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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  


Avian Nutrition: Pellet-Based Diets for Budgies, Macaws, Cockatoos, Cockatiels and other Parrots, Finches and Canaries


Although people have been raising and breeding granivorous birds on seeds for decades, it is now well-established that pellets offer a more reliable method of assuring that a balanced diet is consumed.

Pellet-based diets are more important for some types of birds than for others.  Finches, for example, tend to eat most of the ingredients contained in leading finch seed mixesParrots, on the other hand, can be quite picky, going through their food cups with a fine-toothed comb, as it were, and selecting only their favorites.

Using Seeds and Switching to Pellets

For all birds on a seed-based diet, the key to maintaining good health lies in assuring that a wide variety of seeds are consumed in appropriate amounts, and in providing supplemental foods (vegetables, fruits, sprouts, etc.) on a regular basis.  Pellets take the guesswork out of feeding birds, and have been embraced by most zoos and commercial aviaries.

The switch from a seed-based to pellet-based diet should be made gradually…even if your bird readily accepts pellets, it is not a good idea to shock its digestive system with a sudden change.  Rather, introduce the pellets over a period of 2-3 weeks.  Some birds, especially older parrots, may resist mightily, and may take several months before settling in to their new diet.

Tricks to Ease the Transition

One of the easiest ways of introducing pellets to your bird is to make use of Lafeber Avicakes  and NutriberriesBoth products contain nutritious pellets set within a tasty mix of molasses, seeds and other universal favorites.  Mixing pellets with fruits, vegetables, Eggfood  and other treats will also encourage acceptance.

“Pulsed feeding”, or the offering of many small meals daily, has long been used by poultry breeders to encourage birds to take in additional calories (it seems that the presentation of a food dish sparks a feeding impulse, even in a bird that might be rather “full”).  Removing and re-introducing your pet’s dish, loaded at times mainly with pellets, is worth a try.

The Role of Seeds in a Pellet-Based Diet

Seeds do have their place in parrot and finch diets, of course.  In addition to their nutritional value, birds benefit greatly from physically manipulating and opening seeds and nuts.

Once your birds have accepted pellets, continue to provide a moderate amount of seeds of many varieties – hiding or lodging them in difficult-to-reach areas is a great way to keep your birds entertained and active.  Bird Foraging Toys  are an excellent means of providing both seeds and exercise opportunities to your pets.

Please check out the pellet-based diets that we offer for finches, canaries, budgies, cockatiels, macaws, cockatoos and other parrotsFor a look at how I provided dietary variety to the Bronx Zoo’s huge bird collection many years ago, please see my article Alternative Bird Foods – Yesterday and Today.


Goldenfeast Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat – Product Review


While looking over some information on Goldenfeast’s Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat it occurred to me just how often I have used these tasty vegetables during my life as a private and professional animal keeper.  I would hazard a guess that, with the possible exception of bananas, yams and sweet potatoes have figure in the captive diets of a greater variety of animals than any other food item.  Animals ranging from African dwarf mice to African elephants, golden pheasants to ostriches, millipedes to land crabs and iguanas to Galapagos tortoises consume them avidly (at an aquarium in Japan, I was astonished to see Australian lungfish gobbling them up as well!).

It turns out that sweet potatoes are an ideal food item – high in fiber and packed with valuable nutrients.  Goldenfeast’s dehydrated sweet potatoes offer a convenient method of providing your birds with their benefits.  Although marketed for parrots, I suggest you offer small bits to your finches and softbills as well.  If you keep shama thrushes, mynas, Pekin robins or similar birds, you might try soaking the potatoes in water for a few minutes to re-hydrate them.


Resources dealing with the nutrient content of sweet potatoes are listed at:


Product Review: Alternative Bird Foods – Yesterday and Today, Part II


Last time we took a look at some of the fine foods available to those who keep softbills and lories as pets (Please see Alternative Bird Foods – Yesterday and Today, Part I).  I mentioned that these products have greatly simplified the captive husbandry of a number of species, and alluded to the difficulties involved in preparing certain diets from scratch.

Today I’d like to recount what it was like to be a bird keeper assigned to prepare food for the huge collection of insectivorous birds at New York City’s Bronx Zoo.

Birds and Bird Keepers Must Eat Early

I rose at 3:20 AM (despite the dreadful hour, I awoke hungry and so allowed time for feeding myself before even thinking about birds of any sort!), and arrived at the zoo by 5:15 AM or so.  The walk from my car to the World of Birds took me along the Bronx River, and my arrival at the door was often delayed by the parade of creatures out and about at that time – perhaps a family of striped skunks, or any of the 265+ bird species recorded nearby.

