Bird nutrition is one of the most important and the most decisive factor relating to the health of our birds. Assuming that we could provide our birds with the “ideal diet”, then surely many of the problems of their health would not mind or trouble us less and above all the birds themselves.
There are cases where drugs are administered to the birds in order to address a health problem, which is not even due to pathological causes but only to the results of poor nutrition.
When we provide our birds with a diet which is incomplete or even sometimes unhealthy, then over time several health problems may occur due either to primary nutritional deficiencies from the unbalanced ration or by secondary complications of certain diseases that can not be treated due to poor physical condition.
Some of the problems that can be attributable either directly or indirectly to poor nutrition included poor quality feathering, sustained moulting, various metabolic disorders, respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases which may have manifested due to reduced immune system activity, the obstruction of the egg in the reproductive tract of laying females etc.
Bird nutrition essentials
To examine as well as possible the chapter of nutrition, we will divide it into 6 main categories:
- Vitamins and Minerals
- Fruits and Vegetables
These are organic and inorganic substances that are taken from food and water or synthesized by the body itself (some in small quantities). Their role is crucial to the functioning of the body since they are necessary for the metabolism of food into energy, the body’s defences, development, nervous system, reproduction, etc.
The most common deficiency due to dietary causes is that of vitamin A. Vitamin A may be administered in two forms, as Vitamin A or as beta carotene. The advantage of beta carotene is that if administered in higher doses than normal it does not cause problems, unlike vitamin A which can damage the liver and bones in case of overdose. You can read more about avitaminosis A and the foods from which it can be derived.
Another relatively common deficiency is that of vitamin D3, which is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones (its existence is necessary for the absorption and utilization of calcium by the body), for the good condition of the feathering and for spawning. To synthesize this vitamin in sufficient amounts by the body, direct sunlight is essential.
Where the birds are housed indoors, there should be special full spectrum lighting, with lamps commercially available for this purpose. Keep in mind that even if there is natural lighting in the space, the largest amount of UV radiation that is essential for the creation of vitamin D3, is absorbed by the glass panes of the windows.
To ensure that the birds get enough, we can also administer vitamin D3 through dietary supplements, enough to be sure that they contain the appropriate dose.
Although all vitamins are very important and each one has its own role in the proper functioning of the body, we refer only to two very important ones, the lack of which occurs more often.
Of the inorganic minerals, calcium is the most important. The birds that need continuous supply of calcium supplements are the African gray parrots, the Blue Fronted Amazons and female birds during the breeding season, especially during spawning.
All other birds get enough calcium from their diet or from standard supplements allocated for this purpose. Some of these are the cuttlefish bone, the mineral blocks, sand from broken shells, which are very good natural sources of calcium.
Where additional calcium administration is needed, it is good to prefer compositions in powder form which are mixed with food and not with the water of the birds. Water-soluble vitamin and mineral supplements quickly deteriorate in water and the solution that is created favours the growth of microorganisms.
Also, when you buy supplements look for the expiration date and the date of production which should be as close as possible to the date of purchase. Still, you should buy supplements in such quantity that they can be consumed within six months or less, because over time they lose their properties when exposed to air.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body and are sometimes necessary in larger and at other times in smaller amounts depending on the time period, the activity level and the age of the birds.
The birds that are in the preparation or in the reproduction phase (spawning, upbringing of chicks),, in the period of moulting, where they are placed in flight cages, and generally when they are in development or have increased activity, they need more protein than a bird that is in a single cage during the period of rest.
The older birds require less protein, especially if they suffer from certain metabolic diseases such diseases of the liver, of the kidneys or gout in the feet.
Also important is the quality of the protein. Although the seeds contain a certain protein percentage, others more and others less, they all have to be consumed by the bird and in fact the mixture of the seeds must be made so as to provide the greatest as regards to the intake of the protein, without at the same being rich in fatty substances.
Doing so certainly is not very realistic so In cases where we want to increase the amount of protein in the diet of the birds, we prefer to give good quality animal protein through hard-boiled eggs or some commercial egg food.
As for insectivorous birds, except for commercial egg food which in this case is enriched with dried insects and worms, we can also add to their diet some plain dried insects, worms or ant eggs commercially available for this purpose.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. The simple are sugars. They are digested and absorbed quickly and are not the very best for your birds. Avoid giving them foods containing sugar and never give chocolate to your birds, because it contains substances that can kill them. Fruits also contain high sugar content and should therefore be given in moderation.
Complex carbohydrates are starches. Starch is a very good energy source for birds and serves to create secondary amino acids (building blocks of protein) and fat. Your birds should uptake starch from their diet through some seeds like millet, oats, weed and grass seeds etc.
Fruit and Vegetables
It is a category of foods that can only do good when administered in moderation. Particular attention is needed for avocado because it contains substances which are toxic to birds and can kill them.
Prefer fresh fruits and vegetables and if it’s possible the ones derived from organic farming. Do not forget to wash them very well and also dry them thoroughly before offering them.
It is better to give more often vegetables than fruits to your birds because fruits other than the large amount of sugars they contain, they consist for the most part by water and therefore are less nutritious than an equal amount of vegetables.
The following list, without being complete, contains many of the fruits and vegetables that contain high amounts of vitamin A or beta carotene. These are: broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, dark leafy lettuce, papaya, apricots, peaches, mango, cantaloupe, cherries (can stain droppings in dark red like blood, but in this case it is harmless), and watermelon.
You can give fruits and vegetables to your birds quite frequently, two to three times per week. Many times watery faeces can be seen when fruit and vegetables are consumed, resulting in erroneously attributing them to cause diarrhoea. Actually it is an increased urine output due to the high water content of these foods. You can read the article Diarrhoea in Birds to gain a good knowledge about what constitutes diarrhoea and what not.
Fat deficiency is rare to absent in birds, especially in pet birds. There are cases where birds need certain types of fat in their diet, but the fat contained in general in it, is usually abundant.
In a mixture of seeds there are several types, some of which contain more fat than the other. It is very important to offer to the birds a mixture containing the correct ratio of good quality seeds. There is not a specific recipe in it. Each kind of bird needs specific seeds and at different proportions.
This depends on the type of bird, the level of their activity (single cages or flight cages), the ambient temperature in the living space (indoor or outdoor), and time period (resting, breeding, moulting, exhibitions – competitions). Some seeds rich in fat are: Birdseed, Nizer, Roupsen, Linseed, Camelina etc.
Many people think that because some birds may eat a lot of fat seeds in nature, then they need them also in breeding. However, your birds do not exercise the same with the wild birds, which are constantly flying in search of food. Besides, if a wild bird acquires an obesity problem, it becomes easy prey for a predator or gets sick and dies. Obviously this is not what you want as a result of the diet you provide them.
Birds need plenty of fresh water not only for drinking but also for bathing. The water that they will drink should be clean and free as much as possible from germs, chlorine, and other substances that can harm the birds. Tap water may be suitable for humans, but it is not always suitable for the birds. It is best to use bottled water or a filter of good quality for the water you offer to your birds.
Another very important issue is that of the frequent change of water. The water should be changed daily and waterers be washed thoroughly as often as possible. Water is the most ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, especially if inside it there are food scraps, various nutritional supplements or even feces. Coupled in fact with high temperature, it could be very dangerous if not replaced daily. One solution to reduce or eliminate the presence of food debris in the water is to use automatic waterers.