Sound nutrition is about adequate nutrient delivery to birds daily according to their physiological needs at the time. It is about knowing what nutrients are needed and the amount being delivered to each bird daily to maintain its health, wellbeing, and reproduction. The ingredients we feed are a means to an end. Feed ingredients are packets of nutrients which can be combined in numerous ways to meet the bird’s daily nutrient requirements. However, birds have preferences for certain ingredients, and this must be considered when choosing ingredients to be included in their daily diet. Choosing ingredients that contain components suitable for their ability to digest and assimilate nutrients from them is critical. Selecting ingredients that they like and are happy to consume daily is also important. A single seed type or a combination of seeds do not meet the nutrient requirements of birds and therefore they need appropriate nutrient supplementation, including calcium, vitamins, trace minerals, selenium, and critical amino acids to meet their daily nutrient requirements at maintenance.
A series of seed selection trials were conducted in my bird room to establish seed preferences for Zebra Finches. All seeds were supplemented with TummyRite™ Plus for Finches and Softbills at a rate of 50g/kg of seed. Hemp oil was added to the seed at a rate of 15 ml per kg to make the seed sticky and then the TummyRite Plus was added to the seed.
These seed selection trials included the following:
1. Group 1 – French White Millet (FW), Red Panicum (RP) and Canary Seed (CS).
2. Group 2 – Yellow Panicum (YP), Red Panicum (RP) and Japanese Millet (JM).
3. Group 3 - French White Millet (FW), Yellow Panicum (YP), and Japanese Millet (JM).
The birds were housed in a bank of sixteen individual cabinets, three zebra finches per cabinet. Eight cabinets for females and eight cabinets for males. There were three individual feeders per cabinet. The birds had free access to water via a single 400 ml waterer provided to each cabinet. An equal number of males and females were fed in the trial. The layout is shown in Figure 1. Each group was fed for 14 to 17 days over three consecutive time periods. A total of nine time periods. Each feeder with seed was weighed at the beginning and the end of each period. At the end of each period the husk collected in the bottom container of each feeder was weighed to determine, by difference, the amount of seed kernel consumed by the birds daily. Each seed type was ranked according to the amount of seed kernel consumed per bird daily.
The data was subjected to analysis of variance (ANOVA). A summary of the results of the combined three periods for each group is shown in Table 1.
Based on Group 1 results, Zebra Finches prefer French White Millet (FW), Red Panicum Seeds (RP) over Canary seed. Based on Group 2 results show a preference for Yellow Panicum (YP) and Japanese millet (JM) over RP. Group 3 results show equal preference for FW, YP and JM. Gender of the birds did not influence preference for seeds and were similar for both sexes. Seed kernel daily feed consumption was similar for both sexes. The differences in daily seed kernel consumption between groups were associated with a decline in room temperature of the bird room coming into winter from summer. Seed kernel consumption increased as the temperature declined in the bird room.
The results of this experiment agree with previous work by other researchers (Morris, 1955, Palmeros, 1983) who showed that when zebra finches were given a choice of seed, their preference is for French White and Yellow and Japanese millets. According to Morris, 1955 who offered free choice Zebra Finches White Millet, Yellow Millet and Canary Seed for two weeks, and in each case found a much greater proportion by weight of Yellow Millet was eaten (56-68% Yellow Millet 21-41 % White Millet and 2-4% Canary Seed) even though the Yellow Millet was smaller and harder to dehusk than the other two. Our results also show that French White millet was favoured significantly over Canary seed. It was suggested by Zann, 1996, that Canary seed was difficult to dehusk by zebra finches compared to the Millet seeds. Our work has shown Yellow and French White Millets were favoured equally with Japanese millet when offered free choice. Red panicum was favoured over Canary seed but the French White and Yellow Panicum were favoured over the Red panicum. Zann, 1996, summarised the work of Palmeros, 1983, who showed that domesticated adult Zebra Finches have an initial bias towards that type of seed with which they were most familiar. However, when forced to sample other types of seeds and then offered a choice of four seed types (White Millet Panicum milateum, Yellow Millet Setaria italica, Japanese Millet E. crus-galli, and Canary Seed Phalaris canariensis) in equal abundance and accessibility, they preferred the type that provided the highest net gain of energy per unit of foraging time. 'Profitability' was a function of the size of the seed and the ease it could be manipulated or dehusked, that is, minimum handling time. White Millet was preferred to Yellow Millet despite taking longer to dehusk and to swallow; yet its larger size (before husking 3 X 2 mm vs. 2.5 X 1.5 mm) allowed more grams of seed to be ingested per minute; consequently, the daily energy requirement was attained in a shorter time.
Our seed selection work has allowed us to design our zebra finch seed mixes according to the preferences of the zebra finches. We now have a seed mix range with TummyRite Plus added to the seed mixes to correct critical nutrient deficiencies in the seed and promotes wellbeing and health in Finches, Budgerigars, Cockatiels, and other Parakeets. They are suitable for preparing birds for maintenance, showing and breeding, with over fifty additional natural components that promote innate immunity within the birds.
- Morris K. The seed preference of certain finches under controlled conditions. Avic Mag. 1955;61:271–87.
- Palmeros VI. Seed Preferences in Zebra Finches. University of Sussex; 1983.
- Zann RA. The Zebra Finch - A Synthesis of Field and Laboratory Studies. Oxford; New York; Melbourne: Oxford University of Press; 1996.