Feeding Birds
PO  Box 126 Mitcham Vic 3132 ( Victoria, Australia )

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Finch foods
Parrot foods

. feeding birds
should be kept just on basic dry seed, a bit of cuttlefish bone and a bowl of water!

"Dry seed should only be considered as supplementary to a daily ration of greenfood, sprouted seed, vegetables, fruit, etc."  A quote from "Australian Grass Parakeets - The Psephotus and Northiella Genera" by Stan Sindel and James Gill, (Ed. 1996) page 27.

"In fact, many avian veterinarians, both in Australia and overseas, believe that poor nutrition is the single greatest health risk faced by our birds." A sad but true quote from Australian Birdkeeper magazine Vol 14 issue 10 (2001) author Dr Bob Doneley (an avian veterinarian).

Poor nutrition does not necessarily imply the animal or human has insufficient food.  Poor nutrition can simply mean the wrong food or foods or the quantities of some of the foods are in the wrong proportions or concentrations.  The correct food intake for each bird has to be complemented with a good exercise program.  Refer to the "Exercise" link below. 

Poor nutrition can occur in many aspects of animal and human food consumption. About 60% of people are overweight, about 60% of dogs are over weight. A big percentage of cats are overweight. Many birds are now overweight or poorly nourished. People have control over their own food intakes as well as that of their pets and companion birds. With all that is available to us in the developed world, it is sad to admit that pets can be poorly nourished. That does not mean any pets are under fed, just that many pets are fed the wrong foods or in the incorrect proportions.

We have a huge range of foods available for ourselves as well as our pets. Most of the fruits and vegetables people eat are also ideal for birds. When one is preparing a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables for people or families, it looks remarkably similar to what most birds should be offered. One of the best balanced food intakes I had while competing as an elite athlete was when I had 40 pairs of breeding finches and parrots. While preparing the colourful fresh fruits and vegetables, inevitably a bit of each food would be sampled. If you are cutting up, or preparing about 6 to 8 different foods, it is easy to improve and modify one's own nutrition intake at the same time. The main difference between what the birds eat and what we eat is only that we cook more of our vegetables. After a while one starts to nibble on the fresh vegetables and can probably benefit from not boiling all the vegetables we eat.

A fresh bowl of berries, apple, orange, some nuts, fresh peas and beans, carrot, juicy corn-on-the-cob, slice of watermelon, mixed bowl of leafy green vegies. Who's food is this??? Mine or the birds??? Maybe it can be both. May be it should be for both.

Topics covered below - in order:

Eggs and egg products
With the Avian Flu virus threat, Why do we still allow eggs, egg shells or egg products to be used as a food to aviary or pet birds?? Why??
Viewpoint as at 9 November 2005
"The Age" newspaper 9 Nov 2005, Page 12. 
Headline "China shuts bird markets to combat flu" ...followed by ... "China yesterday intensified its precautions against a spread of avian flu, closing all live poultry markets in Beijing and banned the sale of pet birds." ... "Shanghai officials announcing a ban on the sale of live chickens, ducks, quail and other birds"
Gone are the World War 2 rationing of foods in Australia.  Gone are the days of "cannibalism" to feed birds.  Why the need to eat your own kind?
Eggs or egg products are not a balanced nutritional food intake for birds and deteriorate rapidly in warm conditions.
Vast amounts of money and research have been spent on bird nutrition in recent years. 
We have lots of highly nutritious commercially available foods suitable for all types of aviary or pet birds.
Modern commercial bird foods are far less likely to deteriorate rapidly in warm conditions.
There is a huge range of commercial Calcium supplements available for birds that are not based on egg shells.
There are regulations that restrict what can be fed to animals.  It is against the law to feed Pig material to pigs, Sheep material to sheep, Cattle material to cattle,  Poultry material to other poultry ... etc unless it meets strict processing guidelines.
The tag on some commercial feed bags states: " This product contains mammalian material - DO NOT FEED TO CATTLE, SHEEP, GOATS, DEER OR OTHER RUMINANTS "  Upper case is used on the tag.
Feeding inappropriate material/s to animals can transfer diseases to other similar animals. e.g. Overseas,  Mad cow disease and a disease in sheep.
Canary breeders have traditionally used eggs, egg products, and egg shells as part of the canary food intake.  A range of egg mixes, egg and biscuit mixes and egg shells are commonly available as "home made recipes" or commercially available products.  Egg shells are promoted as a source of calcium.
Some products sold as "Egg & Biscuit" contain no egg or egg products.  Surely this is false labelling and should also cease.
The use of these egg products and mixes has been taken up by some breeders of parrots, quail, softbills, finches etc.
The Avian (Bird) flu virus in countries to our North has moved the goal posts.  All bird breeders and bird owners should immediately cease feeding "eggs, egg products, or egg shells" to birds.
Aviculture must not have a direct link to poultry if the Australian poultry industry was unfortunate to identify Bird Flu in any Australian poultry flock.
Some Bird breeders/owners feed poultry eggs, egg products or egg shells to aviary or pet birds.  Therefore, if poultry get a transmittable disease, and some aviary or pet birds eat poultry eggs or egg products, there is a theoretical direct transmission vector.  Break the theoretical transmission possibility.
Remove any doubts or fears people may have.
Some of our foreign finches are in such low numbers in Australia, they are owned by one or two people.  One finch species currently exists on only one property!!  One quarantine order could finish some species in Australia.  Extinct in Australia forever.
Worst case scenario = Poultry in Australia has an outbreak of the bird flu virus.  People have aviary birds, some aviary birds are fed poultry products (eggs & egg products), therefore aviary or pet birds could get avian flu, therefore get rid of those birds from our neighbourhood.  Don't laugh and say that logic will not be used.  I sat in on a discussion with several well educated people on 10 Oct 2005 who do not own birds but expressed and believe that logic.  Clucky women with young children can be very vocal and persuasive in their beliefs when protecting their young and those of their group.  Remove any doubts or fears people may have.
    Kathy,   mother of 2

