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Avian Nutritional Considerations: Finches, Toucans and Other Birds

Today we’ll take a look at some of the finer points (as opposed to the basics) involved in feeding canaries, doves, budgerigars, toucans and related birds. Please see Part I and Part II of this article for information on African Gray and Amazon Parrots, Mynas and Macaws.


The perception of finches as “seed-eaters” is at the root of poor feeding practices in captivity.  Wild finches eat a wide range of foods…in most habitats, plants produce seeds only at certain times, not year-round.  Outside of these times, birds must rely upon sprouts, insects and other foods.

Depending upon the species, pet finches should be offered a variety of live and canned insects, fruit, sprouts, egg food, pellets and finely chopped greens (endive, kale, escarole, etc.) on a daily basis.


The points mentioned above apply also to that most popular of all finches, the Canary.

Red factor canaries (those with red-tinged feathers) present a special challenge.  Interestingly, these birds are not true canaries but rather hybrids that arose when aviculturists crossed canaries with a finch known as the Venezuelan Black-hooded Red Siskin.  The amount of red they exhibit is, therefore, influenced by genetics.  However, color-promoting foods will help in maintaining red plumage.

Budgerigars (Parakeets) and Cockatiels

These small parrots are prone to obesity and fatty liver disease when fed seed-only diets, especially if they select only a few favored types of seeds.  Budgerigars in particular are extremely stubborn when it comes to accepting pellets.

You might try offering pellets in the morning, when the birds are very hungry, and withholding seed until late afternoon.  Lafeber Nutri-berries combine pellets with seeds and other tasty foods, and are an excellent way of weaning all types of parrots onto a healthier diet.  Groups of budgerigars are more likely to try pellets than are individual birds – like children, they seem spurred to see what they are missing if one individual samples a new food!

Pigeons and Doves

Much like finches, pigeons and doves are often fed seeds and little else in captivity.  In actuality, however, most take a wide variety of foods in the wild.  Depending Victoria Crowned Pigeonupon the species, pigeons and doves should be provided with pellets, whole wheat bread, chopped kale and other greens and fruit.  Freeze dried fruits are very useful for those keeping fruit doves and tropical species such as the Bleeding Heart Pigeon.

Pigeons and doves are prone to calcium deficiencies in captivity…calcium enriched grit or crumbled oyster and egg shell should always be available.  Birds with chicks require additional protein…nearly all accept egg food and some will take live and canned insects as well.

Toucans and Toucanets

Dietary variety is the key to keeping these entertaining beauties in peak condition.  Care must also be taken that they do not select only a few favored fruits from their daily salad.

In addition to a nutritious softbill pellet, toucans and related birds should be fed a wide variety of fresh and freeze dried fruits, chopped vegetables (i.e. carrots, swiss chard, kale,), live and canned insects and an occasional pink mouse.

Toucans and toucanets are prone to Hemochromatosis, or iron-storage disease.  Please see the article referenced below for further information.

Further Reading

A diet high in citrus fruit may be problematical for some species.  Please see my article Iron Storage Disease for more information.


Foraging Toys and Treats – Keeping Pet Birds Active and Interested

Wild birds spend the vast majority of most days occupied with gathering food.  In captivity, where all their nutritional needs are usually met in a matter of minutes, boredom and a general decline in vitality are constant concerns.  While well-recognized in parrots, these same considerations apply to canaries and other finches, quails, softbills and all other pet birds.

Foraging Toys

A wide variety of bird toys is available to assist in Foraging Toykeeping our avian friends occupied.  Among the most useful are those that, provisioned with food, encourage birds to work at obtaining snacks.  Known as “foraging toys”, these are based on behavioral principles long applied by professional aviculturists.  In my opinion, they qualify more as “health aids” than toys.

I also highly recommended our line of natural bird toys; these must be shredded and otherwise physically manipulated before the bird can retrieve the food hidden within.  In addition to mentally and physically stimulating your pets, they will help to keep beaks in good condition and to sharpen motor skills and reflexes.

Natural Foods

Foods provided in their natural form will also encourage birds to utilize foraging skills.  Particularly useful in this regard are millet sprays, sprouting greens and whole fruits.

Monk ParakeetLive insects are unbeatable in arousing the interest of finches, white-eyes and most softbills.  By allowing mealworms or waxworms to burrow into a pan of sand or oatmeal, you can keep you pets happily hunting for hours.  Crickets are even better, especially if you stock the cage bottom with empty paper towel rolls in which the insects can hide.  Plastic wrap wound around the lower 2 inches of the cage bars will help contain any crickets that escape your pet’s notice.

Hiding canned insects and other treats about the cage will encourage exploration and an interest in the environment in general. 


An outdoor aviary is, in and of itself, a giant foraging “toy.  Birds kept outdoors, even for part of the year, invariably become more alert and active – catching insects, sampling growing plants and just watching what is happening all around them.

Further Reading

To read more about other means of adding to your birds’ quality of life, please see my articles Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots and Finches Use Parrot Toys Too!


