Naturally For Birds Information Update 8
By Gary Fitt, Brisbane
A complete and balanced diet for seed-eating cage birds comprises a range of staple items – dry seeds, half ripe seeding grasses,sprouted seeds, water and various types of greens, plus an assortment of supplements, live foods, micronutrients.
Among these important staple items is a good quality CALCIUM GRIT to supply critical calcium and other minerals.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in a bird’s body. Obviously it is a key component of bones (about 33% of their weight is calcium phosphate) and is used in egg shells (in the form of calcium carbonate). However calcium
is also important for muscle and nerve function, blood clotting and other enzymatic functions in the body. While Calcium is available in some foods, the staple foods for cage birds such as seeds, vegetables, fruits and live foods are usually calcium deficient and also unbalanced in relation to other minerals.
Grits come in two forms – insoluble and soluble. Insoluble grits don’t break down in the gut and can assist the action of the gizzard in grinding seeds and other foods. Exactly how much finches need insoluble grits is not clear. By contrast soluble grits are largely calcium carbonate and come in several forms – crushed oyster shell, Canunda shells, other crushed shells, cuttlefish bone, crushed coral, limestone and of course egg shells. Being made of calcium carbonate these soluble grits dissolve in the acid digestive tract to provide a useful source of calcium and other minerals.
Calcium grits can also provide a useful matrix for providing other minerals and vitamins through prepared mineral powders and other additives. An example is PVM Powder (“pink powder”), which contains all the minerals necessary for a balanced diet, in particular calcium, iron and iodine, and also vitamins A, B, D, E and K. BIOCAL is another useful product which is formulated from multiple sources of calcium – ground shell grit, ground cuttlefish bone, ground sea coral and calcite. It is naturally rich in calcium and iodine.
Now FITGRIT.tm from Naturally for Birds provides a convenient blended calcium grit product which integrates all these components. With high quality fine shell grit, a medicated fine grit, Canunda shell and various mineral supplements mentioned above FITGRIT.tm contains: Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Gluconate, Sodium, Iron, Cobalt, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Iodine, Molybdenum, Selenium, Vitamins A, D3, E, B complex (B1, B2, B6, B12), K3, Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid, Niacin, Choline Bitartrate, probiotic Protexin, finely crushed shellgrit, Canunda shell, sterilized egg shell, activated charcoal and Diatomaceous Earth.
FITGRIT.tm should be provided to your birds at all times and placed in a situation where it will remain dry and not be contaminated by droppings.
Crushed charcoal is readily eaten by many finches and is also placed in nests by some species. Charcoal acts in the intestine as a natural astringent and can deactivate a range of toxins which may be present. But what is meant by ACTIVATED charcoal?
“ACTIVATED” refers to the level of porosity of the charcoal – essentially its structural surface area – which is the main feature which allows it to readily absorb water, volatile odours and toxins.
Most charcoal that you might make yourself has about 20% non- carbon impurities and an average porosity. The manufacture of Activated Charcoal involves heating of carbon-rich materials to very high temperatures but controlling oxygen access to the burning process so that the timber isn’t vaporised to ash but is converted to high quality charcoal.
The high temperature “activation” process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. This process also reduces the size of the pores in the charcoal and makes more pores, thereby greatly increasing its overall surface area. For example one teaspoon of finely crushed Activated Charcoal has the surface area of a football field! Our Activated Charcoal is 99.5% carbon and is the highest porosity that can be achieved.This makes it extremely adsorbent, allowing it to bind to molecules, ions, or atoms. In this way, it removes these from dissolved substances.
Our Activated Charcoal is produced from Bulloak (Allocasuarina luehmannii), the hardest timber in Australia, that is harvested under a conservation covenant through selective removal of a small percentage of Bulloak trees.
So is charcoal beneficial for your birds? There is a lot of evidence for therapeutic benefits of activated charcoal in humans, particularly in gut health, but of course no definitive work has been done with birds. We know that many species will consume charcoal in the wild and we have personally seen honeyeaters collecting charcoal from our camp fires. Masked Finches are well known for their fascination with charcoal, both consuming it and placing pieces in their nests. Several other species also do this, both in the wild and in captivity. They don’t do this for fun and it seems reasonable to assume they derive benefit from it.
There is some information which claims that charcoal should not be fed to birds because it may interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins such as A, B2, and K, resulting in deficiencies. However, the vast majority of information sources I have seen on charcoal indicates that it is highly beneficial.
Nutrition is all about balance, not excess, and the best judge of what is needed is your bird. Hence it is important that birds can select what they need from a varied diet and not be forced to consume nutrients by having no choice. With products like FITGRIT and ACTIVATED CHARCOAL they can select what they need when they need it.