By Mike Fidler
As time goes by, our knowledge of avian nutrition improves and with the improvement in diet comes better breeding results and better health, but getting your birds to accept an improved diet can sometimes be quite an effort.
Many birds are highly conservative and are reluctant to accept a new food type or source, with some species being much more reluctant than others. Even in the commoner, more adaptable species, some individuals can be difficult too.
However, it is not always desirable or practical to carry on giving them what they like; our kids might enjoy chocolate, but we still would not give it them
as their primary food!
New birds not recognising the food you offer them is one of the problems you may face, even placing food in a different kind of location can cause problems with some too. So finding out what your new purchase was being fed on before you obtained them can make it much easier to wean them onto a new diet.
Some birds are highly strung and suffer high stress levels. The stress of travel, a new cage and strange food placed in a strange place can prove fatal for some birds, so it is wise to follow the following standard procedure:
1: ALWAYS determine what they were feeding on before you got them and try and give them, as near as possible, exactly the same when they first arrive.
2: Place plenty of food and water dishes all over the floor and the regular feed station
3: Leave the surplus water and food dishes in place for a week, after which remove the food and water dish which are the furthest distance from the feeding station.
4: Then, carry on removing food and water dishes every 3-4 days until there is only the ones by the food station left. Remove these once you are happy that the birds are using the regular food station.
Don’t be in a rush, it is better to be safe than sorry.
As a hot tip, it is also a good idea to determine what kind of nesting site and material your birds were raised on before they came into your possession. Some birds and some species in particular are not keen on being forced to use something different, and this includes birds you obtained as juveniles.
INTRODUCING NEW SUPPLEMENTS for seed eaters
1: Easiest Way – DRY MIX
One of the easiest ways to introduce a new supplement which has a powdered consistency is to make a dry mix using your standard seed mix.
Simply measure 1lt of your standard seed mix and pour into a mixing bowl, add 10ml of sunflower or cod liver oil and mix in thoroughly, then add 100ml of NATURALLY FOR BIRDS PRIMA and / or NATURALLY FOR BIRDS MICRO NUTRIENT and mix in thoroughly.
Feed in your normal way.
Summary – mix:
1000ml [1lt] dry seed mix
100ml Prima and or Micro Nutrient
10ml sunflower oil
2: Second easiest way – TEACHER BIRDS
Birds which are accustomed to your diet or have already adapted to your new one, can be used to teach other birds to accept the food you wish to offer; and as a tip, three of your own birds placed with a small number of new birds, will be better, faster educators than just one teacher bird. This is possibly something to do with flocking behaviour, but for whatever reason, it works!
3: Third easiest way – COMMUNITY AVIARY
By definition, an aviary containing a mixture of species will have some birds which are adventurous and adaptable so will more readily accept change.
Mix a very small quantity of the new supplement into your birds favourite food and gradually increase the quantity until you reach the level you require.
The adventurous birds will act as TEACHER BIRDS to the rest of the aviary inhabitants.
NB: WARNING!!! Putting a new bird into an established aviary is asking for trouble. All birds establish a ‘pecking order’, even in a mixed collection aviary. If you put in a new bird, it has been put into a strange environment, it does not know where or how to find food and water and it is going to join at the bottom of the pecking order, so it will be harassed and moved on by every bird in the aviary.
4: Commonest way – ADD TO SPROUTED SEED
This is not only the commonest, but also probably the most nutritious method of feeding a supplement to seed eating birds.
Check out the NATURALLY FOR BIRDS web site for a TUTORIAL on how to sprout seed and for guide lines on nutritional values.
Add 200ml of Prima to 1lt of sprouted seed.
When you want to add a new supplement to your sprouted seed mix, stop feeding the old supplement and start by feeding sprouted seed only to get them used to a change of taste. After a week add a very small amount of supplement to the sprouted mix and then increase the amount slowly week by week until you reach the volume mix you require.
5: RELUCTANT OR CONSERVATIVE FEEDERS
Red Hooded Siskins
As part of a research project, I recently obtained 34 red hooded siskins from 5 different sources. On arrival, they were divided into 17 separate pairs. Every cage had been set up with 24 small dishes each containing a measured quantity of a single seed; 24 different seeds in total. The purpose behind the ‘cafeteria experiment’ was to determine the ideal seed mix for hooded red siskins.
Now here is the amusing bit … although captive hooded siskins around the world are fed on a surprising variety of different foods, they are actually quite conservative and some pairs in particular can be hugely reluctant to change. So the result of my experiment was that the 5 lots of birds, bought from the 5 different sources, ate 5 different combinations of seed, precisely what they were being fed on before I bought them!!
