The exact nutritional requirements of caged birds are unknown in spite of claims to the contrary by some product manufacturers, retailers and breeders. Far too much emphasis has been placed on seed only for caged birds. Seed represents a relatively non-perishable convenience for bird owners but is a miserably deficient diet for pet birds. That being said, the following suggestions for a Gouldian Diet are what I have found over the years through trial and error to work for me.
Staple Seed Diet
Over the last 10 years I tried all the finch seed mixes on the market only to have my birds eat half of the mixture! I ended up throwing the other half away! My Gouldians just wouldn't eat the small seeds and multi-colored bits and pieces. Finally, I decided to mix up my own blend using the seeds I knew they would eat. I hesitated doing this for quite some time, thinking that if the seeds were in the mixes they must be important for the birds. However, I finally decided that if the birds wouldn't eat them, what difference did it make if the seeds were in the mix. As far as I was concerned, it was just dead weight for which I was paying!
If you would like to test the quality of your seed, try sprouting it. Old seed will take much longer than normal (2 days) to sprout and thus contains even less nutrition for your birds than fresh seed.
Take a teaspoon of the seed mixture and soak it for 24 hours in water. Rinse well and spread it evenly out on a moistened paper towel. Fold the towel over the seed and place it in a warm spot (i.e.: the top of your refrigerator.) You may have to moisten the towel daily so that it doesn't dry out completely. It should sprout within several days if it is fresh.
NOTE: Do not use this method to sprout seed that you will actually feed to your birds. (See my article on Sprouting Spray Millet for the correct procedure to follow.)
Greens, Fruits and Vegetables
Birds in my aviaries are given an assortment of greens daily - spinach (*), romaine lettuce, carrot tops, radish leaves, turnip greens and sprouted millet sprays. Most of my birds also like apples, oranges, corn on the cob (raw), broccoli, carrots (chopped), sweet potatoes (cooked) and cucumber. Gouldians can be very picky eaters. It is helpful to have a Canary or Society Finch in the aviary to teach the Gouldian to expand its diet.
(*) Be very careful not to give spinach more than twice a week. Spinach contains oxalic acid that combines with calcium to make calcium oxalate. Because the intestines cannot absorb this compound it is flushed out of the body, thus causing a calcium shortage....Robert Black.
Feeding Dish Location Is Important
By their very nature, Gouldians and many other finches are not ground dwelling birds. In a colony situation, Gouldians will go to the floor of a cage or aviary to feed, but they always leave a "look-out" above to sound an alarm if danger approaches. However, with only a few birds (pair) in a smaller cage, I found they can be timid and many will not eat from the floor feeding dish where I placed their soft foods.
I found that by hanging the dish on the side of the cage, as high as possible, they can both eat and be aware of their surroundings. By using this hanging method my birds became less timid and began eating the soft foods that I introduced to them. This is extremely important when feeding softfood to their babies. This method also prevents droppings from getting into the dish as they move around the cage.
New Diet Additions
I have recently made changes to my nutrition program in regards to the vitamin/mineral supplement and I am totally blown away by the rapid visual results. There are a number of components in this product line, and here I am going to relate to you my experience with four of them that I now consider to be a year round part of my birds' diet. Over the last 15 years of breeding birds I have tried many different vitamin/mineral products. I cannot say that I have been displeased with any of them, however some of them were more pleasant (smell) to use than others. The new products are from Morning Bird.
Saying Hearty Bird is a vitamin/mineral supplement would be like saying that water is wet. Water is so much more than "wet"! It is one of the necessities of life. And just like water is a necessity in any birds' ability to survive. In the last 2 months, I have seen such remarkable visual results in my own birds.
Aside from all this "technical stuff", let me say that I have never used any vitamin/mineral supplement which has demonstrated such quick visual results. I started my breeder birds on this product about a month before the end of the breeding season. Within weeks, most of them were into their molt. When the molt began, I switched from the Hearty Bird to Feather Fast. I sprinkled this on pieces of spray millet that I sprouted. See Sprouting Spray Millet. This allowed even my non-soft-food eating Gouldians to get this additional supplement since they all will devour millet sprays. Feather Fast is a molting supplement high in calcium, sodium, zinc and sulfur containing amino acids. Feather Fast is the exact same formulation as the Hearty Bird, but with these added beneficial ingredients. I must tell you that not in 15 years of breeding birds have I had adults molt as quickly and thoroughly as mine did this year. And, believe me, they all had a whopper of a molt! I am told by the manufacturer that this is because once the birds were on this supplementation, their bodies knew that they had just the 'right' amount of sulfur containing amino acids to replace all of their feathers. Therefore, they dropped more feathers more quickly and were able to go through their molt rapidly- quicker by as much as two months in some cases. Their feathers are now spectacularly radiant! I am telling you this because I thought that my birds were spectacular before. Boy was I wrong!
Conditioning / Nestling Diet
The following is the basic recipe for my soft-food mixture. You may have to adjust amounts depending on the number of birds you feed on a daily basis.
The largest ingredient in this mixture is fresh hard-boiled egg. When I prepare my hard-boiled eggs, I usually boil a dozen at a time. Since I use 3 eggs per day, this will last 4 days. I store the boiled eggs in their container in the refrigerator, always using any cracked ones immediately.
To make a perfect hard-boiled egg, start with cold water. Bring to a boil and allow to slow boil for 10 minutes (a few minutes longer for very large eggs). Allow the eggs to cool in cold water and then peel the shell off. You can leave the shell on for chopping if the eggs are not going to be fed to newly hatched babies. Before chopping the eggs in a food processor, with or without the shell, pat dry with a paper towel.
(*) Never feed your birds eggshells that have not been boiled. Any shells that come from raw eggs should be boiled for at least 15 minutes before feeding to your birds.
I peel three eggs and cut them into quarters before placing in the mini food processor. To the eggs I add:
- 1 Tablespoon Miracle Meal Per Egg
- 1 measure of Probiotic (small end of measure that comes in the canister)
- 3 teaspoons of Hearty Bird or Feather Fast
blending thoroughly with a fork. I then sprinkle onto this as evenly as possible:
- 1 teaspoon Powdered Kelp
- 1 teaspoon Trace Minerals
- 1 heaping tablespoon Bee Pollen
- 1 heaping tablespoon of crushed hulled sunflower seeds
This combination is mixed together with the fork until it resembles a dry crumble and the supplements are as evenly distributed as possible. Gouldians do not like wet food. If they need moisture while eating, they will drink water. If your mixture isn't dry enough, add additional Miracle Meal. Remember the above measurements are for 3 eggs, so divide everything by 1/3 if you are mixing only 1 egg at a time.
This mixture is provided to my birds EVERY day along with a piece of fresh greens and on some days, fruit or veggies. During the breeding season this mixture is again provided in the afternoon to any pair with nestlings. All dishes containing this mixture are removed every evening as bacteria will grow quickly on any protein source.
If your Gouldians are not eating any form of soft-food, you can add Hearty Bird to their water. It would be much more nutritious for your birds if you could "convince" them to eat the soft-food diet described above.
I am presently using Hearty Bird in my birds' drinking water because many of my Gouldians that were purchased from other breeders are not willing to eat soft-foods. Until I am able to convince them to eat the soft-food, I will continue using Hearty Bird in their water for the vitamin/mineral supplementation.
Along with the Hearty Bird I add one other Morning Bird product, Calcium Plus, to the water source. Calcium Plus is a calcium supplement.
It is believed that calcium deficiency is THE single nutritional problem from which most pet birds suffer. Calcium serves many functions in the body. First, it is the major component in bones. Second, it is involved in the proper functioning of both nerves and muscles. The blood has the job of delivering calcium to the nerves and muscles. The bones have the job of maintaining the correct level of calcium in the blood. When blood calcium levels are high, the bones remove it and when they drop, the bones return it. Now imagine the situation where the bird is getting loads of calcium from its diet every day. In this situation the gut is supplying calcium to the blood and all the bones are doing is removing it. If this situation continues for too long, the bones loose the ability to pump calcium back into the blood when it is required.
The risk is that the bird (egg-laying hens or young weaned chicks hardening their bones) now gets a sudden demand for calcium. However, the diet does not contain enough for this "super" demand. The bones have "forgotten" how to supply it quickly. Now the nerves and muscles stop working properly and the bird is partially paralyzed. In egg laying hens, this leads to egg binding since the muscles of the oviduct are not capable of pushing the egg out. In young chicks it leads to poor flight, stargazing and ?twirling?. In other words, a daily supply of lots of highly bio-available calcium - like Calcium Plus - can lead to the same symptoms as too little calcium in the diet. Therefore Calcium Plus should be added to the water source every other day. Or in my case, since I mix clean water twice a week, I add it only in one of these mixes.
The other addition to their water is Sparkle, a water cleanser that prevents the multiplication of bacteria, yeast, algae and fungus. I have always been very reluctant to add ANYTHING to the water source of my birds other than medication when necessary. Medications are usually re-mixed daily so most unwanted growth is prevented. However, since I have discovered Sparkle, which keeps the water free of these contaminates I am willing to add both the Hearty Bird and Calcium Plus to my birds' water source. Once I wean my breeder Gouldians onto soft-food, I will eliminate the Hearty Bird from the water. I will continue to add the Calcium Plus during half of every week and the Sparkle constantly.
I realize that the above information may sound like a commercial for Morning Bird. It was not meant to be. I have just been so amazed by the results that I have personally seen these products accomplish, most notably through my own breeder birds' molt. I wanted to get the word out. I have come to realize in the past year and a half that I am reaching a large number of pet bird owners. I just wanted to share the results that I have witnessed. I guess I also have a selfish motive too. I would like to know that all of the Gouldians that I bred and raised are going to live long and healthy lives in their new homes. I would hate to think of them wasting away from the lack of a proper diet when it isn't necessary. You can now increase your birds' nutrition and quality of life through either supplementation on soft-food or in the water.
There is another product that Morning Bird offers called Breeders Blend, which is used in conjunction with the Hearty Bird, and Calcium Plus, both before and during the breeding season. I have completed my first breeding season using their Breeders Blend and can say I am thrilled with my results. Just like other breeders I have experienced my share of infertile eggs, dead in shell and death of nestlings. I am pleased to report to you that these problems have ceased to happen except in very rare occasions.
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