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Tips from the Past: Feeding Dried Invertebrates to Finches and Softbills – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for an overview of some tropical fish foods that may be fed to pet birds.

The protein requirements of finches are often over-looked by bird keepers, as these captivating little birds are usually thought of as “seed-eaters”.  However, nearly all species readily consume insects in the wild.  Invertebrate-based protein is also essential for bringing most into breeding condition, and for parents with chicks.  Lories, painted quail, shama thrushes, white-eyes, Pekin robins and many others also relish and need invertebrate foods.  A number of products originally formulated for captive reptiles contain shrimp, snails, flies, Gammarus and other foods that make healthful additions to the diets of many cage birds.

Snails, Shrimp and other Canned Invertebrates

Canned invertebrates such as shrimp, snails, grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms represent an important and little-utilized food source for pet birds.  Most birds prefer that the shrimp be left out to dry for awhile, but will eagerly take the other items straight from the can.


Gammarus, tiny crustaceans usually referred to as “fresh water shrimp”, are actually amphipods, not true shrimp. They have long used as an important protein source for cage birds of all types.  Originally collected in Southeast Asia and rather expensive by the time they arrived in the USA, local Gammarus species are now used in the trade here.

Repto Treat Gammarus Shrimp Supplement, comprised entirely of sun-dried Gammarus, is a useful way of providing your smaller birds with this nutritious but often-forgotten food item.

Dried Flies and Egg Food

Zoo Med Anole Food, which contains freeze dried, laboratory-raised flies, is readily accepted by most small finches and softbills.

Every old-time bird keeper knew how to prepare egg food, which was considered essential for bringing birds into breeding condition.  Nearly all the birds with which I have worked, from tiny finches to massive cassowaries, consumed it with gusto.  Cede Egg Food is a convenient means of supplying your birds with this is nutritious, high protein treat.

Further Reading

Please see my article on Breeding Finches  for further information on the role of invertebrate foods in promoting reproduction.

Please also check out my articles on individual bird species for specific information.  You can also subscribe to my RSS Feed at



Image referenced from Wikipedia and first published by NIMSoffice.

Iron Storage Disease and Citrus Fruit…is there a Connection?

Toco ToucanHemochromatosis, or iron storage disease, is a condition wherein iron absorption is not properly regulated; over time, too much of the mineral is stored in the liver and other organs. Most commonly seen in captive mynas, it also crops up in other fruit-eaters, including toucans, lorikeets and other parrots. During my tenure at the Bronx Zoo, several birds-of-paradise came down with the disease.Oranges and other citrus fruits are often identified as contributing to the disease’s onset. Prompted by a recent blog comment, I’d like to address the matter in this article.

The Citrus Connection
Citrus fruit is a potential concern because ascorbic acid renders the iron in plant foods more biologically available, and hence easier to store. In general, the iron in plants is not readily available to birds, but that in bananas, raisins and grapes is an exception to this rule…these too should be avoided where appropriate.

Research and Theories
Research on the issue has led to somewhat conflicting results. Birds maintained on low iron diets have come down with the disease, while over-supplementation of iron has led to liver lesions indicative of hemochromatosis in some but not all experiments.

One interesting school of thought proposes that populations of birds living on iron poor diets in the wild may develop unusually effective iron storage abilities, leaving them prone to the disease when fed typical captive diets. This might explain why mynas and others vary in their iron tolerances.

In humans, folic acid and choline deficiencies seem to pre-dispose one to iron storage disease…further research is needed here as well.

What to Do
Many generations of mynas, birds of paradise and other species have been bred without incident on diets containing moderate amounts of citrus fruits, so at this point the matter begs more research. Perhaps the iron levels in commercial softbill pellets should be investigated more closely.

Those who are unsure should consult their veterinarians…radiographs and blood tests can disclose liver problems, which may be indicative (but not diagnostic) of hemochromatosis, and can help to point one towards a healthful diet.

Dietary Variety for Frugivores
QuetzalFrugivorous birds do best when provided with a wide variety of tropical fruits and some vegetables – not an easy task in certain seasons and locations. Please check out our extensive line of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, including mango, raspberries, papaya, sweet potatoes, peas and others, for some ideas.

Further Reading
For information on growing your own fruits, flowers and other bird foods, please see my article Gardening for Birds.


Tips from the Past: Feeding Dried Shrimp to Finches and Softbills

Prepared bird diets  have greatly eased the task of providing balanced nutrition to feathered pets of all types.  I can well recall times when the diets of birds other than seed-eaters were, of necessity, prepared from scratch…please see my article Alternative Bird Foods, Yesterday and Today  for details and some useful products.  However, along with the innovations that have come about in the field of avian nutrition, it seems a few of the finer points have been lost.

Aquatic Foods for Terrestrial Birds?

