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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.


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:


Feeding Insects to Pet Birds: Zoo Med’s Anole Food


Zoo Med Anole FoodInsects are readily taken by most captive softbills (finches, canaries and other “non-parrot” species), and are often essential in bringing birds into breeding condition and for the rearing of chicks.  Those of us who keep birds such as smaller finches, Peking robins, shama thrushes and leafbirds are often hard put to find suitably-sized insects.

Small crickets can be purchased at many pet stores, and a few tiny individuals are usually to be found in containers of wax worms and butter worms. A breeding colony of earthworms and mealworms is another option, but such may not be practical for the casual or “accidental” breeder.

In other articles, I have urged softbill keepers to investigate the use of Canned Insects, the Zoo Med Bug Napper and other products originally designed for reptile enthusiasts (please see below).  I would like to now add Zoo Med Anole Food to my list of suggestions.  The dried, laboratory-raised flies that this product contains are ideally sized for even the tiniest of finches and their chicks.  Your birds’ acceptance of this new food might be hastened by misting the flies with a bit of water, or by mixing a few small live mealworms among them.

You can read another of my articles on this topic by clicking on the following link:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds – useful products designed for reptiles

Nests, Nest Boxes and Nesting Materials for Your Budgerigars, Finches, Canaries or Lovebirds


Breeding can be a quite complicated affair among birds, with nest site selection being of key importance in the process.  Sometimes, the mere presence of an appropriate nesting place helps to bring birds into breeding condition.  Conversely, a mated pair of birds may not reproduce if a favorable nest site is lacking.  While some species will modify a nest box or site, others will not – an entrance hole that is too large, for example, may doom your breeding efforts to failure.

All of the nests and nest boxes mentioned below have been carefully designed so as to meet the needs of a wide variety of birds.  Selecting the model appropriate to the types of birds that you keep is the first step in becoming a successful breeder.

Encouraging Breeding Behavior

As mentioned, the introduction of a nest box or site may bring about an immediate breeding response in some species.  This is most commonly seen among birds that, because they live in areas with harsh, unpredictable climates, must be ready to breed as soon as favorable conditions present themselves.  The cockatiel and budgerigar utilize this breeding strategy.

Humidity and Growing Plants

An increase in humidity, simulated by a room humidifier, mist bottle or hose, is a breeding key for many birds.  As the rainy season in nature usually brings with it a resurgence of plant growth, providing sprouting greens (using, for example, the VitaKraft Sprout Pot) as you increase humidity is always a good idea.

Insect Food

Increasing the number of insects offered to finches and other softbills is a time-tested technique for bringing birds into breeding readiness.  Novel insect foods, such as may appear at the beginning of the breeding season in nature, are, in my experience, particularly effective.  In zoo collections and at home I have found it useful to add wild-caught insects to my birds’ diets at nesting time.

The Zoo Med Bug Napper is a wonderfully suited to this purpose.  I also suggest that you experiment with commercial species other than crickets and mealworms, such as canned grasshoppers and silkworms and live waxworms, roaches and earthworms.

Light Quality and Cycle

It is becoming increasingly apparent that full spectrum light in general, and Ultraviolet A light in particular, is a vital stimulus to normal behavior, including reproduction, in birds (and many other creatures).  Always equip your bird’s cage or room with a full spectrum bulb designed specifically for birds, such as the Zoo Med Avian Sun UVB Bulb.

Manipulating the length of your pet’s day/night cycle, in accordance with that of its natural habitat if possible, is also desirable, or even necessary for some species.

Nests for Smaller Birds

Small, enclosed nest sites such as A&E Hanging Finch Nest with Leaves and Finch Nest in a House with Leaves are ideal for finches that naturally lay their eggs within tree cavities.  Included among these are zebra finches and the various nuns and waxbills.  Particularly choosy individuals may prefer with a piece of rolled cork bark over a traditional nesting hollow.

Canaries, cordon blues and green singing fiches will readily occupy open nests.  For these and similar birds, choose the A&E Small Natural Open Finch Nest or Pet’s International Stick Nature Nest.

Larger tree-hole nesters, such as budgerigars and lovebirds, should be provided with the Hagen Parakeet and Lovebird Breeding Nest Box.

Nesting Material

A ready supply of the proper nesting material is an important factor in any breeding program.  Some birds are particularly choosy in this regard, either on an individual or species basis.  Certain species of hummingbird, for example, are most successful in constructing their walnut-sized nests when provided with mosses and lichens…even spider webs, much favored by free-living hummers, have their place as nesting material in zoo programs.

If your birds will not nest and all else seems in order, try adding a variety of nesting material…as with the sudden appearance of novel insect food, this can be a powerful breeding stimulus.

Eight-in-One Bird Nesting Hair and String fits the needs of most commonly-kept softbills.

Experimental Nesting Materials

Don’t hesitate to experiment, and to consider products originally designed for pets other than birds.

Some lovebirds add bark to their nests in the wild…for these you might try R-Zilla Douglas Fir Bark (marketed for reptiles).  Most softbills will use at least some dry grass when constructing their nests – L&M Animal Super Alfalfa Bits (marketed for rabbits and other small animals) is popular with many birds (in zoos, birds of all types raid the alfalfa bails set out for deer and antelope).  Small wild birds of many species utilize moss as a nest-lining.  Most softbills and some lovebirds will appreciate R-Zilla Beaked Moss Bedding or Hagen Forest Plume Moss (marketed for amphibians).

I have some written related articles that may interest you.  Please check out the following:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds: Useful Products Designed for Reptiles

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

Providing the Proper Type and Amount of Light to Pet Birds        

Lighting for Your Pet Bird:  the Importance of the Photoperiod

Fetch It Pets Polly Wanna Piñata Product Spotlight: Behavioral Enrichment for Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Cockatiels and other Parrots


Behavioral enrichment came into vogue in zoos in the last 10 years or so, and is now a “buzzword” throughout the industry.  Of course, good zookeepers and pet owners have long known that captive animal health (and, as concerns bored, screaming parrots, captor sanity!) is aided by the provision of opportunities to explore, forage and otherwise behave in a somewhat normal fashion.

An Early Zoo Experiment

I recall being involved with an early attempt at spicing up the lives of galagos (small primates) at the Bronx Zoo, which resulted in the invention (not by myself, my mechanical skills are horrendous!) of an air-powered cricket dispenser.  Cricket were propelled into different parts of the exhibit at varying intervals, keeping the waiting galagos very alert and ready to leap on a meal at all times.  Zoo visitors were no longer confronted with motionless balls of fur, and the galagos became noticeably more active and vigorous.

Stimulating Interest in Foraging

Of course, parrots benefit greatly from interacting with people and other birds, but foraging behavior also rates very high as an enrichment activity.  Locating and gathering meals takes up a great deal of all birds’ lives, and is infinitely more absorbing than picking food from a dish.

Fetch It Pets Polly Wanna Piñatas are supplied either empty (to be stuffed with food at home) or filled with a variety of nutritious parrot treats.  Parrots of all types enjoy shredding them (and would even if the piñatas were empty!) and working at getting to the dried fruits secreted within.  The stimulation your bird experiences will be evident by the vigor it puts into dismantling this unique product.

The piñatas are especially useful for parrots kept in smaller cages, as hiding treats in such situations is usually more challenging for the parrot owner than is finding the treats for the parrot!


A New Zealand Journal of Ecology article discussing the complexities of foraging behavior in parakeets is posted at:


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