Obesity & Diets:

It is well known that some humans and animals, including birds, tend to become fat very readily. Others, however, remain slim, even though they may be eating far more. The differences lie in their metabolism, their rate of living. Obesity can occur or be induced in many species of mammal or bird. It is often purely a result of overeating, coupled with inactivity in a protected environment. Geese will fatten up by force-feeding them with starchy food until the liver is over-laden with fat. This fatty infiltration of the liver is also seen in disease, during pregnancy in mammals, and in obesity in all species. At times, a normal volume of food intake, unbalanced or deficient in some way, results in obesity.

The budgerigar is a common victim, although other birds are affected, including parrots, pigeons, quail and poultry. In budgerigars the incidence may be partly due to the fancier breeding for big, imposing birds. Prize winners in Britain are almost exclusively oversized and even a trifle obese; in their youth these birds are often quite active, but many become heavier and more sluggish after 18 to 24 months, the incidence of unhealthy or non-breeding birds being higher in the better show specimens. This fact is not readily admitted by breeders lest demand for their stock falls. Obesity in budgerigars and parrots may be a general weight increase or be confined to the breast (a major dep6t of fat storage), thighs or other localized sites. In such birds there are generally degenerative changes in such vital internal organs as the liver and kidneys, and in the blood-vessel walls and heart muscle. These changes and the obesity result in an increased rate of breathing, especially after a short flight or other exercise.

By placing an ear to the breast or back it is possible to detect rattling bronchial sounds together with rapid, faint heart beats or a very slow heart rate in later stages. The breathing sounds may suggest to the listener the presence of lung infection by viruses, bacteria or fungi, but their slow onset tends to rule out all but the fungal complication. Chilling and infections are a hazard for such sluggish birds and are quite common in those in which the respiration and blood circulation are hampered by the pressure of fat. In a high proportion of obese budgerigars and those which have previously been obese the thyroid gland has been found to be enlarged; this type of obesity has also been discussed.

Medical treatment has proved quite effective in both slimming and rejuvenating budgerigars with "middle-aged spread". Firstly, however, the possibility of there being another simultaneous disease should be checked; the heart, kidney, digestive and respiratory systems should also be examined for natural functioning. In the absence of infections the obese bird should be transferred to a flight or aviary, either indoors or out depending on the circumstances of the weather. A slimming diet is best given to an isolated bird, although more exercise is possible where several birds share an aviary. If food is restricted, the stronger birds which are higher in the pecking order, will take the bulk of it. A daily ration of three to two level teaspoonfuls of high protein-content food, given at two or three evenly spaced times throughout the hours of daylight, is an adequate diet. No other seed is to be offered.

Switching birds from an all-seed diet to a more suitable diet consisting of pellets, fresh vegetables, and fruit will decrease its daily intake of calories. Birds that are hooked on a seed diet may not easily switch to a different food type. A bird's diet should be switched very slowly over a few weeks, as the bird(s) may refuse to eat and literally starve to death if it is changed all at once as they must get used to any new food(s) gradually.


A useful high protein diet is as follows:

Millet ..............2 parts

Spanish canary ......2 parts

Hard rape ...........1 part

Niger ...............1 part

Turkish hemp ........1 part

Teazle ..............1 part

Linseed .............1 part

Egg crumbs ..........1 part

10 parts total.

DIETS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF BIRDS Small psittacine birds, (non-breeding), e.g. Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Cockatiels and Parrotlets.

Canary seed ..................3 parts

White or yellow millet ...... 1 part

"Panicum" or spray millet.... 1 part

High protein seed ............1 part

(Equal parts Rape, Teazle, Hemp, Flax (Linseed),

Gold of Pleasure, Niger and crumb or dry mash supplement) .............1 part

7 parts total.

The "crumb" or mash is composed of as many of the following items as possible: dried egg yolk, alfalfa leafmeal, dried skimmed milk, iodized salt, wheat germ, yeast, dried parsley flakes, vitamins A, D3 and B12. Breeding Budgerigars: The crumb or mash supplement mentioned, should be mixed with a little millet and canary seed and fed in a separate container in increasing amounts according to the requirements of breeding birds during egg-laying, growing, feeding chicks, etc.

Large Psittacine Birds, e.g. Parrots, Cockatoos and Macaws. Most, except those of the subfamily Loriinae, will thrive on the following:

Canary seed ................. 2 parts

White millet .................1 part

Panicum or spray millet.......1 part 

Turkish hemp ................ 1 part

Sunflower seed ...............1 part

Peanuts ......................1 part

7 parts total

Small quantities of green food, fruit (apple, grape) and other nuts may be added. Larger parrots, such as Amazons and Macaws, appreciate chillies and maple peas. All psittacines should be encouraged to eat a little meat or mealworms.