Monk Parakeet image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by snowmanradio

Keeping a Preventative and Emergency Health Care Kit for Birds

In caring for birds at home and in zoos, I have found that having emergency care items  Scarlet Macaw on hand has often prevented minor mishaps from turning into disasters.  Supplements that aid in preventative health care are also essential.  Today I have assembled a list of products that parallel those used in public aviaries, and which should be every private bird keeper’s possession.

Bird First Aid Kit

The VSI Bird First Aid Kit is stocked with powdered styptic, bandages, antiseptic wipes, forceps and many other useful products, this kit has everything you need to deal with minor emergencies.  The emergency card included in the kit is most helpful.

Nutritional Supplements

Lafeber Powdered Vitamins can be used on a daily basis, and are especially useful in that they can be applied to food or water.

Virbac Vita Flight Supplement is flavored with fruit and therefore well-accepted by many birds.  It is designed for use during stressful times, such as when a bird has been re-located or is molting, breeding or recovering from an illness.  Another of Virbac’s products, Ornabac, is fortified with extra Vitamin B, an important nutrient during especially stressful events.

Feather and Skin Care

Feather Glo Bird Bath helps to keep both skin and feathers in good shape, while Feather Brite Bird Bath Spray contains lanolin and aloe to assist in soothing irritated skin.

Scalex Mite and Lice Spray should always be on hand to address external parasites.

Bitter Apple has long been favored as a means of discouraging feather plucking.  It is most effective when applied as soon as plucking commences, and therefore should always be on hand.

Beak Conditioning

Disguised as an attractive toy, the volcanic pumice in Four Paws’ Pumice Kabob is one of the most effective materials for keeping bird beaks naturally trimmed and in prime condition.

Further Reading

I’ve written a number of other articles addressing bird medicine and health.  Please see The Diagnosis and Treatment of Ailments Afflicting Cage Birds and the articles referenced there for more information.


Scarlet macau image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by VC-s.

Bird Health Notes – Bacterial and Viral Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)

Pet birds of all kinds sneeze on occasion, and such is not always cause for alarm. However, sneezing can also be the first sign of a sinus infection, and so should signal us to pay extra attention. When accompanied by nasal or eye discharge, or red, swollen eyes, immediate action is necessary.

Bird Sinus Structure and Disease

As in people, bird sinuses are arranged in a complicated network of moist, narrow channels that are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. A lack of certain vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin A, may also pre-dispose birds to sinusitis. As anyone who has had such an infection can attest, bacteria spread rapidly throughout these passageways – when such happens to birds, it can mean a progression from mild to life-threatening illness in short order.


Birds inflicted with sinusitis may appear well at first, occasionally sneezing but otherwise behaving normally. Once the condition progresses, however, nasal and eye discharges will become evident, and the afflicted bird will become lethargic and reluctant to feed.

The bacteria-generated accumulation of hard, waxy material in the sinus cavities behind the eyes will cause the eyes to run, redden and swell. Sick birds will often rub their eyes on perches in an attempt to relieve the pressure, sometimes causing additional trauma in the process.


Early treatment is of utmost importance where sinusitis is concerned. The chance of successfully combating the invading virus or bacterium decreases rapidly as populations build and the bird’s immune system weakens. Veterinary attention is a must…please write in if you need a referral to an experienced avian veterinarian.

Further Reading

You can read about sinusitis from a veterinarian’s perspective at http://www.vetafarm.com/pages/Sinusitis-in-birds-.html.


Bumblefoot (Pododermatitis) in Captive Birds

The term “bumblefoot” is often applied to a variety of un-related ailments.  In actuality, however, it is a very specific medical condition that strikes the underside (or plantar surface) of the foot.


A number of factors, including poor nutrition and trauma, may contribute to the development of bumblefoot.  However, inappropriate perches or, in the case of quail, waterfowl, pheasants and other ground-dwellers, rough substrates, are the usual culprits.  I have rarely if ever come across bumblefoot among wild birds or those housed in huge zoo exhibits with a variety of perches.  It is only when birds are forced to perch or walk upon certain substrates that the condition becomes common.

Diagnosis and Prevention

Bumblefoot first manifests itself as redness or swelling on the bottom of the feet.  If left untreated, abscesses develop and opportunistic bacteria take hold.  Eventually, the bacterial infection may spread to the bone, at which point amputation may be the only recourse.

As afflicted birds may not limp or otherwise evidence discomfort for some time, it is important that you check your pets’ feet regularly, especially if they are house in small cages with a limited variety of perches.

Prevention is simple – you must research the particular perching or substrate needs of each species that you keep.  This varies greatly among different types of birds – please bear in mind that the perches provided with a cage may not be suitable (in terms of width and composition) for the species you intend to house there.

Further Reading

Perch selection is not quite as simple as it may first appear.  To learn more, please see my article Choosing the Proper Perches for Pet Birds.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and orignally posted by snowmanradio.

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