Grit


Okay, a little controversy here, but I am always up to a good fight when it comes to proper nutrition, especially when I have the personal research and proof to back my words.  Read on and decide for yourself!

There are birds who eat seed whole - hull and all - such as doves, pigeons, chickens, etc.  Then there are birds that hull their seeds, like canaries and finches.  Birds that do not hull their seed eat grit (insoluble - sand, small pebbles or rocks, etc.) to help the keratin plates in their gizzard grind the seed they've consumed, as well as to pick up trace minerals they may be missing from their diet.  

It has been said that birds that do hull their seed do not require grit, however, many of these birds hull the seed then consume it whole.  Have you ever seen wild birds pecking at the dirt or bathing in the dust?  While down there, those birds are consuming minute particles of sand and dirt - GRIT. They NEED it. They know what they need an instinctively eat those items.  Wild birds don't have a human feeding them calcium, grit or mineral supplements.  Where do you suppose they get those items in the wild??? From the dirt, my friend!

Soluble grit (oyster shell, egg shell, etc.) offers the bird a bit of grinding aid while providing them with minerals they need.  The gizzard will still grind the seed, but it may need help from time to time.  Because of this, I offer my birds a fine sand grit (insoluble) mixed with the above mentioned soluble forms.  They pick at it when they need it, and leave it alone when they don't.

NOTE: On other pages of this site I've discussed that my birds are as much a giant research project as they are pets, and bred for show and sale.  But the big project is all about the poop.  Under the microscope, items such as sand, soluble grit, and charcoal are used here as a diagnostic tool.  Your birds need grit - no matter what anyone tells you - and small amounts present in the droppings are normal.  But when you begin to see large amounts in the droppings, there is a problem.  

A bird will consume large amounts of grit when it is trying to fill a void.  It could be that something is missing from its diet or it is trying to horde nutrients because it has a parasite that is not allowing it to absorb. When large amounts of grit is found in the dropping sample, deep evaluation must be made to determine the problem before it gets out of hand.  Your nutritional system must be reviewed and parasite control must be reviewed in order to save the bird. Often times, grit in the droppings can point to gizzard worms or other internal parasites. But in most cases, it points to a severe nutritional deficiency.

It is up to you whether you offer your birds grit or not. I have seen the proof year upon year in my own aviary. Do your own research and make a decision based on your own conclusion! Read more in my
To Feed Grit, or Not to Feed Grit article here.

TRACE MIN/ELEMENT
FUNCTION
Iron
required for production of blood cells, reproductive health
Copper
required for the formation of pigment, reproductive health
Sulphur
required for the formation of muscle protein, egg yolk, egg albumen and keratin
Iodine
required for proper thyroid function and feather production
Manganese
required for bone and joints
Zinc
required for growth
Molybdenum
required for growth
Cobalt
not vital as long as B12 intake is sufficient


VITAMIN / ACID
FUNCTION
Vitamin A
Essential for growth, skin and mucous membranes, vision.  Vitamin A deficiency effects the epithelial lining membranes of the respiratory, alimentary, and reproductive tracts.  Vitamin A deficiency also allows infection to gain entry into the body when the mucous membranes are not functioning properly or produced as necessary to keep "bugs" from invading.  Stored in the liver and found only in animal tissue. (Carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A from plant sources).
Vitamin B (complex)
B complex is a large group containing several important and separate vitamins: B1 (thiamine) - important to all cells in the body and involved in metabolism or carbs; B2 (riboflavin) - aids chemical processes in the tissues, and metabolises oxygen and other gases carried by the blood; B6 (pyridoxine) - necessary in various chemical reactions involved with metabolism of proteins & fats; B12 (cobalamin) - aids the metabolism of many food & chemical substances in the body and helps with feather production when combined with methionine, choline and folic acid.
Vitamin D

Required for bone, beak & nails.  Helps the body retain minerals by increasing absorption or decreasing elimination.  Is also required in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for producing eggs.  Individual species may require more Vitamin D than others.  Individual birds may have different requirements as well.  Direct sunlight helps vitamin D to be synthesized in the skin.

"...It is also believed that the secretion of the preen gland is converted into the vitamin by the action of sunlight when it is spread on the feathers..."

Arnall and Keymer 1975

Vitamin E
Vitamin E consists of a group of fat-soluble, unstable, organic compounds known as tocopherols.  It is believed to essential for the development of skeletal muscle, nerve cells of the brain, maintenance of protein levels in the blood, the health of male germ cell-producing tissue of the testes, and the development and growth of embryos.  Oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids and minerals can effect the efficiency of Vitamin E - in other words, do not store oiled seed for more than a few days at a time!
Vitamin H (Biotin)
A complex sulphur containing compound that occurs in many foodstuffs, biotin aids the ability to produce feathers and helps to prevent dead-in-shell chicks. It also helps prevent perosis - bone deformities (leg bones).
Vitamin K
Necessary for blood clotting.  It is also used for liver support.
Pantothenic Acid
Helps to metabolize carbs, proteins & fats.  It also helps in the production of acetyl choline which is important for proper nerve function.
Nicotinic
Acid/Niacin
Aids in the metabolism of carbs, proteins & fats.
Folic Acid
Helps the synthesis of proteins and prevent anemia.
Choline
Helps in the formation of acetyl choline.  Aids in the metabolism of fat.  Dependant on the amount of B12 received in the diet.









Minerals

MINERAL
FUNCTION
Calcium
Plays a major part in bone, egg-shell and muscle production and is required in larger amounts than any of the other minerals. It is necessary for the conductivity of nerves, heart and muscle function, blood clotting and metabolic processes.  In order for calcium to be metabolized and absorbed, it is essential that it be combined with phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D in the proper amounts. It is usually necessary to offer a calcium supplement as seed diets are typically deficient in this important mineral.  The typical calcium/phosphorus ratio is 2:1
Phosphorous
Helps metabolize carbs and fats.  It combines mainly with calcium in bone and eggshell and is important to muscle function.  Vitamin D3 is required for proper phosphorus and calcium absorption.
Magnesium
Important for bone growth and eggshell production.  Magnesium is also necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and calcium.
Potassium
Potassium is important for oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange in red blood cells, heart function and chemical changes in the cell membranes.  It is found in the cells and bones of the body.  Most diets include potassium in amounts that supplementing is not necessary.
Sodium
Is found in the fluids of the body, as opposed to potassium, which is found in the cells.  Sodium plays an important roll in keeping the body from becoming too acidic.  It is necessary, combined with potassium and calcium, at the proper balance, to maintain a healthy heart. While a required mineral, it is not advisable to "supplement" with sodium unless specifically directed by an Avian Vet.

WHAT DO YOUR BIRDS NEED  - THE FULL MONTY

KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.

Green Stuff (fiber)


If and when green stuff is offered, it should consist primarily of dark green, leafy vegetables, and soaked and/or "chitted" seed.  Young plant shoots are often richer in protein than the full-grown leaves.  Mature, green seed heads are more nutritious than the fully grown plants. Ripe seeds have a greater protein content than unripe seeds.  Please check the lists on the Safe House Plants page to be sure what you are giving your birds is safe for their consumption! See my GREENS article for more of my thoughts on this topic.

Other Trace Minerals & Elements

Gouldian finches, like all companion birds, require a balanced diet to ensure their good health.  If you make certain they are getting what they need, they will stay healthy and live a longer, happier life!

In The Wild

In the wild, Lady Gouldian finches will eat sorghum and ripe, or nearly ripe seed heads of a variety of tall grasses. On occasion they may eat insects as well. During breeding season, however, the diet is rich and highly diverse.

Offering our birds a wide variety of dried seeds, "chitted" seed, animal protein, egg food, and/or fresh fruits and vegetables, is nearly good enough to provide for their nutritional needs. Sometimes, especially during breeding and molting, they need more of some nutrients than others. Supplements providing the additional vitamins and minerals they require is often necessary.

A Word About Metabolism...

Each species of bird has a different metabolism, thus each species has different nutritional needs to satisfy their energy requirements.  In other words, more active birds will need higher amounts of carbohydrates and may eat more proteins to satisfy their energy needs.

"Metabolism may be described simply as the utilization of food and its effects withing the body.  These include the building up (anabolism) and breaking down (katabolism) of the chemical substances from which the body is made.  The processes vary from species to species, depending upon inherited biochemical characteristics  and also upon individual variations, which include age and activity as well as environmental factors such as diet and exposure to heat or cold..." Arnall and Keymer, 1975


Below are the types of "substances" Goulds need, the effects they have, and why!

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the mainstay to a birds diet.  They are the most readily available form of "energy" and are comprised of the starches found in a seed diet, fruit and insects.  The body converts carbohydrates into sugars - simple sugars called monosaccharides, and complex sugars such as lactose and sucrose (disaccharides). The birds body uses these sugars to create glycogen, which is then stored and used when energy is needed.  This is a very basic description, but it gives a good idea of why the bird needs carbohydrates!


Vitamins - Fats & Oils

Fat-soluble
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K.  These vitamins dissolve in fat before they are absorbed in the blood stream to carry out their functions. Excesses of these vitamins are stored in the liver. Because they are stored, they are not needed every day in the diet.  However, all of these vitamins are required during breeding season to produce eggs and keep hormones in check.  Vitamin D is required to help absorb calcium, as are some of the minerals mentioned below.  A good vitamin supplement offered two or three times per week should be sufficient to supply your birds with the fat-soluble vitamins they need.  Be sure to read the directions on any supplement you decide to use, and do not combine vitamin supplements unless they are to be used in conjunction with one another!


Water-soluble
Water-soluble vitamins include B-complex and vitamin C.  They dissolve in water, are not stored and are eliminated in urine. It really isn't necessary to supplement with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as it can be manufactured by the body - unless of course you own a nectar-eating bird. Vitamin C helps with the formation of connective tissue.  The B-complex group includes thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, biotin and pantothenic acid. These vitamins are used in many parts of the body. They function as coenzymes that help the body obtain energy from food. They also are important for normal appetite, good vision, healthy skin, healthy nervous system and red blood cell formation.  B-complex is found in seeds, grains, eggs, and fresh vegetables. Citrus fruits are good sources of vitamin C.

The ABC's

Animal Protein


Animal protein is an extremely important part of a Gouldian's diet.  It may come in the form of egg or even insects if you are willing to offer them. But like any other food stuff, it is important to give the right amount of protein at the right time. Breeding and molting birds require more animal protein, while resting birds need less. If you use an austerity program with your Gouldians, they should receive no additional protein other than the small amount obtained from their seed during this period.

Animal protein may be obtained through the use of a commercial egg food, nestling food, or your own mixture.  But when offering a commercial mix, be sure to read all ingredients on the packaging to ensure they are receiving the proper amount.

In my aviary, I like to gain a 26% protein content during breeding and molting.  12-16% during resting.  

But remember - it is important to NOT combine items that contain additional vitamins or minerals.  Choose a method or brand and stick to it. Do NOT mix them. Pet food manufacturers create their foods and supplements to work together as a "system".  When you combine brands or mix too many different items, you run the risk of throwing off that system and destroying the crucial balance.  You run the risk of giving the birds too much or not enough of any given required vitamin or mineral. Read more about protein in my article 
Why Eggfood here.