Question ~

"One question about diet for all the birds. My canaries love greens especially broccoli and dandelion (pretty much the best vitamin and mineral packed vegetable for them) one of which they get daily; however, the zebras and societies don't want to have anything to do with them. Are they just not veggie eaters or have they perhaps just not been exposed to them before? What about the gouldians and owl finch, should they receive fresh vegetables and greens? If so, would the broccoli and dandelion be good choices? Or would others be better choices! One last question: If the birds eat a lot of these greens, should I consider using the Dufoplus less frequently so they don't overdose on the vitamins--that is, if the goulidans and owl will eat the greens?"

My Answer ~

My birds ADORE greens but because the bulk of them are primarily seed eaters, I only offer greens as a treat on occasion. If you choose to feed greens, try to stay away from too much of anything in the cabbage family (including broccoli). While these items are indeed packed with vitamins and calcium, too much can actually INHIBIT calcium absorption – especially in the finches. As always, anything in moderation is usually okay, but when you offer too much, regardless of supplementation system, you run the risk of throwing off the balance of their nutrition.

REMEMBER - these are CAPTIVE birds who have been domesticated through the years and not necessarily fed a "wild diet" over those same years. Certainly, folks who keep birds in the country in which they are normally found have a better opportunity to feed the foods those birds would feed in the wild. But for the bulk of us, all we can do is emulate their diet. Research of the species you keep is imperative.

Because all of the finches you have to date are primarily seed eaters, they really don’t need greens. Greens are really just a treat for them and should not be given more than 2x per week (unless in dried form for self-medicating or unless they would eat ripe seed heads regularly in the wild). Greens will also make their droppings very wet. If they get too many wet foods, it will be difficult to tell if there is a problem (bacterial issue, Candida, protozoa, etc.). Normal finch poop is very different from canary poop. The droppings should be about the size and shape of a mouse dropping – slightly smaller. In a healthy seed eating finch, there should be a longer fecal portion (color will vary with diet), with a white blob at one end that is the urates. There may be a small amount of liquid urine surrounding the dropping, but it should not be larger than a dime. Stress or illness will make droppings wet, often yellowish and messy. Adding Citric Acid crystals, Mega Mix, or unpasteurized apple cider vinegar at a rate of ¼ tsp per quart of water (which can also be added to the Ioford & DufoPlus water) should tighten them back up.

Any time you give the birds liquid supplements or medication of ANY kind, you should NOT give them ANY wet foods on the days those supplements are given. Unless the birds are well used to the taste and smell of the supplements or medications, they will automatically go for the moisture in the greens and NOT drink the vitamin or medicated water. Parasite control like wormers, Ivermectin and/or protozoal treatments, all taste bad, so I usually pull the drinkers down about an hour before lights out the night before I intend to treat. In the morning, I feed the birds first. Then about an hour after I feed them, I mix up the medicated water and give it to them. This will ensure they are good and thirsty and will get the proper dosage.

I guess the best way to say it is an occasional green treat is okay but is not only unnecessary for seed eaters, but can actually cause vitamin deficiency, and/or prevent them from getting enough of any treatment you give them to do any good. So my recommendation is greens no more than 2x per week and treated like a "treat" food. That really goes for all seed eating birds except hookbills or softbills. Hookbills and softbills will eat greens and/or nectar in the wild so they MUST have greens (fruit, vegetable stuff, etc.). But most finches, being seed eaters, do not "need" them.

Know Your Species

It's best to know what each species you keep eats in the wild. If that species eats green as a regular part of their diet, then by all means, feed greens. If they are primarily seed eaters, try to research what type of seeds they'd find in the wild and emulate that diet. If they eat ripe seed heads, do they only do so during breeding or is there a seasonal cycle to what they'd find to eat? If cyclical, that is when you should feed a chitted or sprouted seed mixture. If they tend to eat insects, feed insects.

The point being to feed a diet that as closely resembles that which they would find in the wild as possible. Don't try to force them to eat items they probably wouldn't find or eat in the wild. When given the appropriate diet, your birds will thrive.

Know Your Species' Droppings

Part of knowing what is normal for your bird's diet is also knowing what their droppings should look like on a diet they would eat in the wild. If you start to offer items they aren't used to, their droppings will change. In the case of wet foods, their droppings will often become wetter. You can use their droppings as a measure of what works and what doesn't. In addition, "counting seed hulls" is a way to monitor changes in cycle for seed eaters. When cycle changes begin, feeding changes also begin. If you pay close attention, you will see the types of seed hulls change and amounts of particular seeds change as they eat what they need for that particular cycle.

Mixed Flights

However, if you keep a mixed flight, you will need to keep a "mixed" seed and pay close attention to the hulls left at the end of each day. A seed mix for a mixed flight needs to contain seeds to meet the nutritional needs of ALL species in that flight. This can be a problem if you have birds who would not ordinarily find rich, dark, oily seed during the dry season in the wild, or for those who will eat only the seeds they love, year round. You will have to work carefully to find a good balance without causing obesity in some and poor nourishment for others.

The Occasional Green Treat

An occasional green treat will NOT hurt them, nor will it throw off the balance of their diet as long as it is offered in moderation. Mine LOVE dandelion – dirt and roots included - as long as they haven’t been sprayed. They also love chickweed and shepherd’s purse. I like to give them maturing seed heads from the wild grasses in the yard. You can even put a pot of sprouted wheat grass in their cage if you feel like it. They usually have it mowed down in a few hours. They also love sprouts and tend to like peppery ones like radish or mustard. But again – no more than 2x per week.

NOTE: Now I'd also like you to remember that I have spent my entire birding career deliberately working with finch nutrition - specifically. I have used many control pairs over the years to determine differences in health and behavior with each type of food or supplement I've tested. I don't take bird nutrition lightly. In fact, in my opinion, nutrition is the ABSOLUTE most important aspect of keeping these birds happy, healthy, and prolific. I would not say these words if I did not see the results for myself or believe in my gut they were correct! I can't explain instinct, but an instinct about birds is a gift I've been given. I use it to my full advantage to perfect their nutrition, delve into health issues, and to create the healthiest and happiest birds I can.

Of course there will be differences of opinion, and I am open to hearing your ideas!  Feel free to comment and discuss in our social media venues!

I get somewhere between 75-110 emails per day, and almost as many private messages! Sometimes, the questions are worth sharing. Today I'm going to share this question and my answer - keep in mind, this person is primarily a canary breeder and is now venturing into the world of finches! Please also keep in mind - in this particular aviary, vitamin, calcium (with D3), and iodine supplements are being offered on an appropriate schedule. I've expanded my answer to include multiple species.