Food and Feeding

For Vitamin & Mineral deficiencies & problems see Metabolic Disorders.
The Natural diet of Budgerigars on their home range in Australia consists principally of grass and weed seed. In captivity, the birds will continue to enjoy this type of food, of course. But the modern, cultivated Budgie has become accustomed to a menu consisting mainly of millet seed and white canary seed. They thrive on this and hardly need anything further in their diet. The usual mix for Budgerigar seed is two-thirds millet and one third canary seed, to which a bit of oatmeal and linseed is added. About a half a cup of each additive is added to each pound of seed mix. Some breeders furnish millet and very little else as an economy. If the proper supplements are used, such a diet should be satisfactory.

Energy Requirements
Budgerigars have a great need for proteins, which must constitute 12 to 15 percent of their diet, according to research findings. That's why feeding just millet seed will not fulfil their requirements. Supplements therefore need to be rich in proteins. Birds burn up more food in winter in order to maintain their body temperature. Therefore, they need to eat more or to take in a food that's richer in fats and carbohydrates. That is why feeding more linseed during the winter months is a wise adjustment in the diet. A properly constituted diet for Budgerigars needs to contain a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, salt, and vitamins. White canary seed contains a somewhat larger percentage of fats and protein than millet seed. Millet seed contains more carbohydrates. The percentages are:

Seed------------Carbohydrates----- Fats-----Proteins--------Salt & Minerals

Canary seed--------56.0------------6. 1---------15.1--------------2.1

It is, of course, impossible to constitute the Budgerigars diet to absolutely include all constituents in the proper proportions. But studying the table of constituents above teaches us that linseed contains a lot of minerals and fats. That makes it an extraordinarily good supplement during the winter, and moulting season and the breeding season. Another good supplement for the breeding season is spray millet, which can be hung in the cage. Other good supplements for Budgies are oatmeal, ground oats, small groats, as well as different types of seed intended for song birds. Budgerigars sometime have a dislike for one or more of these seeds and leave a certain type of seed uneaten. In that case, it is better not to furnish the rejected seed. Make certain to provide sprouted seeds. Most Budgies love to eat sprouted grass seed, barley, clover seed, canary seed and rape seed. You can sprout the seed in separate ceramic dishes. Fill the dishes with sand and top that off with the seed. You can feed the contents of such a dish in a weeks time. Refill the dish with seed so that you will have a constant supply. Weed seeds are also highly recommended as supplements. Gather the weed seed in late summer and fall from empty lots, fallow fields, and roadside strips. Weeds grow there in abundance and gathering them is no problem.

Feeding Systems
Mix your own seeds and you can vary the menu according to the circumstances of the moment, and allow for the preferences and condition of your birds. That is a better system than furnishing the basic ration in one dish and various supplements in other dishes. Such double feeding takes unnecessary time and money. Especially if you have several breeding cages and aviaries, you would be wise to feed your birds as simply as possible. A variety of containers can be used to furnish food. Place the containers so that fouling of the contents with bird droppings is minimized, particularly if you use open-top containers. For example, never place food under roosts. Check on the available food daily. Shake the dish first to bring the hulls of the consumed seed to the surface and blow the hulls out of the dish. Then refill the dish if necessary. Use a properly designed feeder for Budgies. Budgies by nature can ruin a considerable amount of seed if they start messing around in open containers. You can build a proper container yourself with minimum carpentry skills. You can vary the interior design according to the number of birds to be served. Birds are literally forced to eat neatly and to waste little or no seed with such a feeder. Most of the hulls fall into the tray at the bottom and therefore don't fall onto the cage floor. You can make the feeder big enough to contain several pounds of seed, providing enough rations for an extended time. Finally, the seed in the feeder cannot be fouled with droppings.

Water Requirements and Utensils
Budgerigars don't drink much water. Some breeders go so far as to say the birds can go without drinking water for weeks or months, but that certainly is not true. The birds definitely need to be supplied with fresh water every day. You can make a water dish out of an empty glass jar. Invert it, and set it on a simple frame of wood or stones in a galvanised or glass tray. After filling the jar, put the wood frame on the lip, invert the tray on top of that, and then invert the whole thing. Alternatively, you can buy commercial waterers that are handy and sanitary.