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Food presentation
If we are preparing food for our birds it can take no longer to prepare a poor diet as it does to prepare a nutritionally balanced good diet. Our food when presented well can look and taste great and so can the foods we present to our pet and aviary birds.
Make food fun and have an exercise value. E.g. Corn on the cob. Whole fruits as well as diced fruit or vegetables can be offered to the birds. Almonds or peanuts in the shell will entertain and exercise many parrots.
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Exercise is essential for all animals to maintain optimal health.  Birds are no exception.  In the wild, birds have to travel long distances to obtain their daily food intake.  A wide range of seeds, berries, nuts, fruits and vegetable matter are eaten by most birds and the collection of these foods may take much of their day.  The preferred foods and seeding plants are usually widely spaced and not easy to find.  The birds also have to obtain sufficient water intake.  The foods and water may be a long distance apart.  The distances covered each day are increased during the breeding season.  Extra mouths to feed requires more food trips to cater for rapidly growing chicks.  During the breeding season the birds spend most of the daylight hours on the move finding foods and water and delivering the nutrition to their partner and the young.
As most of the foods in the wild are seasonal, the wild birds have to fly to different areas to find the appropriate seasonal seeds, berries, fruits etc.  Not only do they fly significant distances, they must have the necessary navigation skills and memory skills to find these foods and water.  In the drier areas, the water holes may also dry out requiring birds to fly further to a remaining water supply.
In an aviary we place the foods and water a few metres away from the nest and roosting spot.  They wake up at their leisure and are at the breakfast table within a few metres or less.  All the foods they need and much more.  We give them what we have available and what time we allocate to their feeding and food collection.
The aviary birds only have to fly less than 100 metres per day to fulfil all their needs.  All the food they can eat and no need to expend much energy to obtain the foods and water.  A recipe for overweight or obesity in aviary birds.
Some birds in suspended cages do not have to fly.  They can walk to obtain all their food and water requirements.  Just use the floor, walls and the roof as paths.  Why fly when you can walk.  They may only walk 20 metres per day with zero metres flown.  For birds that are designed to fly, that is an extreme case of energy conservation.
Insects are placed in a smooth sided bowl to prevent the loss of any of the insects.  Almost no energy has to be expended to find or catch the insects.  Some articles state some birds can be "over stimulated" by mealworms.  May be its just that the bird has to do so little to find and catch those insects.  Make the birds do more and spend more energy to find and catch the insects and the problem disappears.  In the wild, the catching of "high energy" foods would be beneficial especially during the winter months and during the breeding season.
People, pets and birds only get fat or overweight if the energy intake is higher than the energy expended over a prolonged period of time.
Exercise helps keep the weight within the optimal weight range.
Exercise increases the use of stored (body) fat to produce energy.
Exercise decreases the total body fat.
Exercise helps keep the fat to muscle ratio at the optimal range.
Exercise helps in the digestion of the foods.
Exercise helps the body to keep warm during the cooler months.
Exercise helps the bird fill in those long daylight hours in the aviary.
Exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, skeletal muscles and the rest of the body.
Exercise increases the blood flow to the coronary arteries and helps maintain the health of the heart muscles.
Exercise can increases the number of capillaries in muscle tissue and hence improve blood flow efficiency and muscle health.  Muscle endurance and strength may improve.  One of the functions of the capillaries is to move the hormones to the required parts of the body.  An increased supply of capillaries may result in improved breeding ability of birds.  Better delivery system for the hormones.
Exercise increases the blood flow to the skin and this may improve the health and strength on the bird's skin.
Exercise increases the blood flow to the feather shaft and may help maintain better feather condition and strength.
Exercise requires the increase in volume of air to the lungs.  Exercise can improve lung efficiency, vital capacity, total lung capacity, function and lung health.
Exercise may keep the bird more mentally stimulated and more mentally alert.  Pet bird toys and bird gyms are given to pet/companion birds but can also be given to aviary and suspended cage birds.
Exercise may help the fertility of the breeding adult birds.
Exercise may help the hen birds optimize their physical maturity, sexual maturity and development.
Exercise may increase the bird's ability to acclimatize to seasonal changes of heat and cold in the environment.
Exercise may help the bird maintain a more supple body and improved flexibility.  Better flexibility may make it easier to preen those harder to get-to feathers, hence better feather condition and possibly less external parasites.
Exercise in the form of flying may reduce the number of external parasites in wild birds.  Some parasites would fall off while the bird is in flight.
Exercise throughout the year can allow the birds to better cater for the workload of a nest of young.
Exercise throughout the year can allow the birds to better cater for an above average clutch size during the breeding season.
Exercise may allow the cock bird to be more physically fit and therefore mate more successfully with the hen.  Better mating may give less "clear" or infertile eggs.
Exercise optimizes the uptake of calcium from the foods to the bird's body.  Essential for both hens and cock birds.  The more one exercises within a healthy range, the better the body will lay down an optimal amount of calcium in the body.  This applies in all animals as well as in people.
Exercise may delay the onset of age related degeneration and loss of bone density.
Exercise may delay the onset of many age related pathologies and diseases.
Exercise done regularly and in sufficient quantity will allow more foods to be consumed without weight gain.  The more food that can be consumed without weight gain, the more of the necessary trace elements, minerals and vitamins can be consumed.  More foods and more exercise may minimize the need for expensive food supplements.
Exercise may reduce the prevalence of "boredom eating" by a bird.  After all, what else is there for a bird to do in some of our aviaries, particularly a suspended cage?

