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Feeding birds, in the home or out in the yard, provides them with nourishment and gives enthusiasts a fun and safe way to interact with them. In the case of pet birds, feeding is a critical aspect of their maintenance and upkeep. It can be difficult trying to determine what food is best for specific species, however.
That is where this handy guide can help. It will cover the basics of feeding birds, both wild and domestic, as well examine the types of food that will provide them with a healthy diet while avoiding waste.*
Let's start with the basics: What makes up a general avian diet? How does nutrition differ amongst wild birds and pets?
The answer depends on the specific kind of bird in question. Seed-eating varieties will require a completely different diet than non seed-eating species will, for example. Some need to eat nectar. Fruits, vegetables, and even insects can round out a balanced meal for others.
Providing birds with a healthy diet will help them live fuller and healthier lives. If their intake is balanced, it can fend off diseases as well as keep their feathers shiny and maintained. High-quality food sources also work to prevent bacterial, fungal, and viral infections by boosting their immune systems. Overall, it can make pet birds feel more energetic and happy.
Birds, also known as aves, that live in the wild will forage for the foods that will sustain them. All four seasons offer distinct nutritional sources, and these creatures will eat what is available to them. According to the The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), natural food sources can consist of:
Striped sunflower seed is a common base used in most wild bird food available for sale. Bird seed mixes will usually include other fillers consisting of one or more of the other items from the list above.
Indoor aves cannot forage for sustenance and must depend upon their owners to provide them the nourishment that they need. Bird foods for both a large and small pet can consist of one or more of the foods listed above. Many owners or keepers also use certain toys or other interactive feeding methods (more below) to keep their feathered friends entertained while mimicking how they would work for food in nature.
Some people have heard of the phrase "eat like a bird." This old saying, referring to finicky eating habits, does have some basis in reality. Birds will devour food sources that they like while ignoring those that they do not. This makes it vital for bird enthusiasts and pet owners to choose their food carefully to avoid waste.
Cheap outdoor mixes will contain fillers that almost all birdies dislike, such as red milo. Sometimes, those unwanted fillers can account for more than half of the container's volume. It is best to avoid these cheaper alternatives if possible.
Seed for a wild bird can provide calories and fats at higher levels. This can be an important consideration for offering seed to wild aves during the cold winter months. However, these high levels of calories and fats may not be healthy for indoor pets. That can make outdoor foods a treat option rather than the main source of nutrition for indoor birdies.
Many indoor formulas are designed for specific species. These foods may offer outdoor aves with a balanced diet if their natural habitat mirrors that of a pet's, but it can also lack the calorie count or fat levels that many wild birds need.
In either case, enthusiasts and owners alike should remember that birdies will pick the things that they like from the blend of bird seed that is offered. What they do not like they will either leave be or discard from their bird feeders.
Suet is the hard fat found around the kidneys and loins of cattle or sheep. For bird enthusiasts, this refers to commercial or homemade products that are used as a food source favored by aves that feed on insects. While it can be offered all year long, this type of nourishment is great for winter months when the environment limits available sources of nutrition. It can supply animals with much-needed energy and help them generate heat effectively.
This substance can be rubbed onto tree bark or offered in a mesh or wire bird feeder. Feeders work best when hung near the trunk of the tree, approximately five to six feet from the ground. Those who garden should make sure to place the feeders near it; visiting birds can eliminate some of the insects that live near it and could damage the garden during the growing season!
Treats are a great way to supplement an ave's diet. They also act as a fun way to add some variety or even play into a pet's life. There are a variety of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and commercial options available, especially for indoor pets.
Seed Cakes: These treats are made from seeds that are stuck together with products like honey. They can take on various shapes and force birds to work for their food using their beaks. This mimics what they would do in nature.
Sprayed Toys and Sticks: These varieties have a plastic or mesh body covered with millet or other seeds sprayed onto them. Again, birds have to work the seeds off with their beaks, which helps to keep them entertained.
Filled Toys or Items: There are products available that can be filled with foods that pets will enjoy. These treats also encourage exploration and play.
Fruits: These can be a great source of vitamins. Many will not want to waste anything, but uneaten pieces of fruit need to be removed from feeders after sitting for a couple of hours. This will prevent bacteria from growing on them.
Cereals or Grains: This type of food can offer good carbohydrates and proteins to aves. Oats are a favorite for many birds.
No one wants to waste food mix. To shop responsibly means taking into account not only what will reduce food waste, but also what aves do not need. In fact, some things to avoid when going to the pet shop include:
Grit: This does not refer to the corn-based food product. This term instead refers to fine, pebbly grains, sand, crushed shells, or dirt that many animals ingest to help digest food. Many a pet shop carry commercially available grit products, but there is controversy as to adding this to a bird's diet. Wild aves will digest grit as they need it. Many avian keepers feel that these products are unnecessary for a pet, however.