Cooking and Mixing

The first order of business was cooking 80 pounds of horsemeat which, I must admit, smelled quite sweet and roused me to hunger once again. I also hard-boiled 60 dozen eggs, which were then ground (with the shells) and, along with vitamin and mineral supplements, mixed with the meat.

Diets for individual exhibits and birds were posted over the mixing table, on a board that measured about 18′ x 3′.  Individual ingredients were then added to the pans, as per the needs of the various species – mealworms, newly molted mealworms, blueberries, mixed fruits, chopped vegetables and innumerable other ingredients all had a place.

Delivering the Food

We kept a great many mixed species exhibits, so food pan placement was of paramount importance. Some pans went to areas accessible only to tiny birds; others went in wire cages that functioned as traps, allowing the keepers to capture birds needing attention, while many were positioned so as to afford the public a good view of the feeding birds.

Without carful attention to such details, birds in large exhibits often become malnourished.  Oddly enough, the most dominant individuals often fare the worst, as they select only favored treats, such as mealworms and crickets…leaving the others to consume the more nutritious basic diet.

An Array of Other Foods

Diets for specialized feeders – nectar for hummingbirds and sunbirds, nuts and fruits for cassowaries, fish for bald eagles, mash for flamingos, rodents and insects for burrowing owls, and so forth – came next…more about that in the future.

Please check out my other articles on bird nutrition:

Grit and Gizzards – how birds digest seeds

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds – useful products designed for reptiles

Iodine Deficiency (Avian Goiter, Thyroid Hyperplasia) in Parrots, and Other Cage Birds

Product Review: Vitakraft’s Sprout Pot – a Convenient Method of Supplying Your Birds with Valuable Nutrients

Sprouting Seeds at Home: A Useful Method of Providing Pet Birds with Nutritious Treats

Pet Birds and Plants, Part I & II – avoiding toxic species


Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.


An interesting perspective on feeding birds and other animals at Australia’s Taronga Park Zoo is posted at:


Sprouting Seeds at Home: A Useful Method of Providing Pet Birds with Nutritious Treats

Recently I wrote about the nutritional value of seed sprouts, and highlighted Vitakraft’s Sprout Pot, a most convenient way of growing them (please see below). Today I’d like to describe a method of sprouting additional types of seed at home.

Seeds to Use
The seeds chosen for spouting should be fresh and be comprised of as wide a range of plant species as possible. A simple way to achieve this end is to utilize Kay tee’s Forti-Diet Safflower Seed Blend as the basis of your new “garden”. You can also purchase a wide variety of seeds from most health food stores. Particularly nutritious, and favored by many birds, are safflower, lentils, mung beans, sunflower, wheat berries, barley, buckwheat, popcorn, brown rice, oats and wheat – but there are many others as well.

Producing and Using Sprouts
You will need to rinse the sprouts several times each day, so they should be grown in a colander or other porous container. Then simply proceed as follows:

Rinse the seeds and remove those that are broken or damaged.
Soak in water overnight.
Spread seeds on a colander and place in a dark, well-ventilated location.
Rinse 2-3 times each day; discard moldy seeds.
Shoots will appear in 1-3 days.
Drain to dry and serve.

Unused sprouts will keep well in a refrigerator for several days. You can also dry the sprouts in an oven (use lowest setting) and later re-hydrate or feed to your pets as is.

Additional Notes and Cautions
A wide variety of animals relish sprouts – try them on cats, tortoises, herbivorous lizards, red-eared sliders, hamsters, gerbils, chipmunks or other pets you may have.

I have not experienced any mold-related problems while sprouting seeds, but if this or bacterial contamination is a concern, you can add grapefruit extract to your soak water.

Ventilation is extremely important…the sprouts will invariably develop mold if kept in a closet or similar location. Try using a shelf blocked off by a cloth if you have difficulty finding a dark, well-ventilated site.

Popcorn needs to soak for 18 hours before being set out for sprouting; buckwheat only ½ hour. Overnight works well for most other seeds.

Some hobbyists have reported that fava, black, kidney, lima, pinto, navy and similar beans have caused digestive upset in pet birds, while others note no problems at all. I have used lima and kidney beans for eclectus parrots without incident.

You can read more about the nutritional value of sprouts, and how to grow them using the VitaKraft Sprout Part in my article entitled Product Review: Vitakraft’s Sprout Pot – a Convenient Method of Supplying Your Birds with Valuable Nutrients.

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