Adult, non-breeding and youngsters over 6-8 weeks:

Canary seed ................5 parts

Rape seed ..................3 parts

White and yellow millet.....1 part

Panicum or spray millet... .1 part

10 parts total

A further soft food supplement suitable for breeding canaries is as follows:

Dried breadcrumbs .......14 parts

Dried skimmed milk ......2 parts

Bran ....................1 part

Wheat germ (Bemax) ......1 part

Peanut oil ..............1 part

Cod liver oil or Shark's liver oil ....1 part

20 parts total

Breeding Canaries and Young Birds:
A mash similar to that for breeding budgerigars may be fed ad lib. Niger, crushed oats, rape, sesame, flax and poppy seed may be offered in place of, or up to half of the basic canary diet.

Other Small Hardbills, e.g. other seed-eating finches:
The seed mix can be of the basic budgerigar type, although rape seed can be omitted if not taken readily or it can be replaced by crushed oats or coarse oatmeal. Supplements which are accepted readily, regularly or occasionally according to species, time of year and whether or not breeding, include: (a) Various commercial "condition'' foods
(b) Green food
(c) Fruit--particularly small berries.
(d) Live food--small flies, gentles (i.e. blowfly maggots), mealworms, spiders.
The commercial soft foods should be available at all times, whereas live food is essential only during breeding and perhaps moulting periods. In planted aviaries shrubs and other plants attract insects, but plants (or their fruits) which are poisonous to birds, should of course be avoided.

Softbills, i.e. predominantly insect-eaters:
This group includes birds which also eat fruit and seeds. All take some of the following as food--flies, spiders, worms, maggots, other larvae, moths, butterflies, slugs, snails, beetles, wood lice and cockroaches. It is possible, however, to breed or culture houseflies, blowflies, locusts, fruit flies, mosquitoes, midges, maggots, wax moths, mealworms, bee larvae and certain beetles.

As a substitute for live or insect foods various mixes may be given, e.g.:

(a) Fine biscuit meal ....7 parts

Dried whole milk .........1 part

Wheat germ (Bemax) .......1 part

White fish meal ..........1 part

10 parts total

To a kilogram of the above add 50 g. of dried yeast, 50 g. Arachis oil and i0 ml. cod liver oil.

(b) Fine biscuit meal or baby rusk ..2 parts

Dried flies or shrimp meal ..........1 part

Animal fat (oily) ...................1 part

Ants' "eggs", i.e. pupae.............1 part

Hen's egg (dried) ...................1 part

Honey ...............................1 part

Wheat germ ..........................1 part

8 parts total

To 1 kg. is mixed 10ml. of fresh cod liver oil. Raw, minced, lean meats, grated carrot, turkey starter mash, and peanut butter have been recommended as substitutes for part of the above. Fruit and Nectar Eaters. This group includes lories, toucans, hummingbirds, sunbirds, honey-eaters, white-eyes, honeycreepers and flower-peckers.

A nectar substitute called "Mellins Food" (a mixture of maltose, dextrin plus thiamin mono-nitrate, ferric glycero-phosphate and potassium bicarbonate) is available. Evaporated milk and honey, at the rate of one teaspoonful of each per cup of water is an alternative. Fresh, sweet, ripe fruit should also be provided for fruit eaters. For larger members of this group, e.g., lories and lorikeets, whole rice boiled in milk, plus brown sugar or honey; fruit, mashed potatoes; coarse ground, brown bread; plain and fruit cake with beef extract (e.g., "Bovril") or vegetable extract ("Marmite") may be added. Baby foods, canned, fruit cocktails and mealworms may be added or substituted.

Other additions which may be made include finely minced meat and a range of fresh green stuffs and fruit---cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach, groundsel, young lawn grass, carrot, turnip, apple, grape and orange. Additional vitamins and minerals may be added in the form of fresh fish-liver oil and powdered supplement based on dried liver, yeast and wheat germ. Alternatively, a more accurately dosed multi-vitamin mixture can be dissolved in the drinking water. A more expensive but reliable method involves the use of the seed impregnated with vitamins supplied by several pet-food firms. But if only the husks are impregnated, such treated seed is of less value to birds like budgerigars which de-husk seed before eating it. When a bird is being slimmed, its rationing should not be extended beyond 10 to 21 days (according to response) before a break is given.

This is because budgerigars in particular have conservative eating habits and may select only certain seeds from the ration. Some birds will die of starvation rather than eat strange seeds. Ten days reduced diet followed by seven on normal food, repeated until the desired weight is reached, is a useful rule-of-thumb guide. When localized breast or belly fat deposits become so large as to ulcerate by friction against the perch, it is sometimes necessary to remove the mass surgically. The diseased skin is cut away and the fatty mass removed with a blunt instrument. Ruptures of the abdominal wall are often a result of fat infiltrating and replacing much of the abdominal muscles.

Fatty livers or other lesions causing an increase in the volume of abdominal contents exert an added strain on the abdominal wall. As this stretches, the damage stimulates a response towards attempted repair: fine blood vessels and cells which form scar-tissue appear in muscle remnants, producing a soft fleshy layer of so-called granulation tissue. This has very little tensile strength, and tension combined with gravity serve to make the distension more and more pendulous. As a consequence the oviduct, intestines or lobes of the enlarged liver protrude into the sac so formed and become tangled with strands of the abdominal muscle wall. The displaced organs can no longer function normally and retained eggs, cystic oviducts and bowel obstruction frequently result.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.