Certain Sugars: Avoid offering "people" foods that contain higher levels of sugar. Pets not only do not need them, but they can even be unhealthy for inside birdies.
Certain Fats: These are another type of "people" food to avoid. Things like potato chips are not healthy for a pet or wild bird.
Budgerigars or budgies—also known as parakeets—are a seed-eating species that will enjoy a variety of fruits, grains, greens, seeds, and vegetables in their feeders. Some popular foods or mixes for budgies include:
Seeds - Millet, nyjer, rapeseed, and sunflower.
Grains - Canary seed, oats, quinoa, and wheat.
Fruits/Vegetables - A variety that includes leafy greens.
There are many premade mixes and pellets that contain one or more of these sources. Owners might start a budgie out with fruits and vegetables early on to encourage them to eat these healthy foods.
This seed-eating species will benefit from a fully balanced diet that also includes fruits, grains, greens, and vegetables. Food mixes or pellets for a canary should contain some of the following:
Seeds/Grains - Canary grass, flax seed, hempseed, nyjer, oats, and radish seeds.
Fruits/Vegetables - Apple, carrot, cucumber, dandelion leaves, kale, and lamb's lettuce.
Proteins - Crickets, mealworms, and wax-worms.
As with other species-specific commercial supplies, there are mixes and pellets that contain the sources listed above. Canary owners might want to shop for protein-dense products. If a canary consistently eats meals free of proteins, it may stop recognizing them as potential sources of nourishment.
Finches are seed-eating birds that will benefit from additional fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. There are a few preferred food items, such as:
Grains/Seeds - A variety of grass seeds, millet, and small grains.
Fruits/Vegetables - Apple, banana, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, and dandelion.
Proteins - Eggs (boiled or scrambled) and grubs.
This popular species is a natural ground forager, and it will require more than seeds for a balanced diet. Some sources to consider:
Grains/Seeds - Grass seeds, safflower, and sunflower.
Fruits/Vegetables - Assorted berries, broccoli, bananas, cantaloupe, and grapes.
Proteins - Occasional servings (small) of beef, chicken, or fish. Pet parents must note that a small pet bird should avoid peanuts.
A proper mix or pellet formula should contain a variety of ingredients listed above. Owners should supplement missing sources for a well-balanced diet. It is also important for owners to check that fruits are free of any and all pits.
The various subspecies of parrot are omnivores, meaning that they will need protein sources to compliment grains and seeds within their diets. Parrot food & treats will often consist of the following:
Grains/Seeds - Barley, corn kernels, safflower seeds, oats, rice, and sunflower seeds.
Fruits/Vegetables - Beans, blueberries, carrots, flowers, leafy greens, and sprouts.
Proteins - Almonds, cashews, various insects, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts.
While parrots love seeds and nuts, their diet should contain a wide spread of nutritional ingredients. Any blend of bird seed should be supplemented if they do not contain everything this avian variety needs to provide a more balanced diet.
Bird lovers need to think about a lot when shopping for food products. Beyond the nutritional needs of a certain species, the following are also important considerations:
Packaging - Partly or fully clear packages allow potential buyers to see what's inside while they shop. Consumers should check for dust, mold, or other signs of a stale product. A resealable container can be a great way to keep products fresh and free of contaminants.
Freshness - A product that is fresh will be free of crushed dust or empty husks. There will be no signs of mold or mildew growing in the contents. It should also lack signs of infestation, such as insects or animal feces in the container.
Proportions of Mix - Potential buyers should look for products with higher levels of high-quality seeds like millet or sunflower. It's advisable to avoid products with excessive fillers like red milo.
Ingredients - Avian enthusiasts should take the time to study the ingredients listed on the container. It's better to only buy products that offer a majority of ingredients that your birds will eat. It is also important to verify that the food sources are free from chemicals that can be dangerous to birds. One such chemical is capstan, which can appear as a "red or pink coating" on items like cracked corn, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Price - Potential buyers should keep in mind that price isn't everything when it comes to bird foods. A larger price tag may not reflect the contents, so it is important to research a product before a final purchase. Local sales and buying in bulk can save even more money.
Research is an important aspect of a healthy avian diet. Domestic and wild birds can benefit from high-quality, well-rounded diets that address their species' specific needs. Wild bird food might work well for certain outside aves, but may not be the best option for all inside birdies. The best methods for providing proper nourishment to these feathered friends include contacting a vet with specific questions and looking into a species' particular dietary needs.
Disclaimers/Image Credit: This article should not replace the advice of a veterinarian. Individuals with comments, questions, or concerns should consult a licensed professional before introducing new food to their pet's diet. *Cover photo(s) used under license from Shutterstock.com. motorolka/Shutterstock.com*