Grit is part of the required menu of Budgies. It helps them grind up their food and aids in digestion. The main ingredients of grit are calcium and charcoal. The bird uses the calcium not only to help form egg shells during the breeding season but also to build its own bones. There are several types of commercial grit on the market. The formulated products are preferable because in addition to calcium, they contain charcoal iron, iodine, and magnesium. You can also furnish ground oyster shell, boiled, fresh, finely ground egg shell, mineralised lime or cuttlebone which contains valuable minerals. But I recommend the commercially mixed grit. Some breeders also furnish ground sea shells. Some recent newsgroup reports say to stay away from grit, but we have used it for 25 years with no problems.

As mentioned earlier, sprouted seeds are relished by Budgies and provide valuable nutritional components. Other green food also is very useful. It supplies vitamins as well as salt, which is essential for Budgerigars. Carrot, spinach, endive, Brussels sprouts, and curly kale are all highly recommended for feeding Budgies. Budgies must learn to eat greens. Start them by adding finely cut greens into the seed ration. Once they get the taste of it, they will also eat greens hung in the cage. Don't overdo it. Too much of, and stale greens are harmful.

All bird food must contain vitamins. Sunlight and greens are the main sources during the summer. In the winter, greens, cod liver oil or a quality vitamin-mineral supplement supply birds vitamin needs. The term "vitamin" derives from the Latin vita, meaning life. Vitamins are essential parts of the human and animal diet; deficiencies of one or more can cause illness and even death. For example, scurvy in humans is caused by eating a diet deficient in vitamin C. This illness used to plague crusaders whalers, mariners and anyone else who took long sea journeys. Science has identified a great number of vitamins-- the best known are vitamin A, B, C, and D. Vitamin A is required for growth and disease resistance.
Vitamin B promotes health and steadies the nerves.
Vitamin C is essential for good appetite and strength. It is contained in fresh vegetables and fruits. Deficiencies of vitamin C cause skin diseases.
Vitamin D promotes good bone formation.
Vitamin E promotes fertility.

There are many other vitamins in addition to these five. They are often classed into various types. For example, there are some dozens of different types of vitamin B, each of which have their own use in vitamin nutrition. Going into detail would take us too far afield, however. Sources of vitamins for birds are sunlight, cod liver oil, a good quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement, powdered beer malt, and greens like sprouted seed, vegetables, and fruits. I can't emphasise the great utility of cod liver oil. It is especially important to provide during the colder months. In summer other vitamin sources become more available. Still, many breeders routinely provide cod liver oil throughout the entire year. I have already remarked that birds that get cod liver oil seldom or never encounter egg binding, because their general condition tends to be first rate. Mixing cod liver oil into the seed, at the rate of one half teaspoon per pound is recommended. You can mix it in easily by stirring. Feed the mix immediately or store it for several days. Storing it allows the oil to penetrate the seed more completely. Once the cod liver oil dries, it loses its odour. Store the mix in a cool, dark place. In addition to cod liver oil, also furnish a tablespoonful of beer malt powder per five pounds of seed. During the breeding and moulting seasons, cod liver oil is particularly recommended. It also should be furnished during the cold of winter. Be careful with the cod liver oil, however, when parents are feeding young. The fat in the oil could upset the young birds, raising the possibility of diarrhoea. If you want to furnish vitamins at that time regardless, use one of the commercial vitamin preparations, just one or two drops mixed in a pound of food.

Keeping It Simple
A beginner in the "science of Budgerigars" might conclude from the sections on feeding that composing a menu is a complicated and difficult task. That would be quite a mistaken conclusion. Budgies do well with a simple diet. Composed of a mix of millet, canary seed and some linseed, supplemented with grit and now and then some greens and cod liver oil. The other named seeds should be considered extras; you can feed them if you want, and they will provide some advantages. But for the proper thriving of Budgerigars, they are not essential. The basic menu can be fed all year. You don't have to worry about providing anything special, even during the breeding season. It will suffice for both young and old birds.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca