For Vitamin & Mineral deficiencies & problems see Metabolic Disorders.
The high level of natural vitamins, minerals amino acids, and metabolic intermediates in health foods give them merit for consideration in aviculture. Many of us have browsed in and experimented with the offerings of health food-type stores but lack of feeding protocols and high prices have hampered adapting these products into widespread use. Summarised below are a number of health food items, along with some comments on their benefits and suggestions for using them for optimising your birds' nutrition.

Spirulina is a blue green algae product grown in pollution-free ponds, harvested, and spray-dried. Preservatives, chemicals, or pesticides never come into contact with the product. Probably as close to a perfect food as was ever known, Spirulina contains over 60 percent protein that is rich in the essential amino acids. It also contains nearly 1 percent chlorophyll, about 10 percent phycocyanin (blue pigment), high levels of trace minerals, vitamin B, and essential fatty acids. Spirulina is most well known for its high vitamin A and associated beta-carotene levels. Few foods can boast an equally impressive nutritional profile that at the same time provides an array of natural pigments. Spirulina is a natural color enhancer. In use, Spirulina should be sprinkled on greens at the rate of about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of chopped greens. Spirulina can also be used in home-made soft-food or a brand name soft-food.

Powdered, dried Ascophyllum nodosum, commonly called kelp, is a product of ocean farming. The low protein content of kelp (5 to 6 percent) is not the key to its nutritional magic, but rather its mineral content holds it secrets. Kelp is a rich source of virtually all trace minerals (including vanadium) and is best known as a potent source of natural iodine. Kelp also contains impressive levels of vitamin C and tocopherols. A usage level of 1 teaspoon per 4 ounces of soft-food is recommended. Kelp has the odour of a marshy seashore and your birds might have to be introduced to it gradually. Alternatively, anise oil as a flavouring induces many birds to eat food containing kelp immediately.

Bee Pollen:
Bee pollen has been known as a rich nutritional resource for centuries. Bee pollen varies in composition from location to location and season to season as a result of the particular plant life in bloom. Although this variation can be pronounced, it presents no real problem to the user of this wonderful food as an ingredient in bird diets. With a protein value ranging from about 17 to 22 percent in which all essential amino acids are represented - and with strong showings by vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, along with important trace minerals - bee pollen is a nutritional cornucopia. Considering its natural source and nutritional value, bee pollen should be ranked high on a list of new dietary supplements for birds. You can make your own soft-food and incorporate bee pollen into it.

Nutritional Yeast:
Nutritional yeast is not a by-product, but is a primary, grown yeast specifically cultivated for its nutritional characteristics. This cultivation (on a special growth medium) produces a product that also has a desirable, nutty flavour. Subsequent to growth on the special medium, the product is pasteurised and dried. The yellow color of nutritional yeast is the result of its high riboflavin (vitamin B,) content of 20 milligrams per 100 grams. Although nutritional yeast has a flavour that seems to appeal to birds, it should never be given alone in light of its 50 percent protein level. The protein quality is excellent with all essential amino acids represented. The B-complex vitamins, biotin and trace minerals including vanadium, are all well represented. However, nutritional yeast is not a good source of iodine (see Kelp). This material is usually supplied in flake form and is easy to work with. It incorporates easily into many foods and is easily converted to a powder in a blender.

Soy Protein Concentrate:
Soybeans have played a life-or-death role in many societies, their cultivation dating back to 2800 B.C. Ancient civilisations depended on this miracle plant's fruit as a source of protein unequalled in the non-algae plant kingdom. A purified soy protein isolate was introduced in the 1950s and since has been used extensively in birdfeeding recipes. This isolate is very high in protein content and carries a high sodium value as well, nonetheless, the product has played an important role in avian nutrition. The 1980s saw the development of soy protein concentrates with a 70 percent protein concentration and low in sodium. The concentrate is easy to use, but like all high protein containing supplements, should never be given alone. The powder is easy to work with and incorporates in soft or dry foods easily.

Over the next months you will see more and more about this subject: many facts and opinions leading to healthy commentary. The pages of many Journals have recently carried articles on the use of Lactobacillus and the probiotic effect, which can be described as creating a symbiosis or mutually beneficial relationship between host (bird) and normal, nondisease-causing bacteria leading to the host's improved health and reduced susceptibility to infection. This is a difficult area of study and all people working in this field should be commended for their efforts in attempting to quantify the effect.

There appear to be at least two kinds of probiotic effects, one endogenous or bound to the intestine and the other exogenous or operating free in the open area of the intestine. Many proponents of the importance of the endogenous route speak of species specificity or the unique biological adhesion of only a very specific bacterial strain to the intestine. Is this specificity the same for a wren as for a raptor? If we all agree to species specificity, why are mixed strains of bacteria used by its proponents? How are any of us to know, if we are indeed seeding the walls of our birds, digestive tracts, that we have chosen the optimal bacteria? What if we choose second or third best? Finally, what about the tendency of bacteria to mutate from batch to batch?

The author's efforts have been directed toward the exogenous approach and results have been dramatic. In the exogenous approach theory, periodic feeding of a mixed, stabilised bacterial culture takes up the space in the intestine with friendly and health-promoting organisms. This mixed culture is used at higher levels than previously described for cage-birds. A dry (soft) food is made that is 1 to 2 percent in BIOPRO-2B (AviBio), because BIOPRO-2B contains 2 billion colony-forming units per gram, it results in a food with 20 to 40 million colony-forming units per gram. This formulation has dramatically reduced chick mortality in studies of Gouldian Finch mutations and has accounted for virtually 100 percent survival of Peach-faced Lovebirds.

The bacteria in BIOPRO-2B are as follows:
- Lactobacilus acidophiNus - Lowers oxidation/reduction potential of the intestine, inhibiting pathogens.
- Lactobacillus casei - Same as above.
- Lactobacillus lactis - Same as above.
- Streptococcus diacetylactis - Produces diacetyt, an inhibitor of intestinal pathogens.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum - Often called an enzyme factory because of its production of digestive enzymes.

In addition to increased rates of survival, fledged chicks are larger and more vigorous after nestling with soft or dry food with the above product. It may also be added to drinking water. I hope this article will stimulate thinking about new ways we might consider for improving our birds nutrition.

Reproduced from American Cage Bird Magazine, April 1992, and The Avicultural Journal, Volume 20, Number 1.

The most important insurance of a healthy, long life for your bird is feeding it a nutritionally sound diet. Many pet birds die at a young age from malnutrition or from diseases that are secondary to malnutrition. The average life-span of a pet parakeet is 10 years. Wild parakeets have been known to live 25 years. The difference is in their diets. Birds in the parrot family are foragers in the wild. They will eat whatever happens to be in season or is available. Their diet includes fruits, seeds, insects and whatever else they can find. Feeding pet birds an all-seed diet is neither natural nor nutritious.

The tradition of feeding seed-only diets to pet birds began years ago when wild birds were first caught and imported to our country. This was largely because of a profound lack of information and knowledge at that time about the nutritional requirements of birds and the content of seeds. Birds are particularly sensitive to nutritional deficiencies because they have a high metabolic rate. (An animal's metabolic rate indicates how many calories it burns to maintain itself.) Birds are calorie furnaces, and on an inadequate diet they will quickly develop malnutrition and a compromised health status. Seeds are very high in fat (especially sunflower, safflower and peanuts), low in calcium, low in protein and almost devoid of any vitamins. The alternative to seed diets is offering a balanced diet of table foods. Foods that are healthy for you are also healthy for your bird. A balanced diet provides some of each of the four major food groups. You can still offer seeds, but they should make up no more than 50 percent of your bird's total diet. you can offer whole grains, such as wheat, along with grain products, such as whole wheat bread, pretzels and pasta.

Dairy and poultry products are excellent sources of calcium and protein; many birds learn to relish yogurt, cheese, eggs and chicken. Meat also provides a good protein source. You may substitute beans and legumes for meat as excellent protein sources. Finally, fruits and vegetables are a must for a balanced diet; they provide many essential vitarnins. Avoid feeding your bird any foods high in fat. Avocados are toxic to pet birds. Many owners object to changing their birds' diets because they have offered a variety of foods only to have them ignored or refused by their pets. Birds are creatures of habit and are highly suspicious of new foods. Count on taking approximately one year to modify your bird's diet. The trick to changing eating habits is in how you offer the new diet. you should offer your bird fresh foods twice a day for about one hour at each feeding (fresh food will spoil quickly and if left in the cage for a length of time could develop harmful bacteria).

Birds are equipped with a natural "storage tank" for food -- the crop. Located in the breast area, the crop is an enlargement of the esophagus. The crop enables birds to "tank up" on food and have a steady supply for their digestive system for many hours. Birds in the wild use this storage system daily. They forage for food in the early hours of the morning and again late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of day. Owners can take advantage of the crop by twice-a-day feedings to produce healthier, more active and affectionate pets. Feeding birds twice a day has many benefits. The primary benefit is that it creates a healthy appetite. A healthy appetite will stimulate your bird to try new, more nutritious foods. Birds that eat twice a day are also more active. Bird and owner will share the benefits of a closer bond because the bird will associate its owner with something positive mealtime. Feeding twice a day will also help you monitor how much your pet is earing. A drop in food consumption can be a sign of illness.

In some situations, feeding a bird twice daily is not desirable. Sick birds, those laying eggs, nesting or caring for young should always have food in their dishes. An easy way to implement a change in feeding schedule is to offer your parrot dry foods (seeds, breads, cereals, dog kibble, etc.) in the morning and then to share your dinner with your bird at night. Successfully providing nutritionally sound diets comes with patience and persistence. It may take many weeks, even months, of offering new foods before your bird will accept them. Some birds like foods warm and some prefer cooked vegetables to raw. you will discover your bird's particular preferences. Remember to give your bird time to adjust to a new diet. Offer seeds (only at mealtime) along with other foods until you are confident that your bird is consuming enough of the new foods to maintain itself. Birds are more responsive to diet changes when they are fed outside of the cage (on top of the cage is fine). Remove any food not consumed within one hour. you may offer an occasional snack between mealtimes, but make sure the snack is nutritious.

The final ingredient to a healthy diet is fresh water. You can add a multivitamin to the water until your bird is getting enough vitamins from fruits and vegetables. Most vitamin supplements have a dextrose or sugar base. The sugar base encourages bacteria to multiply in the water; therefore, you must change water twice a day. A better alternative is to sprinkle powdered vitamins (several brands are available at your local pet shop) such as SuperPreen on your bird's soft foods. Scrub out water and food bowls daily with hot, soapy water, and disinfect them in bleach twice a week (make sure to rinse away all the bleach after you disinfect the dishes). Birds are naturally affectionate, active and intelligent. They make excellent pets. They are extremely hardy and can survive harsh living conditions. Many birds appear active and healthy even after being on an all-seed diet for years. The truth is, though, they are actually suffering from malnutrition. A bird suffering from malnutrition will eventually die from organ failure or from secondary bacterial or viral infections that plague a compromised immune system. "Sudden death" isn't uncommon in birds; however, it's usually the result of a long-term nutritional deficiency or chronic infection.

Your avian veterinarian can assess the health of your bird through annual physical examinations and routine blood testings.

Changing your bird's diet from seeds to a more nutritional one requires patience, persistence and time. Twice-a-day feedings will make this change possible. Your pet will reap the greatest benefit of your efforts: a longer, healthier and happier life.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca


Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.