On this page:
Nutrition General
Construction of a hygienic Watersystem
Egg Feed Preparation
Seeds and Weeds from Nature
Germinated Seed
medication and supplements

 

General

Health and optimal breeding results are directly linked with the feed we provide to our birds. Wild life birds follow the sequence of the seasons and eat what is available in nature. The nutrients that are available in each season exactly matches the need of the birds at that particular point of their life cycle. In winter mainly dry seed are available where the fat is concentrated to provide the necessary energy source to cope with the cold. In spring the menu gradually insect become available, which are high in protein and get them into breeding conditions. Budding trees, germinating seeds and green plants provide essential vitamins, hormone triggers and amino acids to get into shape for reproduction.

It is an illusion that we will be able to match nature in this respect, but the knowledge has increased enormously the past 15 years and zoo's, universities and suppliers have spent a lot of research to optimize animal feed. Still if you would interview ten people all breeding a particular type of bird and asked them what they feed, you would get ten different answers. Some suppliers try to sell the magic stuff (herbs, vitamins, mineral mixtures etc.). And then there is always the discussion about living insects vs egg feed. I am not at all in a position to say what's good and what wrong. I can only share my experience and describe what I feed. First of all I am not font of the so called magic stuff. Overdosing of minerals and vitamins is as bad as deficiency. I only use a vitamin mixture on rare occasion e.g. after a treatment or vaccination. I also do not give any living insects also not in the breeding season.

After I a long period where I prepared my owns seed mixture, for bullfinches I switched to a ready mixture that has been used successfully by Jos Dirckx, a famous Dutch breeder of bullfinches. This mixture is available from Jan Koenings, Dorpsstraat 34 Bakel, Netherlands

For crossbills I still prepare the mixture myself. Also here I make use of the long term experience of others and have adopted the recipe of Phil Bamps, a Belgium breeder. This is the composition:

6 kg Hemp
1 kg Sunflower
1 kg Safflor
1 kg Marien Thristle
1 kg Oat (pealed)
1 kg Buckwheat
1 kg Parilla (white of brown)

My feeding program aims at a complete in-take of everything that is provided. Only then you are sure that there is good balance between fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals etc. The seed mixture is given every day at a fixed time. To ensure that the birds do not select the seed they like best , I give just what they need for the day. For bull finches this is about 7 gram per bird (in winter a bit more).

I provide egg feed throughout the year. In winter once in three days. During the breeding season and when there are chicks every day.

Birds that are not used to take egg feed need to be "trained". From February onwards, I take away all seed in the morning and provide only egg feed. To make the egg feed a bit more attractive for the birds, I mix a small amount of seeds of the Evening Primrose and half a table spoon of germinated seed. The egg feed is given at 7.30 am and the seed mixture at 4.30 pm. This procedure is followed to force the birds to take up the (high protein) egg feed, which is essential to get into shape for the breeding season,

Besides the seed mixture and the egg, I also give some fruit (mainly apple) and vegetables (lettuce, chicory, carrot). Crossbills are really font of cucumber. In spring and summer I also provide some fresh weeds Chick weed and Shepherd's purse, which I pick from my own garden. When there are young birds I follow a different scheme, which will be described in detail in the breeding chapter.

 

Bullfinches are very friendly. They like to come to the front for a good snack

 

 

The Construction of a Hygienic Water system

The aim was to design a system that could be easily dismantled and constructed of material that could be cleaned easily. The photographs below show how these requirements could be achieved in a new design. The chosen material was stainless thin walled steel, which is available in all kind of sizes in the pet shop. The inner bowl has a diameter of 25 cm, the outer bowl is 30 cm, leaving an overflow space of 2.5 cm. The water jet I bought in an aquarium speciality shop. A little bit expensive because it is stainless steel, but cheaper (plastic) alternatives can be found. In stead of fixing the water jet at the actual water container, I have repositioned it to the wall of the discharge bowl. I have used an ordinary plastic pipe clamp to fix the water jet. Persplex supports following the rounding fixes the position of the inner bowl. For the discharge of the water a hole was drilled of 6 cm diameter and an ordinary sink drain was mounted

The water supply itself is controlled by a timer and (washing machine) valve. The costs of the entire system are relatively low. The stainless steel bowls are Euro 5,- for the small one and Euro 7.- for the larger discharge bowl. Euro 3.- for the sink drain, Euro 6.- for the flexible connection, the water jet was 10 Euro.- and maybe some additional 15.- Euro for tubing and piping. The washing machine valve I have not bought, but removed them from old machines that have broken down. In the mean time I have collected quite a few as spare parts. The system, as it is now, can only be used when there is no frost, especially the valve is sensitive. Therefore I need to switch off the water and drain the system when minus zero temperatures are expected.


The system works very simple. Four times a day the timer activates the valve and water is supplied via the jet. The jet is positioned tangentially to create a swirling movement of the water to remove any debris that might have fallen in. For two minutes the valve is open refreshing the water in the inner bowl. The water that overflows the the inner bowl is discharged outside the aviary. Once a week I clean and disinfect the inner bowl. I also rinse the discharge bowl and remove the debris to avoid blockage of the outlet.

Pictures below:

Picture 1:
Ordinary washing machine valve. On one valve two systems can be connected. The valve is ounted in a water tight box. (Power supply not yet connected)
Picture 2:
Complete system fitted in water tight box. To one valve two systems can be connected. The water is switched on by a timer (not shown) four times a day


 

 

Egg Feed Preparation

This is the recipe I have got from Jos Dirckx. I always prepare the eggfeed to cover a few days. The recipe is very simple:

Eggs are boiled in a pan on a moderate flame while stirring vigorously. It is essential to do this in a coated pan (e.g. Tefal), unless it's your hobby to spend a lot of time on cleaning the pan. After the mixture has solidified in small lumps, I add Cometaves, Megabactin at the prescribed dose. Before the breeding season I also add Megabactl. All of these additives can be purchased at Comed, Belgium. Essentially this is it. My bullfinches like the egg feed very much. If you give them the choice between this and seeds they prefer the eggfeed. In summer, I add a little bit of CEDE ready mix to make the mixture a little bit drier. During the breeding season, I supplement the eggfeed with pinky's, ant eggs, bufallow worms, meal worms and germinated seed. All insects are fozen, I do not give any living insects..

When friends look after the birds e.g. during holidays, the whole mixture is frozen. Freezing needs to be doen in a special way, otherwise the feed becomes one big frozen lump. The egg feed is frozen by putting it on a paper sheet on a large tray. A couple of times during freezing the feed is mixed to avoid it freezes as a big block. When the mixture is completely frozen, it is transferred to a plastic bowl and reduced with a mortar. After addition of the already frozen insects and germinated seeds, the egg feed is preportioned and kept in the freezer until use. For people who look after your birds, this very convenient and you also ensure that the feed has the right composition.

 

  Seeds and Weeds from Nature

On this page I have listed a number of weeds and seeds, which are nutritional for European birds. Be very careful where you harvest the weeds. Avoid areas along busy motor ways because of pollution by the traffic. Also do not collect the plants in areas frequently visited by dogs, because of risk of contamination by parasites. Also ensure that the area or in the vicinity has not been treated with herbicides. Weeds are a healthy addition to the menu, but only give them when you are absolutely sure that they are safe. I give weeds besides carrot and chicory. I do not give weeds and vegetables when it is raining. My idea is that droppings tends to turn liquid, but strong evidence for this I do not have. Always provide weeds when they are fresh. It is not recommended to keep the weeds for a longer period.

 

 

 

The Preparation of Germinated Seeds

The seeds are put into a sieve and washed thoroughly with tap water. After 8 hours soaking in water in the refrigerator, the seeds are washed again and remain in the sieve to germinate. During this process the seeds are washed with cold tap water a couple of times a day. When the seeds have germinated, they are put onto kitchen paper to remove the excess of water. Germinated seeds prepared in this way can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 days maximum. If this procedure is followed growth of undesired micro-organisms during germination is prevented. Germinated seed can also be frozen. For this it is important to thoroughly remove excess water with kitchen paper. Then put the seeds in the freezer on a large tray and mix a couple of times during the freezing process. After freezing the seeds may stick together. Transfer the lumps in a plastic container and shake a couple of times. Germinated seeds are best mixed with egg feed. The quantity should not be more than half a tea spoon per bird. If germinated seeds are given, in the beginning it may results in more liquid droppings. This should be carefully monitored and the quantity of germinated seeds must be adapted if this continuous.

 

Preventative medication and supplements

I fully support the principle that birds should be kept as natural as possible. I also very much try to provide natural feed. However, if you want to breed European birds successfully, you can not avoid occasionally to administer a preventative medicine or a supplement for their well-being. When I started to breed European birds, I thought I would do it in a different way. I strongly opposed the use of EsB3 as I believed that eventually this would harm the health of my birds. I fully focused on a very strict hygiene in my aviaries and breeding boxes and thought that in this way I could prevent diseases. These ideals are beautiful, but I did not manage to raise any bullfinch.Within one week a large number of chicks died and the birds that finally made it and left the nest perished within a short period of time. After I had studied the life cycle of parasites common in European birds it became clear that without preventative measures, breeding of European birds cannot be successful. Every bird carries a number of parasites. These parasites are opportunistic microorganisms, that means that they can cause illness when the conditions are favourable e.g. when the bird's condition is not optimal or when there is little natural resistance which is the case with very young birds. So eventually I dramatically changed the way I keep birds and provide preventative medication a couple of times a year. Still my cages and aviaries are perfectly clean as medication can never make up for unhygienic conditions.

Then it is important to discuss vitamin supplements. Fact number 1 is that more birds die from too much vitamins than too little. This is not what I am just saying, This proposition is based on experience and studies carried out by veterinarians, specialist in (European) birds. Happily most vitamins are given via the drinking water and will quickly find their way out via the droppings. This is less with vitamins that are given via the (egg) feed. Sometimes a short vitamin programme does not harm. Especially after a treatment with EsB3 it is beneficial to give vitamins for a couple of days. I use Vitavol plus and give it, as you might have guessed, via the water.

Apple vinegar is almost a magic word among bird breeders. There are two reason why I give apple vinegar. Firstly it prevents extensive growth of microorganism in the drinking water and secondly it lowers the pH of the bird's intestine. By DR van der Horst at the Dutch parrot sanctuary (NOP) the effect of addition of citric acid (0.1%) to the drinking water was studied. There was a significant difference between the health and condition of birds who had citric acid in the drinking water and the control group. The reason that citric acid was chosen and not apple vinegar was because citric acid is cheaper and can be dosed more accurately than apple vinegar which as a natural product does not have a constant acetic acid concentration. My birds get at least three times a week apple vinegar (one spoon/liter water). They drink it right a way and do not have to get used to it.