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The Food Table
Do we consider the options of where to place the foods we offer to our birds. Do we just place a bowl of water and a food bowl on the aviary or cage floor?

If the food and water is on the floor, will it be contaminated by rodents? Will the birds droppings enter the water or foods? Will rain spoil the food?
Not all birds like to feed at ground level. In the wild many species of parrots and finches rarely feed on the ground to avoid predators or the basic fact that their preferred foods are obtained high up in trees or shrubs.
Food and water can be offered at other elevation levels to suit the individual species needs. Care has to be exercised if ground dwelling birds such as quail are in the same aviary or cage. Cater for all the differing needs.
In a mixed species collection it may be necessary to offer foods at more than one level.
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Food preparation utensils on hot days
Place utensils, syringes, etc that are used in the food preparation for hand reared birds or the preparation of supplementary soft foods, in the freezer when not in use.  This will prevent any pathogens or organisms from growing on or in the item while the item is not in use.  It may not kill any organisms that are already on an item but it should prevent the pathogen or organism from multiplying.  When you need to use an item, remove the item from the freezer and allow it to warm to room temperature.  Most items or utensils only take a few minutes.  Do not place the item in warm or hot water before the item reaches room temperature as the sudden temperature change may cause damage to the item.  All items and utensils should be dry prior to placing into the freezer as water left in an item may expand when frozen and may cause damage.  This hint applies equally to items & utensils used in the food preparation for all small animals including lizards, frogs, geckos, insects, snakes, etc.
Do not place sharp or potentially dangerous items in a freezer that will be accessed by children.  Warn all others of the items in the freezer.  I have a freezer that is only used for the birds and insects and it is not housed in the kitchen.
This hint actually works well throughout the year.
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All birds in the wild have a diet that changes throughout the year
Their basic diet in the wild may be mostly dry seeds (mostly grass seeds but also including some tree and shrub seeds) and semi ripe seeds but it is supplemented by a variety of ripe fruits and vegetables, ripe seeding grass heads, berries etc and a variety of insects depending on seasonal conditions. Birds generally breed when their preferred foods (including insects) are most abundant and most nutritious. Captive birds should be educated to consuming a variety of foods. Remember, the wider the variety offered the longer it takes to prepare.
If the birds can accept a variety of foods, then one is able to adjust or modify the birds nutrition intake to cater for the changing seasonal requirements.  For example, prior to the breeding season the protein and calcium levels can be increased.  Protein levels can also be increased during the birds moult.  If birds start to become overweight, or even worse, obese, the diet can be adjusted to allow the usual volume of food to be consumed but the energy value can be decreased.
Aviculturalists house birds in a wide range of climatic conditions ranging from the tropics, to desert areas, to cold areas subject to snowfalls, high rainfall to areas subject to prolonged droughts.  Some areas can have very hot days but at night the temperature may drop to close to freezing point.  Almost every possible climatic condition can be found in Australia.  Climatic differences may effect the choices of grains or feeds used in the husbandry of some birds by some aviculturalists.  Successful breeders can be found in this vast diversity of climatic conditions so if you are able to get access to people or read articles that relate to your particular area use those facts as a starting point.
Some birds will only eat foods that they have been reared on.  This can be a problem if new foods are offered to some birds.  If a wide variety of foods can be offered to the parent birds and they feed this wide range of foods to their young, the young will generally accept most foods offered to them as adults.
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"Pop-hole" feeders and water facilities
The lorikeet and lory wet and dry foods can be external to the wire cage. A circular hole is placed in the wire wall and the birds can poke their head through the hole and get the foods they need. The water supply works in a similar way. If the birds spill any of the wet or dry mix the food does not enter the cage and minimizes any bird eating spoiled foods. The diameter of the "pop-hole" may have to be adjusted to suit the various sizes of the lorikeets and lories.
As the food and water is external to the cage, the risk of faeces/droppings contaminating the food and water is minimized. Some birds bathe in the water bowl if given the chance. With the water external to the cage, the keeper could place another suitable bowl in the cage in which the birds can bathe and play.
The "pop-hole" minimizes the chances of the the keeper being attacked whilst feeding and watering the birds.
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Austerity Diets
Many books and articles have a non-breeding season austerity diet regime, and this usually occurs during the winter months.  Some foods and live foods are either reduced or eliminated during this period and reintroduced just prior to the breeding season. The concept is to partially mimic what many people believe happens in the wild and to avoid the birds putting on weight during the non breeding season. My observation is that this is practised mainly in the warmer northern states of Australia. I have not found many people who practise this diet regime successfully in the cooler southern States so I will leave it up to the individual bird owners to further investigate this issue to ascertain its value in your locality or State. Russell Kingston, a recognised finch breeder from Queensland has written many articles and books that describe how an austerity diet is practised.
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Mixed species collections
Seed selection raise the problem of how wide a selection of grains should be offered to the collection. Most reputable dealers and produce merchants are able to supply a good quality finch mix or parrot mix. These general seed mixes are to some extent a compromise to give a wide range of parrots and finches an adequately balanced seed diet. A collection of finches and small parrots will generally need two feed stations.  One for the small parrots and one for the finches.  When its set up, the birds will then feed from both feed stations. Local experienced breeders will be able to advise which additional seeds are available and recommended in your area.
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Consistency of food supply
It is best practice to ensure the diet of a particular pair, colony or mixed collection of finches is maintained at a consistent quantity and quality to minimize the chance of digestive upsets.  Soft foods or supplementary foods should be introduced slowly and offered at the same time or times each day.  The same principle should be applied when offering insects, fruits, greens and/ or vegetables.  This is most critical leading up to and during the breeding season.  A stop-start or infrequent supply can cause diarrhoea or digestive upsets in both the parents and/or the young and may jeopardize the chances of a successful clutch.
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Territorial aggression on or around a feed station
Some birds may prevent full or partial access to a particular feed station and prevent a bird or birds obtaining an adequate intake of food.  If any bird shows this sort of aggression, two or more feed stations must be placed in that aviary.  A solid non transparent divider can be placed between the two feed stations.  If the cock bird harasses the hen during the breeding season, one feed station should be placed as far away from the planted or nesting site as possible without the feed getting wet from rain and the other feed site as close as possible to the hens preferred "hiding" spot. A solid non transparent divider can be placed beside the "hen's" feed station to help minimize the hen being seen when she is feeding at that feed spot.
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Territorial aggression on or around a water station
Although less common than territorial aggression around or on a feed station, do not rule out a bird, a pair of birds or a group of birds preventing another bird or birds (including newly fledged young) from getting adequate access to water. Cock birds may harass a hen just prior to or during breeding season and prevent the hen getting unrestricted access to water. Two or more water stations may be necessary as per above paragraph.
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Growing green leafy vegetables and seeding grasses
With the common availability of drip irrigation watering systems from local hardware stores, it is simple, cheap and easy to set up and grow a crop of plants in small plastic trays or pots.  With most birds breeding in the warmer months, the greens and or leafy vegetables we place in their cage or aviary quickly go limp and do not look very appetising.  We are now able to obtain commercially produced seeds that grow "mini" or miniature varieties of popular lines of vegetables.  These miniature varieties can be grown in an automatically watered pot in an area outside the aviary and then easily placed in the aviary for the birds to pick over.  As the plant is "chewed up", that plant can be removed and replaced with a new fresh plant.  Many types of vegetables can be trimmed and will regrow quickly and when the regrowth is adequate the plant can once again be offered to the birds to be picked over once again.  Spinach, silverbeet and the open leafed lettuce varieties (including cos lettuce) are ideal, mini broccoli, mini Brussels sprouts, mini cabbage can be tried.  The same principle can work with herbs but check to ensure the herbs you try are totally suitable and safe for your birds.  Sweet corn will grow in an aviary and some finches may nest in the plant.
Seeding grasses, including cereals such as wheat or oats, seeds we use in the dry seed mixes such as Panicum, millets or canary seed; or the wide variety of "weed" grasses can be grown in pots and fed out in the same manner.  Grasses can be placed in the aviary as a tray of or a pot of 100 mm high young juicy growing leaves or introduced when the seed heads have almost ripened.  Many grasses will tolerate being nipped back when at the 100mm high stage then removed and will regrow and form seed heads.  The mature grass plants may be used by the finches either as a dry leaf or a green leaf to be used as a nest material.  Swamp grass and November grass may also be grown in pots.
If you have multiple aviaries and space allows, each aviary can be allocated a colour and the plants grown in that coloured pot or tray and only placed in that specific aviary.  This will minimize the risk of transferring any pathogens between aviaries.  You are more likely to transfer pathogens between aviaries on your footwear than on the plants.  If you have a pair that has specific needs, the allocation of a colour makes the system simple and easy. Coloured pots make it easy to ascertain the amount of reserve stock you have for each aviary and allocate it to the most important pairs.
Growing these plants in pots allows you to use a spare sunny wall space and grow them at multiple height levels.  This could give about 5 levels of production and the radiated heat from the wall could also assist in the speed of the plant growth.  Glasshouses or poly houses are another aid to ensure continuous year round production.
Seeding grasses include:- African feathergrass = Pennisetum setaceum.  Barnyard grass = Echinochloa crusgalli.  Foxtails = Setaria lutescens.  Guinea Grass = Panicum maximum.  Palm grass =  Setaria palmifolia.  Pampas grass = Cortaderia species.  Panic grass = Ehrharta erecta.  Pit-Pit grass = Setaria species.  Reed grasses = Calamagrotis.  Tussock grass = Poa billardieri.  Zebra grass =  Miscanthus zebrinus.
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Food preparation room /area
A food preparation room /area must be established that can ensure the food is prepared in a clean, hygienic way.  As the volume of food increases, the family kitchen may not be the best place.  A separate area should be allocated and a small refrigerator to hold bird preparations only (and a cold soft drink in summer), makes life easier and minimizes family/partner conflict.  Some veterinary products may require refrigeration instead of being stored in steel sheds or an outdoor aviary in the summer heat.  A separate small freezer may be beneficial for the storage of frozen foods for the birds.
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Food and water utensils