Today I’d like to focus on what may perhaps seem an odd food for most pet birds – freeze dried shrimp and shrimp-like creatures such as Daphnia and Gammarus.  Widely used as tropical fish foods today, in years past zoo and private bird keepers relied upon these as important protein sources for finches and softbills such as bulbuls, shama thrushes, Pekin robins and white eyes.

Although most of these birds likely never encounter aquatic invertebrates in the wild, decades of experience has revealed that these creatures none-the-less contain well-accepted and useful nutrients.  Shrimp also help maintain the red coloration of many birds…among zookeepers it is well known that flamingos and scarlet ibis deprived of whole shrimp (or a substitute) soon fade to washed-out, pink “shadows” of their former selves.

Some Useful Freeze Dried Invertebrates

At That Fish Place/That Pet Place, we carry an extensive line of freeze dried shrimp and similar invertebrates, many of which will be well-accepted by a variety of birds.  Please give Daphnia, bloodworms, baby shrimp and mini krill a try.  You can either mix these foods into your pets’ usual diets, or offer them directly.

Further Reading

Wild and commercially-bred insects are also of great use to aviculturists. For information on collecting wild insects with the Bug Napper Insect Trap  and the use of canned insects in bird collections, please see my article Feeding Insects to Pet Birds .


Image referenced from Animal Pictures Archive and originally posted by K. W. Bridges.

Gardening for Pet Birds: Growing Your Own Food and Fodder – Part 1

With warmer weather (finally!) here, I’d like to present some thoughts on plants that can be grown and provided to finches, parrots, softbills and other pet birds as both food and “playthings”.  Wild plants provide important nutrients that are often in short supply in commercial foods.  Also, your pets’ enthusiastic attacks on novel foods will leave no doubt as to the value these have in stimulating appetite and behavior.  In some cases, the provision of fresh leaves and branches, or a new flower or fruit, even helps to spark breeding behavior, much as similar factors do in the wild.

Wild Visitors

Your “bird food garden” will provide the added benefit of attracting local birds, perhaps some that you have not seen in the past.  If their attentions become “too enthusiastic”, consider installing one of our bird feeders and keeping it well supplied with wild bird food  – most birds will prefer ready-to-eat foods over those which they must harvest themselves!

Using Home-Grown Foods

Bark, leaves and flowers provide exciting play and beak-trimming opportunities.  Some of these, along with seeds, buds, fruits and berries, are also readily consumed – having your pets work at breaking up a fruit or seed head will be of great value in keeping them occupied and active.

Do not limit your thinking to parrots when considering food and activity opportunities.  Canaries and other finches also take quickly to poking about leaves and sharpening their beaks on rough bark.  Leafy branches are particularly attractive, and will be investigated thoroughly for the presence of small caterpillars, aphids and other insects.  Softbills such as Pekin robins and shama thrushes will do the same, and many enjoy sampling flower nectar as well.


Be sure to avoid the use of pesticides in your garden, and to collect wild plants only from areas that are not sprayed with such toxins.

Consult your local pest-control authority for information concerning West Nile Virus control efforts – the toxins used are said to be mosquito-specific, and to dissipate within 24 hours, but harvesting should probably be avoided during peak treatment periods.

Further Reading

Information on pesticide free gardening is posted at http://groups.ucanr.org/slomg/documents/Pests_&_Diseases3865.htm.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio.

Pretty Bird Softbill Select, a Nutritious Food for Mynas, Toucans, Parrots, Budgies, Canaries, Finches and other Bird – Avian Nutrition


Softbill Select” bird food  is designed to meet all of the nutritional requirements of toucans, mynas and similar birds, collectively known in the pet trade as “softbills” (however, there’s nothing “soft” about a toucan’s bill, trust me!). It is a quite unique product, combining 15 fruits and vegetables (i.e. coconut, papaya, apricot, sweet potatoes, dates, spinach, broccoli, carrots) and a variety of vitamins and minerals in a soft pellet.

Using Softbill Food for Parrots and Other Birds
Softbill SelectBecause they package so many nutritious foods in one convenient pellet, I have long used fruit and vegetable-based softbill diets for numerous creatures other than the birds for which they were formulated. Canaries and other finches; budgies, cockatiels and other parrots; button quail, doves and nearly all other popular pet birds relish fruits and vegetables and many consume “Softbill Select” eagerly. I use it as a treat for most birds, and as a large part of the diet for the softbills mentioned above, and for shama thrushes, white-eyes, turacos and Pekin robins as well.

Invertebrates, Reptiles and Mammals
For those of you who keep pets other than birds, try adding some “Softbill Select” to the diets of forest tortoises (i.e. red-foot tortoises), green iguanas and other non-desert-adapted herbivorous lizards, sugar gliders, mice, rats, chipmunks, land hermit crabs, millipedes and roaches.

Further Reading
For further information on the role of fruits and vegetables in pet and wild birds’ diets, please see my articles on Carotenoids  and Alternative Bird Foods.


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