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Avian Nutritional Considerations: Finches, Toucans and Other Birds

Today we’ll take a look at some of the finer points (as opposed to the basics) involved in feeding canaries, doves, budgerigars, toucans and related birds. Please see Part I and Part II of this article for information on African Gray and Amazon Parrots, Mynas and Macaws.


The perception of finches as “seed-eaters” is at the root of poor feeding practices in captivity.  Wild finches eat a wide range of foods…in most habitats, plants produce seeds only at certain times, not year-round.  Outside of these times, birds must rely upon sprouts, insects and other foods.

Depending upon the species, pet finches should be offered a variety of live and canned insects, fruit, sprouts, egg food, pellets and finely chopped greens (endive, kale, escarole, etc.) on a daily basis.


The points mentioned above apply also to that most popular of all finches, the Canary.

Red factor canaries (those with red-tinged feathers) present a special challenge.  Interestingly, these birds are not true canaries but rather hybrids that arose when aviculturists crossed canaries with a finch known as the Venezuelan Black-hooded Red Siskin.  The amount of red they exhibit is, therefore, influenced by genetics.  However, color-promoting foods will help in maintaining red plumage.

Budgerigars (Parakeets) and Cockatiels

These small parrots are prone to obesity and fatty liver disease when fed seed-only diets, especially if they select only a few favored types of seeds.  Budgerigars in particular are extremely stubborn when it comes to accepting pellets.

You might try offering pellets in the morning, when the birds are very hungry, and withholding seed until late afternoon.  Lafeber Nutri-berries combine pellets with seeds and other tasty foods, and are an excellent way of weaning all types of parrots onto a healthier diet.  Groups of budgerigars are more likely to try pellets than are individual birds – like children, they seem spurred to see what they are missing if one individual samples a new food!

Pigeons and Doves

Much like finches, pigeons and doves are often fed seeds and little else in captivity.  In actuality, however, most take a wide variety of foods in the wild.  Depending Victoria Crowned Pigeonupon the species, pigeons and doves should be provided with pellets, whole wheat bread, chopped kale and other greens and fruit.  Freeze dried fruits are very useful for those keeping fruit doves and tropical species such as the Bleeding Heart Pigeon.

Pigeons and doves are prone to calcium deficiencies in captivity…calcium enriched grit or crumbled oyster and egg shell should always be available.  Birds with chicks require additional protein…nearly all accept egg food and some will take live and canned insects as well.

Toucans and Toucanets

Dietary variety is the key to keeping these entertaining beauties in peak condition.  Care must also be taken that they do not select only a few favored fruits from their daily salad.

In addition to a nutritious softbill pellet, toucans and related birds should be fed a wide variety of fresh and freeze dried fruits, chopped vegetables (i.e. carrots, swiss chard, kale,), live and canned insects and an occasional pink mouse.

Toucans and toucanets are prone to Hemochromatosis, or iron-storage disease.  Please see the article referenced below for further information.

Further Reading

A diet high in citrus fruit may be problematical for some species.  Please see my article Iron Storage Disease for more information.


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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