Start breeding beautiful birds
Aviary bird breeding is a colourful and rewarding pastime, the peak of which is represented each year at the Topflite New Zealand National Bird Show. This year’s event saw a number of newcomers take home the honours, proving the best time to start an aviary of your own is, well… right now.
But where to begin? With such a vivid variety of species to choose from, selecting one to breed might be the toughest decision you make. It’s important to understand that birds are delicate creatures and each species has different requirements for leading a healthy life. Ensuring that you provide the correct nutrition for the species is the best way to start strong in breeding aviary birds.
What do birds eat?
Each bird species has evolved to thrive in a particular ecological niche. Some developed a diet centred around fruit; others forage in forests for seeds and some require plant matter and the occasional insect. As a result their gastrointestinal tracts are different. Some birds have a long, convoluted small intestine while others have a much shorter intestine, requiring easily digestible foods that are processed quickly.
So it’s not as simple as providing seed and water each day?
Birds were around long before the agricultural grains we feed them today. While seed now forms a large portion of a bird’s daily diet, we use it to replace other plant matter that they would have consumed in the wild. That means vegetables and fruit should be offered to all caged birds on a daily basis and should be changed every 12 hours to avoid spoilage.
Seed does provide many of the essentials that birds require but it must be good quality as this determines the nutrients available to birds. A trap for beginners is buying generic, heat-treated seed. Heat-treated seed has much lower nutritional value because the process essentially kills the seed, preventing it from germinating. As a result, important elements like vitamin A, amino acids and lysine are stripped from the seed.
How do I know which type of seeds to feed?
We create seed blends that fulfil the specific nutritional needs of most aviary birds. For example the cockatiel, native to the dry grasslands of Australia, would naturally feed on a wild diet consisting mainly of grass and weed seeds, grass sprouts, shoots and roots and berries. Topflite’s cockatiel mix contains white French millet, hulled oats, sunflower, safflower, barley, linseed and rape to replicate the carbohydrate and protein components of their wild diet.
Seed can also be presented to birds in the form of a ‘seed bell’ or millet spray – this more closely mimics the wild as the birds are required to make an effort to obtain their seed. Finches in particular love their millet sprays.
If I’m rearing birds what dietary requirements should I consider?
A special diet should be implemented before breeding season starts to stimulate adult birds into breeding condition. Calcium and other nutrients are stored in the female’s bones in preparation for egg laying. Access to extra nutrient stores is also important for mothers to rear healthy chicks.
Depending on the species you’ll need to supplement their diet with sprouted seed and calcium and live food. Be sure to check first as it can really vary here and the results can be dramatic (i.e. some smaller finch species simply won’t breed without the addition of live food or live food supplements).
As with any pet, raising birds isn’t so much a hobby as a lifestyle – an immensely rewarding one.
There’s a fantastic community of dedicated breeders who are ready to help out with great advice. There are exciting events nationwide to enjoy and participate in. And then there’s all the personality and beauty of those magnificent creatures that will come to share part of your home and all of your heart.
Parents also need a significant increase in water intake when rearing chicks. It’s thirsty work! So make sure that fresh and clean water is always available.