should not be galvanized metal or have any soldered parts.  Stainless steel, impact resistant plastic, glazed ceramic dishes, or glass should be used.  Some new plastics can tolerate temperatures of over 200 degrees Celsius and allow these to be heat sterilized as well as being able to be sterilized with chemicals such as chlorine (bleach).  Frozen dinners that are placed in a gas or electric stove often are packaged in these heat resistant plastic trays.  Don't use these "frozen dinner" trays for birds that will bite pieces out of the trays.  Buy enough utensils to have separate bowls/trays for each food type.  One each for seed and dry foods, water, supplementary foods, fruit and vegetables.  Many antibiotics must not be placed in metal containers so have a suitable plastic container/dish/bowl available available for use only with medicines.
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Water & rainwater
In the wild, finches are never far from a water source.  In an aviary or cage, clean fresh water must be available at all times. Water systems should be checked daily to ensure no bird goes without water. Birds will usually survive longer without seed than without water. In summer it is best if the water is not in direct sunlight. A regular cleaning routine of the water utensil/bowl must be maintained to minimize the growth of undesirable pathogens and algal growths. The area around the water bowl must also be regularly cleaned and kept as dry as possible. If possible, move the water bowl to a new position on a regular basis to minimize the moisture level in the soil or sand around the water bowl.  In an aviary with a concrete floor, the moving of the water bowl and allowing the concrete to dry  is also beneficial as it also minimizes the build up of undesirable pathogens in and on the concrete. Some birds bathe in the drinking water. Some birds such as Indian Ringnecked Parrots will not bathe in their drinking water bowl but will bathe in another water bowl if it is supplied. There are a number of automatic and semi-automatic watering systems now on the market as well as "home made" systems that are used successfully both in outdoor aviaries and indoor rooms. A dry floor is of particular benefit for ground dwelling birds such as quail and finches that spend a lot of time at ground level.
Rainwater or tank water
has been acceptable in years gone-bye but with the environmental pollution increasing and the bird flu outbreaks overseas, this should be reviewed.  Australian Capital cities and major towns have some of the cleanest water in the world.  Some advocates of soaked or sprouted seed do not recommend town water because it contains added chlorine.  However, soaked or sprouted seed is soaked in a chlorine (bleach) and then rinsed in water.  Even after a rinse in clean water some residual chlorine, or chlorine compounds would be retained in the grain or seed.  Most town water would be cleaner and safer than rain collected from a roof.  If it is perfectly acceptable to use chlorine in soaked or sprouted seed production there should be no valid reason not to use the chlorinated water in Australian cities and towns.
Australia has seen a huge increase in the types of legally imported plants, shrubs and trees used in our home gardens, streetscapes and parks.  Many of the imported plant materials have not had a full toxicology done on them and may be toxic or detrimental to the health of some birds.  When I purchased my current house, which has a flat deck roof, one of the imported trees deposits seeds, seed coverings and leaves on to the roof.  I have been told by several bird breeders all or part of the plant material from that tree may be toxic.  If the rainwater from that part or the roof was to settle into a rainwater tank and then used  in the aviary water bowl the birds could hypothetically be seriously effected or die.  One other tree deposits seeds onto the roof that are so small they easily fall through the normal rainwater sieve mesh.  Hate to think what could build up in the bottom of a tank.  I would hate to think what the "brew" would be like after sitting in the summer heat for any length of time.  Think I will stay with the Capital city and the chlorinated rural water supplies.
I also have family of Brush-tailed Possums living in the trees that over hang the roof and each morning there is a lot of "fertilizer" on the roof and nearby paths.  After rain the "poo" easily changes its deposited form and easily and quickly transforms into a very liquid consistency and easily passes through a "fly wire mesh".
The other end of the house is prime territory for a family of  Magpies.  Yellow tailed Cockatoos consume a range of seeds from the wattle trees over another part of the house.  Magpies and Cockies can leave a large "deposit" that is easily washed into the spouting and hence into a rain water tank.  Great for the garden but I would never give that brew to any of my birds.
How many people realise they should clean the "deposits/sludge" out of a rain-water tank on a regular basis?  How many people even know how to clean the "deposits" from inside a rain water tank?
My conclusion is that the best deal for the birds is to use the City and town chlorinated water for aviary and pet birds.   
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Seeds for finches ( Including Australian and Non-Australian finches, Weavers and Whydahs )
Basic mix of dry seed generally include Canary seed, White French Millet, Japanese Millet, and Yellow and Red Panicum.  Commercial mixes include seeds such as plain canary, millets, red & yellow Panicum, maw, hulled oats, phalaris, Niger, and rape seed.  Budgie mix, finch mix and canary mix  are the most common pre mixes available.  New seeds of wild and domesticated grasses suitable for captive birds are becoming available and may be offered in separate bowls to the finches.  Some of the newly available seeds are very expensive and make sure they have not been treated with chemicals e.g. fungicides or pesticides.  Seeds can be offered as a mix in one bowl or offered with each seed type in a separate bowl.  The more expensive or fattening (oil) seeds can be offered in separate bowls to monitor the consumption levels.
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Seeds for parrots: ( including Australian and Non-Australian parrots, the Conure, Cockatoo, Macaw and Rosella )
Commercial mixes have a fairly standard mix of seeds and require a balance of fruit and vegetable to give the birds a suitable nutritious food to keep them in good condition for the tasks of maintaining their own health as well as breeding and raising their young.  One problem that many breeders come across is birds not eating a balance of seed and other nutrients.  Birds generally accept foods that they have been fed to them by their parents.  Encouraging some birds on to new foods can be a frustrating task and some birds win the battle and refuse to eat any foods other than their favourites.

