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Collecting and Using Live and Processed Insects for Finches and other Pet Birds – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for information on collecting insects for pet birds.

Today we’ll discuss breeding invertebrates at home, and take a look at some useful insect products.  Please see the articles referenced below for further details on each of these topics.

Raising Invertebrates

In addition to being an interesting endeavor, established colonies of invertebrates will provide you with a year-round supply of (largely free) live food.  Also, you will have access to individual insects of varied sizes, an important consideration to those with mixed collections or nesting birds.

Nutritional Value

Home-raised insects can be “nutrient loaded” (please see below) so as increase their value as a food item, and can be selected when they are at the most nutritious stage of their life cycle (i.e. newly molted and pupating mealworms).  The plumage of birds fed upon live insects often takes on a brilliance not seen in their “less fortunate” cousins (please see photo of Strawberry Finch).

Available Species

Crickets, mealworms, wax worms and fruit flies are the most commonly reared insects, but there are numerous other species to consider.  Roaches, despite their bad reputations, should not be ignored (only .3% of the world’s 4,500 species are household pests).  The soft-bodied orange spotted roaches are slow moving and, unable to climb glass, rarely escape their enclosures (please see below).

Sowbugs and earthworms are among the most useful and readily accepted of all invertebrates.  Widely kept by zoos and European and Asian aviculturists, they are, for some reason, largely overlooked in private collections in the USA.  Both are very easy to rear and breed; starter cultures are available commercially or may be collected.

Canned and Freeze-Dried Invertebrates

Canned grasshoppers, caterpillars and other invertebrates and freeze dried flies and Daphniamarketed for pet reptiles and fishes, offer very useful options to enterprising bird keepers.  I cannot understand why they are not more widely used (I keep hammering away at the point in my articles!), but hope they will come into their own soon.

Further Reading

Please see the following articles for further details on prepared insect products and invertebrate breeding:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds: Anole Food Dried Invertebrates for Birds


Raising Orange Spotted Roaches

Breeding Mealworms

Prepared Diets for Crickets


Images referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Shyamal and Rasbak 

Avian Nutritional Considerations: African Gray Parrots and Indian Hill Mynas

Although much we know about feeding pet birds applies to a wide range of species, a great deal is specific to certain species, families or other groupings. Often, it is important to think in terms of specific bird – i.e. “Peter’s twinspot” as opposed to “finch” – if we are to provide proper nutrition to our collections.A wide range of species-specific bird diets are now available to assist us in this task. As always, research concerning individual species is vital…please check out our extensive line of bird books  for advice.

Today and in future articles I’d like to cover some nutritional concerns that commonly arise among various types of birds.

African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

The ever popular African gray is prone to calcium deficiencies, which most commonly appear at age 2-5. Most birds afflicted with hypocalcaemia metabolize bone calcium in an effort to maintain adequate blood levels of this important mineral. African grays, however, seem unable to do this and instead become racked by seizures (tetany) when calcium is lacking; veterinary intervention is necessary.

Hypovitaminosis A
Vitamin A deficiency is not uncommon in African grays. The excess keratin production that is associated with this condition causes the eyes to dry and the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) to thicken. Birds so afflicted also sneeze, apparently in an effort to clear keratin from the nasal passages.

Mucus ceases to move normally between the nasal passages, resulting in blockages and breathing difficulties. As described above, this is sometimes related to a Vitamin A deficiency.

The role of Vitamin C in reducing sinusitis symptoms and of zinc in transporting Vitamin A is also being investigated.

Feather Plucking
Like other highly intelligent birds, African grays become bored easily. Feather plucking is often associated with boredom, but there is some evidence that low levels of the amino acid arginine may play a role as well. To rule out a nutritional problem, be sure to provide your parrot with a sound diet and a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Food can also serve as an important factor in reducing boredom…consider different ways of making your bird work for its meals, and offer sticks of tough vegetables that the parrot can manipulate and shred. Our many foraging toys  are invaluable in providing stimulating feeding opportunities.

Indian Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa)
Hemochromatosis (Iron Storage Disease)
For some reasons, these wonderfully talented mimics seem especially prone iron build-up in the liver and other organs. Although nutritional links have been identified, there is much we still need to learn. Please see my article Iron Storage Disease and Citrus Fruit  for more information.

Although primarily frugivorous, mynas relish animal foods as well. Beef and other meats are often high in iron and best avoided until all the evidence is in. Stay with hard boiled eggs and insects instead…canned invertebrates are a great option.

