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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.

Introducing a “Mini Toucan” – the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Collared AracariToucans have long enchanted bird keepers and “regular people” alike. Having kept several large species in zoos, I can attest that their bright colors and clownish appearances are matched by their behavior. I have seen them toss grapes to one another for no apparent reason (mated pairs and youngsters were not involved) and engage in “beak dueling” bouts with no signs of aggression at all. All were unfailingly curious about me, and soon fed readily from my hand.

Most toucans are too large for home aviaries, but at 12 inches in length, the Collared Aracari has become quite popular and is now bred regularly. It still needs a great deal of room, but keeping a pair is at least feasible for dedicated aviculturists.

Ranging from southern Mexico to northern Columbia and Venezuela, Collared Aracaris feed on an estimated 85-110 species of fruits and berries, as well as insects. Captives require a wide variety of fresh fruits on a daily basis. They should also receive a high quality softbill food such as Pretty Bird Softbill Select and large insects (try Zoo Med’s Can O’ Grasshoppers or Silkworms).

There is some evidence that Collared Aracaris are cooperative breeders – in Panama, up to 6 adults have been observed feeding the brood of 1 pair, and all banded together and chased after a marauding hawk.

Those of you with space and some experience might wish to consider these tropical beauties. I’ll write in detail about the care of small toucans and their relatives in future articles.

You can read more about Collared Aracaris at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Pteroglossus-torquatus-001.jpg. Posted by MDF 2/4/2008

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