A Balanced Diet
To stay healthy over the years parakeets need adequate opportunity for climbing and flying, plenty of light and fresh air, and a well-balanced and varied diet. In their native Australia parakeets live primarily on the half-ripe and fully ripe seeds of many grasses. During the mating periods plenty of half-ripe seeds----which are especially nutritious--are available to meet the dietary needs of the nestlings. When the birds cross dry areas in their constant quest for food, they find only dry seeds and have to have drinking water to be able to soften these in their crops. But since most rivers and water holes in their range are usually dried up because of the long dry season, the parakeets move through the damp steppe in the early morning, drinking the dew drops. It has been shown that parakeets pick up some sand and tiny stones off the ground along with the seeds as an aid to digestion. They also eat fresh greens, but we don't know if their diet occasionally includes insects and their larvae and eggs. This may not seem like much of a menu; nevertheless parakeets in the wild always eat fresh seeds that contain all essential nutrients. The parakeets we keep in cages, on the other hand, have to take what we give them. A conscientious aviculturist will always choose the bird's primary food--a mixture of bird-seed--with special care. This means among other things that the birds are given no old birdseed, for seeds that have been stored too, long no longer contain all the nutrients birds need to stay healthy.

The Basic Staple: Mixed Birdseed
Experts recommend feeding parakeets a seed mixture consisting mainly of canary grass seeds and several varieties of millet, to which oats, niger seed, and linseed are added. Unmixed seeds can sometimes be found in pet stores and seed stores. But the diet of parakeets is commonly available in ready-to-use mixtures. Pet food companies compose and market balanced birdseed mixtures, often enriched with vitamins and minerals. Packaged birdseed mixture can, of course, be purchased not only at pet stores but also at supermarkets; always check the packing date stamped on the bag before buying it.

Food grains and seeds-for the use of humans as well as birds---are harvested once a year and under proper storage, retain their viability until the next planting season. The vital substances keep about one year, though the nutritional value decreases gradually. But the seeds remain edible up to two years. Crucial for the food value of all grains and seeds is proper storage, namely, in dark but airy spaces. From the day that seeds intended as bird food are packaged they are no longer exposed to much air. That is why it is important to buy birdseed with as recent a packing date as possible, i.e., within four to five months. Even with this precaution it is advisable to take a spoonful of seeds from any bag of commercial birdseed and test its viability.

As long as seeds sprout they still have the vital substances that bring alive the new plant that lies dormant within the seed and thus also supply the birds with the essential nutrients. If in your seed test only a small portion sprouts, the mixture has been stored too long or is otherwise damaged and therefore practically worthless. The seeds should not only be viable but also show no sign of rot or mildew and be free of vermin. You can smell rot; mildew is visible; and vermin show up in seeds that are clumped together and have cobweblike filaments emanating from these clumps. Check the basic food of your parakeet constantly and be sure to keep it not in a plastic bag or container but in a cloth bag hung in an airy, dark spot. Birdseed can be left in a cardboard box but should also be kept in a dry and dark place. You can buy parakeet treats in the shape of sticks, little hearts or rings. These are made of the normal seeds parakeets eat but with a bit of honey or sugar syrup added so that the seeds will stick to the shaped vase. Since pecking the seeds off this base gives the parakeet a chance to use its bill, these treats are often popular with the birds. Whether the parakeets really enjoy the treats as food is unclear. Birds that are bored and pass the time picking at these treats may consume too many calories and get too fat, but this pecking is often the only distraction available to parakeets that are bored because they are hardly ever allowed out of the cage and usually get too little attention from people.

Budgies having their favourite treat - Spray Millet.

Fruit and Vegetables
In addition to its basic food a parakeet needs fresh fruit and greens every day. Don't be discouraged if your bird leaves much of this food untouched. Nobody can force a parakeet to eat anything. If not accustomed from its early days to fresh food, a parakeet will at first suspiciously avoid these unfamiliar things. If two or more parakeets live together, one of them will be more courageous than the others and at some point take a nibble of the fruit or greens. Then you can be sure that the others will follow suit. The birds are most likely to try some fresh herbs or greens, preferably chickweed, young dandelion leaves, or spinach. If you gather plants yourself, keep in mind that even thorough washing does not remove traces of exhaust fumes that can poison a bird. Be sure therefore to pick plants only far away from roads. Wash all greens several times in lukewarm water and let drip well (unless the leaves are to provide the "dew bath"). Never give a bird wilted greens or---worseones that smell bad. There is another way to provide fresh, "unpoisoned" greens for your parakeet. Pet stores offer special "bird meadows." These are small pots with seeds sown in them (usually a mixture of plantain, garden cress, lettuce, and grass seeds). The pots are equipped with special mountings for easy attachment to the bars of the cage.

Unless you can get organically grown lettuce it is better not to feed your parakeet lettuce leaves, because what you can ordinarily buy has not only been grown with insecticides but also, treated against quick wilting. Residues of these poisons can kill a parakeet. Fruit and vegetables, too, have to be carefully washed with lukewarm water and thoroughly dried before being given to parakeets. Root vegetables and fruit (especially citrus fruit) should even be peeled to get rid of all traces of insecticides. In time you will learn what your parakeet likes to eat and what it won't touch. Offer carrots at first in grated form; once used to the taste, your bird will probably come to enjoy gnawing on larger pieces of carrot stuck between the bars of the cage. Pieces of apple and pear can be served the same way. Cherries, strawberries, grapes, sections of tangerines, or slices of kiwi fruit can be given in a small bowl, but a tame parakeet will like best to pick them from the keeper's hand. Many parakeets like to peck the little seeds off strawberries before tasting the fruit itself. Grapes are usually cut in half before serving; the birds then like to drink the juice out of the grape halves or suck happily on the little "brushes" that are left on the stems when the grapes are pulled off. Important: Plants and fruit like the ones mentioned are a vital part of a parakeet's diet, since some vitamins in them are either not present in the seed mixture, or are present only in minute amounts. Offer as many different fresh items as possible, and never lose your patience. But make sure your parakeet never gets spoiled or rotten fruit and vegetables and that fresh foods are removed after a few hours because of quick spoilage on hot days or in heated rooms. Food should be at room temperature, never straight from the refrigerator.

Sprouted Seeds
Parakeets need especially nutritious food during the moult and during the mating period. Sprouted seeds are rich in important vitamins and have the added advantage that most parakeets like sprouted seeds and eat them without hesitation. But sprouted seeds should be given not only at times of stress but also as a tonic in the winter and early spring when fruits and vegetables have lower vitamin content than in the summer. Sprouted seeds should definitely be offered if a parakeet is reluctant to eat fruit and vegetables. You can sprout the seeds of your usual birdseed mixture but should also buy hulled oat and wheat kernels from a health food store for sprouting. As soon as viable kernels absorb water, a chemical reaction triggers the sprouting. In this Process vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are unlocked, thus increasing the food value of soaked and, even more, of sprouted kernels. Soak one teaspoon of your standard birdseed mixture in a little water. The seeds should be covered by about 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) of water. After about 24 hours rinse the seeds with lukewarm water in a sieve and put them in a shallow bowl or glass. Cover them with a small plate to keep them from drying out and let them stand for another 24 to 48 hours. After 24 hours they are ready to be served as soaked kernels; after 48 hours, as sprouts. rinse them once more under lukewarm water and let them drip well before serving. Important: Soaked and sprouted kernels spoil quickly.

Serve them in the morning in a separate dish and after one or two hours remove what has not been consumed. This avoids the possibility of your bird getting sick from eating kernels that are beginning to rot. Gradually you will get to know just how much of this supplemental food your bird will eat per day. Let the birds themselves determine how long to continue giving them the sprouts. When you first start the regimen they will rush at the sprouts eagerly every day, but gradually appetite for them subsides until the sprout dish is hardly touched. That's the time to skip sprouts for a few weeks. But parakeets also like unsprouted hulled oat kernels. You may add about a teaspoon of them to a birds basic birdseed mixture every day, assuming your parakeet is not too heavy or fat because of inadequate exercise. Natural food stores as well as most pet stores carry these oats. Grains have to be stored in cloth bags where air can circulate.

Important Supplements to the Diet
Spray millet is not only a parakeet's favourite treat, but also an especially nutritious, easily digested natural food that can be used to nurse sick and weak birds back to health. One whole spray per day provides the needed high energy to brooding birds and their offspring. But under ordinary circumstances you should serve spray millet sparingly, because parakeets put on weight---some-thing to be avoided--when given too much. A healthy, not too fat parakeet may be given about two inches of a spray a day or, if the bird also gets oat kernels (sprouted or-unsprouted), spray millet and oats on alternating days. Once a week you may give your parakeet some supplemental protein in the form of one teaspoon of hard-boiled egg yolk mixed with some low-fat cottage cheese. If you coarsely grind grains for your own breakfast you can add some freshly cracked grains to the egg yolk and cottage cheese mixture. Some pet stores sell imported mixtures of special seeds enriched with vitamins to be given in addition to the basic food. The claim that these special seeds enhance a bird's speaking talent has yet to be substantiated. But the seeds with their extra vitamins clearly benefit the birds. Another special seed mixture supplies needed nutrients during moult. There are other seeds, powders, and drops sold as supplements to the basic food, but in my opinion such supplements are not necessary if a parakeet's diet is carefully composed.

I do think it very important, however to give vitamin supplements, because there is no way of checking the vitamin content of the basic seed mixture, fruit, and vegetables. If you cannot grow your parakeet's food yourself you have to feed seeds that may have been stored too, long and produce that may not be fresh. It is a well-known fact that all nutrients, but especially vitamins, start to deteriorate--sometimes very quickly after plants are harvested. But vitamins are crucial, and the smaller the organism, the more severely it will react to vitamin deficiency. That is why it is advisable to add vitamins to a parakeet's drinking water even if you provide varied fresh food, supplement it periodically with sprouts, and test the viability of the basic birdseed mixture. You can buy vitamin supplements for birds at pet stores as well as at drug stores. The dosage depends on the size of the bird. Look at the expiration date on the package; vitamins that are too old are worthless. Parakeets need not only all the vitamins but also calcium and phosphorus. Both these minerals are present only in small amounts in the foods thus far mentioned. To make up for this you should give your bird a good mineral stone for nibbling and sharpening its beak. Always keep a mineral stone in reserve because sometimes a bird that hasn't touched the stone for weeks will suddenly go after it avidly and keep knawing on it until it disintegrates. When you buy a mineral stone be sure to read the package. It should say something like: "Mineral stone containing all elements necessary for strengthening the skeleton and forming the feathers." Pet stores also have sepia shells, which are the calcium-rich internal shells of cuttlefish, but these are not suitable for gnawing, especially by female parakeets, because the salt in them can lead to egg binding. Calcium is also contained in the special bird gravel, which has crushed oyster shells added to it. The gravel on the bottom of the cage serves not only a hygienic purpose; birds also eat some of it to help them digest, and in the process they absorb small particles of calcium.

The Amount of Food
How much food does a parakeet need a day? The answer is: That depends on the age, the habits, and the activities of the given bird. I cannot even indicate amounts in spoonfuls, because the food dish will be covered with a layer of empty seed hulls after the birds have eaten several times. Parakeets peel every kernel and let the hull drop back in the dish, and then they cannot find the kernels underneath the hulls. You therefore have to remove the hulls with a small spoon or blow them off the dish over the garbage pail. That is why you should put only about two teaspoons of seeds in the dish to start and add a little every time you remove the empty husks. An even better idea is to have two dishes with birdseed per bird or to resort to an automatic dispenser. Birds have an active metabolism and therefore need small amounts of food several times a day. Never leave a parakeet without food for any length of time. A well-adjusted, happy bird with enough to keep it occupied, freedom of movement, a chance to fly regularly, and human affection or a partner to keep it busy will not eat more than it needs.

Only neglected, lonely parakeets overeat out of boredom and become over-weight. It is easy to recognise when a parakeet starts getting too heavy; it flies awkwardly and pants at the slightest exertion. If you take such bird in your hand you can barley feel the breastbone through the muscles and fat. If this is the case you have to act right away and eliminate all high-calorie supplementary food, especially spray millet, oat kernels, and the egg yolk and cottage cheese mixture. Instead plenty of fresh produce is added to the basic birdseed. Under no circumstance make a bird fast because it is too fat, simply cut down some on its daily portion of basic food. Obviously the best remedy for "fat from misery" in the case of a parakeet is to keep it occupied and to provide plenty of exercise. Check every day to make sure that food and water dispensers function properly. Also, keep in mind that you might be unexpectedly prevented from coming home some day. Your parakeet should have enough birdseed and perhaps other supplementary food to survive for two or three days in such a case. Even stale water would be better under these circumstances than none at all.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.