Cleaning Considerations
Like most fruit-eating birds, mynas have big appetites and process food rapidly….defecation may occur within 20 minutes of eating. This, combined with high activity levels and the production of moist droppings, renders cage sanitation a vital issue. Be sure to clean all cage surfaces daily with a bird-safe sanitizer to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria.

Further Reading
Please see my articles on the Natural History and Care of Hill Mynas and African Gray Parrots for more information.


Images referenced from Morguefile.

Collecting and Using Live and Processed Insects for Finches and other Pet Birds – Part 1

Insects, earthworms and other invertebrates form a surprisingly large part of the natural diets of many finches, and are essential foods for captive shama thrushes, white eyes and other popular softbills. Even zebra finches and other hardy species that fare well on seed-based diets benefit from insect nutrients. The provision of live insects is often a key factor in bringing birds into breeding condition, and they are indispensible to those with chicks to raise.I have written a number of articles on our Reptile Blog which may be of interest to aviculturists seeking to breed birds or increase dietary variety. I’ll briefly alert you to some of the possibilities here…please see the links below for more details and for information on handling insects and avoiding toxic species.

Light Traps
Zoo Med Bug NapperThe Zoo Med Bug Napper, modeled on traps used to collect insects used in research and zoo bird diets, is the most effective insect trap on the market. It is the easiest to use of all the collection methods described below (just plug it in!) and generally provides the highest percentage of usable insect species. This convenient device will yield nightly hauls of live moths, midges, beetles and other nutritious bird favorites.

The type of light utilized in the Bug Napper is particularly attractive to flying insects, but searching around porch and door lights is also a useful insect hunting technique.

Homemade Traps
Termites (please bear with me on this one!), especially when in mating flights, are major protein sources for birds all over the world, and may be key in stimulating breeding activity in some. Worker termites can easily be trapped (please see below), and will not establish colonies in your home should they escape.

Hunting – the fun part!
Try spreading a sheet below a bush and beating the foliage. This entomologist’s technique will supply you with an incredible assortment of katydids, tree crickets, caterpillars and other soft-bodied delicacies. Be sure to use plastic tongs or small net to handle any species which you cannot identify.

Sifting through leaf litter (or driving insects from litter with heat – please see below) is a useful way of collecting secretive invertebrates. Sow bugs, which are actually Crustaceans and thus related to crabs, are particularly important as a natural calcium source. You’ll have plenty to choose from – even excluding earthworms, the weight of the invertebrates in a single acre of New England forest leaf litter can top 3 tons!

Net Sweeps
“Meadow Plankton” is a term given the astonishing array of invertebrates that may be captured by sweeping a long-handled net  through tall grass. Ranging in size from tiny aphids to large grasshoppers, there will be something for any bird you might keep.

Look, Learn and Have Fun!
Don’t forget to closely examine the creatures you collect. You’ll not soon be bored…over 2,000 types of insects live right within New York City (I’ve collected most of them!), and it is estimated that 30 million species inhabit the planet. A field guide in the Audubon Society or Peterson series is always useful to have on hand.

Further Reading
Please see the following articles for further details on the collecting techniques described above:
Collecting Live Food: an Entomologist’s Technique
Leaf Litter Invertebrates
Building a Termite Trap



Grasshopper image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Fir0002.

Spring’s Affect on Parrots, Budgerigars, Canaries, Finches and Other Cage Birds, Part II: Nestlings and Fledglings (Nutrition, Perches, Feather-Plucking)

Please see Part I of this article for information on other nesting concerns.

There are few events more rewarding to bird owners than the discovery of a nest full of newly-hatched chicks.  But along with the excitement of the new arrivals may come a few potential problems.  Today we’ll take a look at how to avoid and handle some of the more commonly-encountered of these.

Protein Needs

Parrots, finches and other pet birds go from helpless chick to adult-sized fledgling in record time.  As you can well imagine, such rapid development must be fueled by the proper foods, and lots of them.  One of the most common causes of nestling loss is poor nutrition.

Parrots are generally easier to deal with in this regard, and most of the foods needed are readily available…please be sure to write in for suggestions.  Canaries and finches however, are another matter.  While adults subsist largely upon seeds, the young of most require a high protein diet that is rich in insects.

