Birds need calcium to maintain good feather condition, strong bones, and produce eggs. However, in order to absorb calcium and process it properly, they also need vitamin D3, phosphorus and magnesium in the proper ratios. In the wild, birds obtain D3 from the sun and trace amounts in what they eat. In captivity, they require proper lighting (full spectrum or direct sunlight) and vitamin supplements with D3 to make full use of the calcium they receive.
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.
Perhaps you've seen wild birds pecking around in the dirt in your yard. You may wonder what it is they are pecking at! Sometimes they may be finding small insects, but often times they are picking bits of sand, grit, and minerals out of the soil to meet their grinding and mineral needs. Trace minerals are important. They help keep a bird healthy, allow them to absorb certain nutrients, and support healthy immune systems.
There are many types of trace mineral dust available on the market. Some are very expensive, others are moderately priced. Read the ingredients before purchasing. You will want to purchase the product that carries the greatest number of trace minerals possible, yet will not throw off the balance of your vitamin supplement.
NOTE: It has been said that trace minerals should be removed when treating a bird with antibiotics. Some folks believe that the antibiotic is nullified by the minerals, others believe the birds should continue to receive the minerals in order to facilitate return to good health. I am one that feels the minerals should be left in the cage - however, I always read medication labels carefully before administering. Some specifically state that minerals should be removed - and I personally choose to remove any charcoal because it will draw out both the toxins AND the good minerals. Another issue to be aware of is that some medications chelate minerals causing additional problems that can actually cause liver and kidney damage.
Food For Thought
We often hear that Goulds require more iodine than other birds. Here is another one of my "you'll probably never hear this anywhere else" theories. Think about this - Goulds come from Australia - an island located in the middle of the ocean - the ocean is full of iodine. While the Goulds don't typically live right on the ocean, the iodine is in everything including the air. If everything they eat potentially contains trace amounts of iodine, then chances are they really do require more because in their natural habit they would receive more.
Call me crazy, but this just makes sense to me. Again, I have no proof and have never heard anyone else ever speak of this - and I'm certainly no scientist or veterinarian. You can decide for yourself if you think your birds need more or less. But keep in mind, as with any other foodstuff, too much can be bad! If you choose to adjust any levels of supplements (from what is recommended on the labels), be sure to pay very close attention! You do not want to damage liver, kidneys or other internal organs through hypervitaminosis (too many vitamins)!
There are many brands of vitamin supplement that may be used for your birds. I choose to add a water soluble supplement as some of my birds just will not eat soft foods. It is important that any vitamin supplement you choose contain vitamin D3, phosphorus and magnesium to aid in the absorption of calcium. Many other breeders use vitamins they sprinkle over their soft food or seed. Use what works for you!
Gouldian finches require a higher level of iodine in their diet than most other birds. Iodine can be found in many maintain healthy feathers and for proper thyroid function (which helps regulate other bodily functions, such as breeding and feather production). If your bird is losing its head feathers, chances are it is lacking in iodine, but the entire nutritional program should be reviewed. Remember, there are other reasons your bird may lose head feathers. If you know the nutrition is correct, check for other problems - including feather mites, scaly face mites and even genetics!
Grit - Soluble and Insoluble
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.
Read more on the What Gouldians Need and To Feed or Not To Feed Grit pages.
Charcoal has absolutely no nutritional value what so ever. BUT, it does provide a function - to absorb toxins in a birds system. When you hear the term "sweeten the gut", it typically means to absorb the bad stuff in their stomach and help to restore the natural gut flora (which it doesn't really do - it merely soaks up the bad stuff). However, charcoal also absorbs the "good stuff". You should NEVER offer charcoal straight in a treat cup - what some refer to as "free choice". If the birds eat too much of it, they can become malnourished. If you see your birds eating more than a flake or two, review your nutritional system and parasite control. Often times their nutritional balance is lacking and they are eating the charcoal to fill a void. But they could also be receiving too much and are trying to rid their body of the excess, or even have an internal parasite.
Regardless of what other breeders may do or say, I offer my birds very small amounts of charcoal in their grit mix daily. Most days they never touch it.
You may notice your birds droppings look odd after they eat the charcoal - charcoal is not digested, therefore it passes out of the birds system in the same form it went in! I typically see very dark to black droppings when my birds consume charcoal. As long as their droppings return to normal, there is no worry here.