NZ’s superstar avian vet shares his tips.
We talk species-specific nutrition with renowned veterinarian Dr Hamish Baron, his expert perspective advocating for a balanced, adaptable and quality-focused approach to bird nutrition.
Why do some species of aviary birds require a more specific diet?
Because each bird species evolved to fill a different ecological niche, their diets are different. This evolution goes so far as their gastrointestinal tract. Some birds have a very long, convoluted small intestine. Others are very short, requiring more easily digestible foods that are processed quickly.
Fulfilling the metabolic, physiological and nutritional requirements of these aviary birds is something that is essential to their health and reproductive success.
Are supplements necessary?
This all depends on the diet that is being fed to the birds. If feeding a seed-only diet then the diet needs to be supplemented with vitamin A and calcium.
Vitamin A is available in a number of different vegetables whilst calcium can be provided either in drinking water or as a powder sprinkled over a soaked seed or wet mix. Vegetables and fruit should be offered to all cage and aviary birds on a daily basis and should be changed at least every 12hrs during the summer to prevent spoilage.
What are some common misconceptions about the diet of aviary birds?
That aviary birds should only be fed seed and water. This has been proven time and again to be untrue. Birds evolved hundreds of thousands of years before agricultural grain and as such, we use grain to fulfil a portion of their diet that would otherwise be filled with different food material.
Seed provides many of the essentials that the birds require, but is not something that will allow the birds to thrive on its own. The quality of the seed plays a big role in the nutrients available however. The beauty of Topflite seed is that most of it is grown in New Zealand, so it has not been heat-treated. This makes the nutrient value significantly better.
When rearing birds, what considerations need to be made regarding their diet?
The parent birds require a much higher plane of nutrition when feeding and rearing chicks. This diet should be implemented before breeding season starts to allow the hen to store calcium and other nutrients in her bones that are required for egg laying. It will also stimulate the adult birds into breeding condition and allow them to have the nutrient stores to rear healthy chicks. The diet should be supplemented with sprouted seed, calcium and live food, depending on the species. For example, many smaller finch species will not breed without the addition of live food or live food supplements.
When rearing chicks, the parents also have a significant increase in water intake. So fresh, clean water should be available at all times.
About Hamish: Dr Hamish Baron graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science from the University of Queensland. He has a passion for all things avian and in his final year carried out a research project looking at disease states in budgerigars in New Zealand for which he was awarded the Pfizer Animal Health Research Award. Hamish also received the University of Queensland award for Excellence in Pathology and the Excellence in Small Animal Medicine Most Valuable Student Award.