Live and Canned Insects

Be sure to provide the parents with large quantities of small live crickets, waxworms, mealworms and mealworm pupae.  Wild-caught insects offer nutrients unobtainable elsewhere, and were standard fare for many species when I worked at the Bronx Zoo.  The Zoo Med Bug Napper  is an excellent insect trap, and is well worth considering.

Canned Insects  offer a very convenient means of providing breeding birds with much needed dietary variety, and are well-accepted by most finches.  I am quite sure that their role in aviculture will grow in coming years.

Other Protein Rich Foods

Other foods that should always be available to chick-rearing softbills,  canaries and other finches include Egg Food, Finch Nestling Food and Anole Food (dried flies).

Feather Plucking

For reasons that are not yet entirely understood, otherwise attentive parents sometimes suddenly begin to pluck their chicks’ feathers.  The attacks often center on the base of the neck, and are usually instigated by the hen, but males may be guilty as well.  The behavior often intensifies over time, and can leave the chicks with severe wounds and stress-related (as you can imagine!) ailments, and in some cases can result in their deaths.

Feather-plucking of chicks is most commonly seen in budgerigars, lovebirds and, to a lesser extent, cockatiels.  A number of theories have been proposed to explain this odd phenomenon.  Captive animals of many species often attack or even eat their young (never clean the cage of a female hamster with a new litter!), but the birds involved in feather-plucking are most often well adjusted to captivity and excellent parents in all other respects.

Some have suggested that the behavior springs from an inherited, genetic defect or a misguided re-nesting instinct, but a proven explanation is still lacking.

Discouraging Feather Plucking

Short of pulling the chicks for hand-rearing, Bitter Apple Spray is the most effective solution to the problem.  When applied to the nestlings’ feathers, this product is very effective in dissuading errant parent birds.  In most cases, the attacks stop and the pair goes on to successfully raise their chicks.

Slipped Claw

Recently fledged canaries and other finches sometimes fall victim to a condition known as “slipped claw”.  The rear claw (the one which points backward, in the opposite direction of the other three claws) slides forward and remains in that position as the youngster attempts to perch, eventually crippling the bird.

Fledgling-Safe Perches

The condition is largely confined to young birds that are kept on hard, smooth perches.  You can avoid this problem by providing your fledgling finches and canaries with thin, supple perches for the first few months of their lives.  Cotton Cable and Rope Perches are ideal.

Further Reading

Please see my articles Feeding Insects to Pet Birds and Zoo Med’s Anole Food for further information.



Gardening for Pet Birds – Growing Your Own Food and Fodder – Part 2

Blue Orchid BeeAlong with providing your pets with a variety of nutritious foods, “bird conscious” gardening will ensure that you are visited by an assortment of interesting native birds and insects.  Wild-caught insects are also a valuable food item for many cage birds, and may be easily collected with the Zoo Med Bug Napper.

Please see Part I  of this article for general bird-gardening information.

Fruit Trees and Bushes

Trees and bushes can provide limbs for gnawing, leaves for shredding and tasty fruits, flowers and buds.  The branches of those listed here are also useful as cage perches, and will provide your pet with a variety of grip widths and surfaces.

Canaries and other finches and most softbills will also enjoy poking though foliage for caterpillars, beetles and other small insects.

Nearly all of the fruits that we consume can be used as bird food.  Those listed below grow well in temperate climates.  If you live in a warm locale, you can include mango, banana, papaya and other tropical varieties as well.

Apple and Crab Apple





Most berries, including North American natives (elderberry and juniper)


Flowers and buds are relished by many birds – lorikeets and honey creepers will try to extract the nectar, and others will consume flowers outright, search among them for insects, or just enjoy tearing them up.  Some hearty favorites include:









Seeds, Grains and Grasses

Don’t forget your seed-eaters…in addition to nutritious seeds, the following provide leaves that make excellent foraging toys and nesting material:


Canary Grass



Most Native Grasses

Some of my earliest bird-gardens sprang up quite accidentally – the result of bird seed that spilled while I was cleaning bird and small animal cages, and wild bird seed missed by visitors to my feeders.  The seeds used in such foods are apparently quite hearty, as I gave the plants no care at all but had quite an assortment sprouting throughout the summer.  Try planting some of our wild bird seed and see what happens.

Toxic Plants

A number of common household and garden plants are potentially toxic, and should not be fed to birds.  Please see my article on Toxic Plants for further information.

Further Reading

You can learn more about gardening for pet and wild birds at the following informative blog:


Orchard bee photo referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Artic.

Dogwood photo referenced from Wikipedia.


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