The next experiment was to find the safest and simplest way to get all these birds onto the same diet.
a: The simplest way would have been to put them all into one aviary and stick 4 or 5 small canaries in with them. Supply the 5 separate diets to begin with and then slowly reduce the seed mix until it was down to my preferred diet.
Canaries will eat almost anything and they would have taught the siskins what to eat.
This was not practical for a number of reasons, not least because I did not have any canaries and male siskins can be aggressive to each other when kept in a mixed sex group.
b: What I did: Niger was the only seed that was common to the 5 different groups of birds I had purchased. So I made a mix up of 50% Niger and the other 50% made up of all the seeds they had been used to before I got them. Every time I mixed a new lot of seed, I reduced the Niger by 10% and increased the seeds I did want to include by 10% to make up the shortfall; at the same time I eliminated 1 of the seeds I did not want.
After 3 months all the birds were happily eating the preferred seed diet.
5:2: Gouldians and natural foods.
On another occasion a scientist who was working on Gouldians asked me to do preference choices with wild sorghum, some of which had been grown in an area which had not been burnt in the last 5 years and another lot which had been grown in an area which had been burnt every year for the last 5 years.
[Gouldians move out of areas which are regularly burnt ]
Wild sorghum looks entirely different to any domestic seed we feed, so the first challenge was to get domestic Gouldians to eat it.
The biggest problem was that my domestic Gouldians did not recognise the wild sorghum seed as food, so I tackled the problem as follows:
- First I left a quantity of wild sorghum in the Gouldian’s Preferential Feeding Point.
- I also scattered some wild sorghum on top of their current food
- After 1 week I mixed 25% of wild sorghum into their standard seed
- After another 1 week I added 50% wild sorghum to their standard seed
- After a further week I added 75% wild sorghum to their standard seed
The plan was then to put them onto 100% wild sorghum seed after a further week. However, throughout the whole time the Gouldians had not eaten a single wild sorghum seed.
Wild sorghum is a very flat ovoid seed, but the Gouldian’s beak is adapted to handle this. It would appear that during the process of domestication either the Gouldian’s beak has altered or they had lost the skill of husking it.
So on this occasion the experiment failed, but usually, the process I used would have worked.
5.3 Reluctant Pictorellas – Preferential Feeding Points
Some birds don’t adapt readily to foods in different locations. Watch the wild birds, some habitually forage on the ground whilst others forage on the top of the panicle or in the trees and bushes. Gary Fitt recently mentioned that while most of his birds readily consume a softfood blend containing NFB Supplements, one aviary with mostly Pictorellas hardly touched the mix when presented on a feed tray with live food and other daily goodies. Knowing that Pictorellas feed largely on the ground, Gary tried placing the feed dish on the floor of the aviary. In that location the Pictorellas took the supplements readily. Some experiments to measure relative consumption rates for food placed in different locations have now been completed and will feature in a later article.
I have limited experience of softbills, but I have for a number of years kept the Australian chats. These are fed on mealworms, bush fly maggots, baby crickets, baby red clover and a small amount of proprietary lorikeet nectar.
The crimson and orange chats in particular require carotenes in their diet in order to reach their full natural colour and all of them require a balanced diet together with minerals, vitamins and micro nutrients.
I tried a number of the ideas I had heard of, like ‘gut loading’, coating mealworms with dilute honey or oil and then dusting them with supplement. None of the ideas worked to my satisfaction, in fact coating mealworms with anything kills them!
Eventually I hit on the idea of making a high protein cake which is then hand crumbled.
The recipe for this is can be found on the NATURALLY FOR BIRDS web site in the Husbandry Section. I introduced the high protein cake during the non-breeding season to avoid potential nestling losses.
I sieved some mealworms and maggots and added them to a dish of hand crumbled high protein cake. The dish was then placed in the feeding station in exactly the same position we normally put the maggots and mealworms.
All other food was removed and as there was barely enough live food to get them through the day, I checked up on them in the late afternoons.
After 3 days they were enthusiastically eating the high protein cake crumbs and this is now offered as part of their standard diet.
Changing your birds diet takes time. Many people buy some supplement, feed it separately for a few weeks, despair that the birds don’t eat it and give up. The processes outlined above will, almost, always lead to birds accepting a new diet or new supplement. There are great nutritional benefits from the use of good supplements, so be prepared to spend the time to help your birds adjust.