The domestication of all our aviary birds, including cockatoos, has led to a change in the foods the original captive birds ate.  We give seeds and other foods to our own pairs of birds and the ones that accept those foods will often be the most productive breeders.  The more generations we breed with an aviary mix of foods, the ensuing generations will adapt to those foods.  In the wild cockatoos cover vast areas of country and follow the supply of suitable foods.  The variety of foods and insects the wild birds have access to is impossible to duplicate in the aviary or captive breeding situation.  The time and resources breeders have available is often restricted by the ever increasing demands placed on their lives by pressures other than the needs of the birds.  People living in rural or farmland areas may have access to a wider range of natural foods.  City people often have a wider range of frozen foods, plus fruits and vegetables that have been freighted in from interstate and available all year round.
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Seed storage
In a society that is minimizing the use of chemicals in food preparation and storage, it is probably best not to use pest strips, insect sprays, or pesticides in our birds feed bins or food storage rooms.  Pesticides and insecticides either as a liquid or as a gas/vapour may permeate the feed and be consumed with the food.  If moths, the larvae of the moths or weevils get into the feed they will be eaten by the birds as part of their insect requirement.  The occurrence of storage moths and weevils is more often than not, an indication of lax hygiene or cleaning.  Failure to clean up left over seed from the aviaries or spillages in service areas and storage areas are often the source of recontamination of newly purchased feeds.  Purchase the foods/seeds from a supplier that has a quick turnover of stock and only purchase a quantity that will be used in a reasonable time.  The longer you store seeds/grains at home the more likely insects will decide to move in and raise their own young.  A cool dry storage area is best.
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Soft Foods
There are a huge number of recipes for soft foods as well as pre-prepared commercial mixes now available.  Passwell P/L leaflet on finch soft food states "the finch soft food is a concentrated, highly digestible source of animal protein suitable for all finches, waxbills, weavers, whydahs and soft bills".  Many pet shops and aviculture clubs carry the more popular lines from the major commercial suppliers.  Home made recipes or commercial mixes that include egg, egg products, egg shells, various mixes including mashed or chopped hard boiled egg... etc should be banned.  Parrots may eat the soft foods that are put out for finches if they are housed with the finches.  Extra care must be taken with pre-mix foods once they are mixed with water or other liquids as they then have a limited time to be fed to the birds and consumed.  It is good practice to remove uneaten foods after a pre-determined time especially in the warmer months.
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Plain or Madeira cake, fresh multi-grain or wholemeal bread can be offered.  These foods should only be fed in small quantities and as a "treat" as these items can cause the birds to gain weight rapidly.  Too much of these foods will give the birds an poor nutritional nutritional intake.
Crushed dry dog food can be fed to a wide range of parrots.
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 Mineral & vitamin supplements
With a good balanced diet, mineral & vitamin supplements should not be necessary but, if used, it is best mixed into or sprinkled over the soft food. Keep in mind with supplements the correct dose rate should give good results, but, if more than the prescribed dose is administered it could be toxic or even fatal to the birds and / or the babies.  Seek advice from an avian veterinarian before adding a "mineral  & vitamin" supplement to a bird's diet.
The toxicity level for an adult bird could be very different to the toxic dose for a baby or fledgling bird.  What may be safe for an adult may be toxic for a baby or fledgling bird.
Exercise can help in the absorption of calcium, minerals and vitamins.  Refer to "exercise" topic above for more details.
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Fruits & berries
Most fruits people eat, with the exception of some varieties of avocado (some varieties of avocado are toxic to birds), will be consumed by finches and parrots.
Most fruits that are seasonally available such as apple, orange, grapes, pear, peach, mango, passionfruit can be offered to aviary birds.
Most berries that people eat ( e.g. strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries) will be consumed by finches.  Cotoneaster and Hawthorn berries can also be fed.
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Vegetables and green leafy vegetables
Most vegetables people eat (except onion which may be toxic) will be consumed by finches, parrots, quail, pigeons and doves.  Corn-on-the-cob is a favourite for many finches and it does not matter if purchased fresh or frozen, the birds don't care.  Corn-on-the-cob is a favourite for most parrots.  Frozen vegetables are a valuable resource during the "out of season" months.
Fresh or thawed frozen vegetables, the birds seem not to care.
Commonly used vegetables include peas, snow peas, beans, corn or corn-on-the-cob, broccoli, celery, carrot, pumpkin, cucumber, broccoli.  Do not feed onions as they can be toxic to birds.
Seasonally available green leafy vegetables should be offered to birds.  Greens such as Cos lettuce, silverbeet, endive are commonly fed to most birds.
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Seeding grasses or Greens
In the wild most birds will eat more semi-ripe or ripe seeds than dry seeds.  Most birds love to nibble on the seeds in seeding grass heads including wheat and oats heads.  Seeding grass heads have good nutritional value and provide the birds with a reason to be very active.  Many birds also like chewing the stalks. Examples of suitable seeding grasses - chickweed, oats, poa grass, panic grass, Panicum, millets, palm grass, dandelion, Johnson grass, and wheat.  Many will use the leaves, or pieces of the leaves of the seeding grass plants to build or line their nests.   The leaf part of many grasses, cereals and plants are eaten by wild birds and can be offered to aviary birds.  Check with local bird clubs and local breeders to ascertain which are safe and available.  Care should always be taken when any plant material or feeds that are from areas outside your property, is to be fed to captive birds to ensure that no toxic sprays or contamination is present.
A/A Vol  59 No. 10 Oct 2005 Page 233-235 (The case for feeding Green foods - by Dr D. Madill).
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Soaked or sprouted seed
An optional time consuming extra that has to be prepared and stored carefully.  Perfect hygiene is essential.  Soaked or sprouted seed has a similar nutritional value as dry seed but may be digested quicker or easier.
A wide range of seeds can be used.  Check with your local bird club to ascertain the most suitable locally available seeds.
Legumes such as dry green peas, green beans, mung beans can be soaked and fed to a range of birds.  Most parrots will consume most of the soaked legume seeds.
