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

Eggsnack Bird Food

The nutritional needs of some of our most colorful and interesting pet birds are not met by seed-based diets. Lories and lorikeets, for example, require a soupy mix of fruits and nectars. Many gorgeous softbills, such as the shama thrush (Copsychus malabaricus) and Peking robin (Leiothrix lutea) subsist largely upon insects, and require a high-protein diet if they are to thrive in captivity.

Dietary Specialists
Such birds were, in earlier times, considered to be “delicate” captives, and hence were largely ignored by aviculturists, or left to well-heeled experts.Providing them with a balanced diet required painstaking daily efforts, and usually involved gathering a variety of uncommon ingredients and a good deal of cooking.

I well remember preparing, twice daily, meals for the Bronx Zoo’s rare Tahitian lories (Vini peruviana).Breakfast was put together at 5:30 AM, and consisted of a blended shake containing fresh papaya, blueberries, nectar (apricot, pear, peach and guava), yogurt, vitamins and mineral powder.Their second meal was comprised of several types of commercial nectars (designed for hummingbirds and sunbirds), each containing several ingredients and mixed separately, as well as various tropical fruits and insects.

Commercial Diets for Picky Birds
In time we learned that many birds formerly thought to be difficult captives were actually quite hearty and long-lived, given the proper diet. Commercial, pre-mixed diets evolved, and now we are in the happy situation of being able to keep a wide variety of interesting species in our homes. Pretty Bird Species Specific Food for Lories and Goldenfeast NectarGold for Lories and Lorikeets serve well as basic diets for the specialized lories and lorikeets. Pretty Bird Softbill Select and Higgins Egg Food are of great value in maintaining toucans, barbets, tanagers, bulbuls and a host of others.

Many seed eating birds, especially the various finches, consume insects and fruit in the wild, and nearly all will benefit from a bit of Softbill Diet and Egg Food from time to time. When such birds are rearing chicks, these foods are vital.

Live, Canned and Collected Insects

Live crickets, mealworms, waxworms and other insects will be appreciated by nearly all softbills. A very useful innovation to appear recently has been the Canned Insects (marketed for reptile pets) by Exo-Terra and ZooMed.

ZooMed Bug NapperI urge you to give these a try for finches and other softbills. Zoo Med’s Bug Napper Insect Trap provides an easy (and interesting!) means of collecting wild insects – trust me, your birds will consider moths, beetles and the like a very special treat indeed.

Next week I’ll describe what was involved in feeding the Bronx Zoo’s huge collection of insectivorous birds before the advent of commercially-prepared diets.

Please see my article Providing Insects to Pet Birds…Useful Products Designed for Reptiles, on this blog, for more information on feeding softbills and other birds.

Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; – Budgerigars as Pets – Part II

Click: Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; – Budgerigars as Pets – Part I, to read the first part of this article.

BudgerigarBudgerigars should be offered a mix of seed based (i.e. Pretty Bird Premium Budgie Diet) and pelleted (i.e. Zu Preem Parakeet Fruit Blend) foods.  Sprouting grass (sprout pot), budgerigar treat foods and a small amount of fruit should be offered 2-3 times weekly.  Cuttlebone and grit should always be available.

Captive Longevity
Budgerigars live an average of 5-8 years, but sometimes reach age 12 or so.   The longevity record is in the neighborhood of 15 years.

Handling and Training
Birds with clipped wings are easiest to train, and hand-raised budgerigars make the best talkers.

I’ll cover the details of training in future articles, but in general it is a good idea to position the bird’s cage in a room where you spend a good deal of time, and to talk to your pet quietly at frequent intervals.  Actual training sessions should be limited to 10-20 minutes.

Finger-training begins by allowing the bird to adjust to the presence of your hand within the cage.  Once it accepts your presence, you can gently push against the bird’s stomach, repeating the word “up” as you do so.  Eventually you should be able to remove the budgerigar from its cage.

Well-adjusted budgerigars genuinely enjoy human companionship and, in fact, may drive you to distraction with their constant play behavior (hanging from your eye-glasses while you are trying to read, for instance!).

Speaking is largely a matter of repetition – be sure to use words in context, so that your bird will appear to “know what it is talking about” once he or she does start to chatter away.  Budgerigars frequently pick up words or sounds on their own, including the calls of wild birds.  One kept by my grandparents frustrated my grandfather by continually calling his name in imitation of my grandmother.  My slightly deaf grandfather often responded the bird’s call and ignored his wife’s – both were convinced that the budgerigar’s “chuckling” afterwards was purposeful!

Parakeets are quick to learn simple tricks (more on that in the future) but bear in mind that their natural behaviors when confronted with new objects or situations are usually well-qualified as “tricks”.  Keep them in a stimulating environment and well supplied with toys and you will never want for amusement!

Budgerigars are adapted to one of earth’s harshest environments (please see Part I of this article) and are quick to come into breeding condition when times are favorable.  In captivity, well-fed and watered, they are nearly always ready to reproduce.  In fact, the mere presence of a nest box may induce breeding behavior in a pair or egg-laying in a lone female.

I’ll cover breeding details in a future article, please write in if you’d like further information in the meantime.

The word budgerigar is derived from the Aboriginal term for “good eating”.


A unique article concerning experiences with budgerigars in the wild and captivity is posted at:

Caution: Some Common Plants are Toxic to Birds

Pet birds of all types can benefit from the branches, leaves and stems of wild plants and trees.  Stripping bark, chewing wood and searching the leaves for hidden treats is very good for their well-being.  In fact, I have long provided cut native browse to captives ranging from ants to ostriches to elephants, and most zoos consider such a valuable form of “behavioral enrichment” and, in some cases, an adjunct to captive diets.

Be sure that all plants provided to birds have been well-washed, so as to remove insecticides.  When cutting natural perches, stay with branches from almond, citrus fruit, apple, dogwood, ash, elm and Manzanita trees, or grapevine.

Many plants that birds might encounter in your home or garden can, however, sicken or kill your pet.  The following list was adapted from that provided by the ASPCA, with additions garnered from my own experience.  Please keep your birds (and other pets) away from these – when in doubt, err on the side of caution:

Aloe Vera
Apple (seeds)
Andromeda japonica
Apricot (pit)
Asparagus Fern
Avocado (fruit, pit)
Baby Doll
Baby’s Breath
Bird of paradise
Branching Ivy
Buddhist Pine
Calla Lily
Castor Bean
Cherry (leaves, seeds)
China Doll
Chinese Evergreen
Christmas Cactus
Christmas Rose
Corn Plant (all Dracena)
Crown Vetch

There’s quite a few more…I’ll cover the balance next week.

Bird emergencies can take many forms….for an overview, please see:



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