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Research Update: Carotenoids in Food are Important to the Health and Mating Success of Birds


Carotenoids are compounds that, in most birds, impart red, yellow and orange colors to the feathers.  They are obtained from the diet, and are most abundant in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables.  In theory, a bird with bright plumage is “advertising” the fact that it has been eating well, and is in prime health.  Until recently, however, this theory was largely unproven.

Health Benefits Conferred by Carotenoids

Findings released this month (Feb. 2009) by Arizona State University researchers indicate that carotenoids do indeed provide a great many health benefits to birds, and therefore the “advertisement value” of the plumage is quite significant.  These nutrients seem to enhance both vision (specifically color perception) and sperm quality.

The researchers theorize that a diet high in carotenoids leads to better color vision which in turn allows the bird to find foods of higher quality (brightly colored fruits, for example) and a more fit (again, brighter-hued) mate.

Carotenoids function as antioxidants in people, but it has not been determined if the same applies to birds.

Choosing Carotenoid-Rich Products for Your Pets

Here at ThatFishPlace/ThatPetPlace, we carry a wide variety of bird foods  that are packed with carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables.  There are a number of products available for most types of birds – for starters, please check out Wild and Spicy Avian Entrees, Fiesta Food for Canaries and Finches and Sunny Orchards Nutriberries.

I also recommend as additions to your pets’ diets those foods consisting entirely of carotenoid-rich items, such as Veggi-Crisp Delights  and Diced Blueberries, Raspberries and Papaya.

Of course, a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, with amounts and types tailored to the species of birds that you keep, should also be offered to your pets.

Further Reading

Goldenfeast Dried Sweet Potatoes are a great source of carotenoids and other valuable nutrients.  Please see my product review and notes concerning the many zoo animals which I have found to relish this healthy food: Goldenfeast Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat  


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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