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More details on specific insects are on " Insects & Livefoods" web page.
Most finches must have a constant supply of a variety of insects if they are to commence nest building and raise a successful nest of healthy vigorous young.
2...Some finches like to eat insects such as mealworms, lesser mealworms, aphids, white ants (termites), maggots, fly pupa, drosophila flies, brown crickets, small locusts, silk worms, white worms, slaters and small captive raised woodroaches / cockroaches.  The pupae and beetle stages of the mealworm can be offered as well as the larvae stage.
Insects are generally offered in a smooth shallow tray.  A layer of sand or bran can be placed into the tray to give the birds a more secure footing when they land in a very smooth surfaced tray.
4...Some people place the insects in a deeper smooth sided tray (e.g. 600mm x 400mm x100mm deep or 24 x 16 x 4 inches) which has been partially filled (20 or 30 mm deep, about one inch) with clean leaf litter, dry leaves or a material such as dry peat moss.  This allows the birds to "hunt" for the insects and can provide them with entertainment, activity and exercise as well as preserving some of their natural hunting instincts.
If a plastic or metal tray is used such as the 600mm x 400mm, place it on some strips of timber or other material to raise it off the ground and allow air to circulate under the tray.
6...Never feed black crickets to any birds, reptiles, frogs etc. Black crickets have very sharp, difficult to digest, "spikes" on their back legs which can easily damage the digestive tract of birds and some animals. However, if the rear legs on the black crickets are removed they are then safe to feed to birds or other animals.  Most people balk at the idea of pulling legs off insects.
7...The inclusion of a compost heap within the aviary to attract insects should be strongly avoided.  In the "old" days when commercially grown insects were either too expensive or unavailable are long gone.  Compost heaps are a source of many bacteria and fungal organisms that may be detrimental to all types of birds.  Crickets, mealworms and commercially raised/home raised woodroaches/cockroaches are a much safer option and the price is now less than a few years ago.  Some species of finch eat the mealworm whole, some only eat the insides of the mealworm and discard the shell.
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Frozen insects
From my perspective we no longer need to rely on frozen insects. One problem with frozen foods is "how long has this food been frozen?" Frozen insects don't come with a "Use by" date on the package. Almost all good bird dealers stock insects and there are some insect breeders that will send insects by mail or air-freight. Access to fresh live insects is now easy. One of the main problems with storing insects in the freezer is the fats in the insect/s start to break down as soon as the insect dies. The breakdown of the fats to new compounds can change the taste and smell of the insect and therefore the birds may be less likely to consume the thawed out insect/s. Some animals will only eat an insect if the insect is alive and moves. Fresh is best!
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Shrubs and trees
Plants, shrubs and trees can be grown in containers and placed in an aviary with a concrete floor.  Just add a drip irrigation system to make the plant watering easy.  Containers can be replaced or rotated as required but always check to ensure no birds are nesting in there first.
Bamboos will grow well in a contained and are a good nest site for many non-parrot birds.
Shrubs and trees can improve the aesthetics of the aviary and the area surrounding the aviary.
Plants, shrubs and trees outside and around the aviary can improve the visual outlook from within the aviary.
Plants, shrubs and trees outside and around the aviary can improve the security of the aviary by blocking the view of the aviary from neighbours or from the street.
Plants, shrubs and trees outside and around the aviary can provide shade from the summer heat and cold winter weather.
Some provide a minor source if insects, some provide a supply of nectars and or seeds.
Birds are more attracted to flowers that are coloured red or orange.
Shrubs and trees can provide a natural place for finches to build a nest.
In a finch aviary, the shrubs or trees will provide the birds with an area of privacy and a sense of security.  They can escape from harassment from another bird or just get out of view from the keeper or onlookers.
Shrubs and trees can provide the fledglings a safe place to retreat to.  The varying sizes of branches and twigs will allow the young birds to choose the diameter of branch that suits them best.  The varying branch sizes and angles will exercise their growing feet and bodies.
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Calcium and grit supplies
Cuttlefish bone, shell grit, calcium blocks etc should always be available, especially around breeding season.  These items contain calcium compounds and are slowly absorbed by the bird.  Commercially available liquid calcium products are available from veterinarians and retail outlets and these types of calcium are absorbed more quickly.  Medications, such as antibiotics, can alter a bird's ability to absorb calcium from their foods.  Check with a veterinarian as to the correct dosage when using liquid calcium products as too much could be as bad as too little.
A supply of grit may aid in the digestion of the grains.
In view of the Bird Flu outbreaks and publicity in overseas poultry and wild birds, Egg shells should not be fed to aviary birds, pet birds or wild birds.  Do not feed bird material to other birds!  There are a good range of inexpensive alternatives to egg shells that can be obtained from most retail pet outlets including most of the larger department stores such as K-Mart and Big W.
Exercise can help in the absorption of calcium.  Refer to "exercise" topic above for more details.
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Commercial pellets and crumbles
Are becoming more widely available and may be of benefit as a portion of  the diet.  Specialist pet food supply companies are now producing commercial quantities of pelletized foods to cater for individual types of birds.  A range of Quail and parrot pellets have been developed to cater for the needs of these birds.  Outside Australia there are pellet feeds available for a wider range of birds.  The nutrition of birds is a rapidly expanding field of research and the exact formulas of many feeds will change as more of each species nutritional requirements are identified.
The use of pellet foods for most birds should be in addition to the fruits, vegetables and leafy green vegetables we currently give with a seed diet.
The lory and lorikeet food researchers and manufacturers have produced a wide variety of nutritious wet and dry feeds for these nectar and pollen loving birds.
Commercial pellets and crumbles for finches and softbills are becoming available and can form part of a balanced food intake.
Powdered and dry foods supplements are becoming more widely available and seeking the advice of an avian veterinarian will help in the choice of what to feed to which birds and in what quantities.
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Sunlight and Vitamin D
With aviaries having fully covered roofs, care must be taken to ensure no deficiency occurs.
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Specific References

