this project will help understanding of improved avian nutrition. It was one of those moments, when you think "that's good!" we can make a real difference and create something significant to help zoo collections. Edinburgh Zoo's bird collection will benefit because there is limited knowledge of the precise nutritional value of the individual components of blended seed diets and predicting nutrient intake accurately remains elusive for such diets. Haith's will also use the information to benefit wild (free-living) birds."

Haith's source high quality, natural, raw materials from established suppliers around the world to produced diets for birds in captivity that are similar in appearance and texture to their wild counterparts; the avian food most also offer the same dexterity and ingestion repertoire. The value of consistently knowing the composition of what is consumed is a very desirable outcome.

For further information, please

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland: Rachel Goddard, PR Manager on 0131 314 0312 or Or see the conservation work carried out at Edinburgh Zoo. 

Haith's: Simon King, Associate Director, on 01472 254 594 or

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