  • Australian Aviculture

  • A/A Vol 60 No. 8 Aug 2006 Page 162-165 (The good - the bad - and the ugly by Mike Fidler).

  • A/A Vol 60 No. 6 Jun 2006 Page 134 (Gum trees in your aviary).
  • A/A Vol 60 No. 4 Apr 2006 Page 69-71 (Advantages & disadvantages of Bird keeping in hot climates)
  • A/A Vol 60 No 3 Mar 2006 Page 45-46 (Grit).
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 11 Nov 2005 Page 252-253 (Use of crop needles)
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 10 Oct 2005 Page 233-235 (The case for feeding Green foods - by Dr D. Madill).
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 2 Feb 2005 Page 42-43 (Seed winnower).
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 2 Feb 2005 Page 32-33 (R. Low - dandelion and dock as foods)
  • A/A Vol 58 No. 7 Jul  2004 Page 162-163 (Calcium for birds - Dr. S. Gelis).
  • A/A Vol 58 No. 4 Apr 2004 Page 93-94.
  • A/A Vol 35 No. 4 Apr 1981 Page 76-79 (Green foods)
  • A/A Vol 31 No. 11 Nov 1977 Page 164-169 (Ground water quality)
  • A/A Vol 16 No. 4 Apr 1962 Page 61-64 (Seeds).
  • A/A Vol 11 No 3 Mar 1957 Page 42-43.
  • The Bulletin No 27, Jan 1945 Page 2 - 3 (Preparation of sprouted seed).
  • The Bulletin No 24, Oct 1944 Page 4 - 5 (Feeding values of seed for cage birds).
  • The Bulletin No 20, Jun 1944 Page 5 - 7 (Food value of grass seeds).
  • The Bulletin No 18, Apr 1944 Page 2 - 4 (Vitamins).
  • The Bulletin No 17, Mar 1944 Page 6 - 8(Vitamins).
  • Australian Birdkeeper
  • ABK Vol 18 Issue 12. Dec-Jan 2006 Page 746-748 (Some facts about avian influenza-Dr. Bob Doneley BVSc)
  • ABK Vol 18 Issue 12. Dec-Jan 2006 Page 741-745 (The social lives of wild parrots)
  • ABK Vol 18 Issue 12. Dec-Jan 2006 Page 733-737 (Enrichment for juvenile parrots)
  • ABK Vol 18 Issue 11. Oct-Nov 2005 Page 665-668 (Beaks for every purpose - R. Low)
  • ABK Vol 17 Issue 4 Aug-Sept 2004 Page 219-222 (Pt. 2 Grasses for finches).
  • ABK Vol 17 Issue 3 Jun-Jul 2004 Page 156-159 (Pt 1. Grasses for finches).
  • ABK Vol 17 Issue 1 Feb-Mar 2004 Page 36-39 (Probiotics - Dr. C. Walker).
  • ABK Vol 17 Issue 1 Feb-Mar 2004 Page 45-47 (Vitamin E - D. Mc Donald).
  • ABK Vol 17 Issue 1 Feb-Mar 2004 Page 14-18 (Crop stasis - Dr. B. Doneley).
  • ABK Vol 16 Issue 12 Dec-Jan 2004 Page 701-705 (Vitamin E - D. Mc Donald).
  • ABK Vol 16 Issue 7 Feb-Mar 2003 Page 402-404 (Parrot nutrition)
  • ABK Vol 15 Issue 7 Dec-Jan 2003 Page 319-321 (Dandelions - R. Low) - read!
  • ABK Vol 15 Issue 2. Apr-May 2002 Page 80-83 (Handraising and imprinting).
  • ABK Vol 15 Issue 1. Feb-Mar 2002 Page 21-24 (Minerals in Grit - R. Low).
  • ABK Vol 14 Issue 10. Aug-Sept 2001 Page 548-551 (Enrichment)
  • ABK Vol 14 Issue 10. Aug-Sept 2001 Page 559-561 (Feeding your bird - Dr. B. Doneley)
  • ABK Vol 14 Issue 9. Jun-Jul 2001 Page 487-491 (Selecting a pet bird).
  • ABK Vol 14 Issue 8. Apr-May 2001 Page 450-453.

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