a comprehensive resource of avian nutrition research for captive bird populations

Diet Formulation

Creating a new diet can be quite a bewildering exercise; where do you start and how do you know that you are creating a nutritionally balanced diet for your birds?

The best attack plan is always research, research and then more research, followed by observation of your birds, breeding success and longer term, general health and longevity of your birds.

Creating a detailed feeding plan is a good place to start. Gather together as much information available regarding the wild diet of the species; cross-referencing information from different sources should provide a comprehensive overview. Ensure you include any information regarding the feeding habits of the species; this knowledge may well be useful when considering diet presentation.

Next, gather together as much known information on captive diets - husbandry guidelines are always a good starting point, there may be published papers available on diet based research, and contact other individuals who have worked with the species. Pay special attention to any known dietary health issues with the species.

Evaluate all the information you have gathered and start to think about diet ingredients. From the wild data compare what items are readily available to you locally. How do these items compare to wild counterparts - remember commercially grown fruit are propagated for human taste and may not contain the same nutritional qualities. Also investigate what manufactured diets are available.

If you have access to Zootrition software this is an invaluable resource that can give you a better idea of the nutritional values of various food items. There are other available websites that can give a general idea of nutritional values of food items such as:

Consider any dietary seasonal changes that may be required, getting your birds into breeding condition, additions/changes required when rearing chicks, different life stages of your birds.

Diet palatability and presentation are important factors of any diet plan along with actual diet intake amount. Birds will cherry pick favoured diet items, despite offering a balanced diet; if birds fill up on favoured items the food they ingest may be nutritionally unbalanced. Presenting the least favoured diet items to your birds when they are at their hungriest, then favoured items later in the day may help achieve a better balance. Much of this is common sense, observation and diet leftover amounts are good indicators of actual diet intake.

The above is much more difficult in a mixed species exhibit; monitoring diet intake in such an exhibit would be unmanageable, observations are key to understanding feeding hierarchy in an exhibit of this nature. Multiple feeding stations, species specific feeding stations, and conditioning techniques can all be utilized to help control dietary intake.

Regular evaluation of the diet is advised, certainly at least an annual assessment; general health of the individuals, breeding performance, dietary intake amount and faeces consistency should all be reviewed and documented as part of your diet plan.

Remember that the diet you provide your birds is not necessarily the sum total of their diet, many species will take advantage of food items in their environment; wild insects, ground dwelling invertebrates, fruit bearing trees or shrubs, grass and leaves, enclosure invaders such as mice or shrews, amphibians etc. Something worth taking into account when designing a new enclosure, allowing natural foraging behaviour is a great form of enrichment and exercise.

Also consider what natural diet ingredients you can harvest from your local area, flowers and leaves, seasonal fruits etc. Make sure you harvest any items responsibly, and that they are not poisonous.

Other things to think about when composing a new diet are the use of dietary supplements. A well-researched diet should contain all of the nutritional requirements for a species, use of dietary supplements without an understanding of how they work and the correct amount to administer could have a detrimental effect; too little will be ineffective, too much can cause health issues. Always ensure that any vitamin and mineral supplementation of diets is done to make up for any known deficiencies within the diet you are feeding. Also be very aware of the storage and use by dates of these supplements.

Good hygiene standards must be practised for food storage, food preparation and around feeding stations. Food can become contaminated or spoiled at any point, weakness in hygiene standards is not only harmful to your birds but also makes all of the work you have invested in formulating a nutritionally balanced diet ineffective.

Lastly, healthy diets don't have to mean more expensive, if you can control food waste through a combination of knowing the dietary requirements of your birds, monitoring diet intake, removing all diet ingredients from a diet that do not add anything to the nutrition needs of the birds and regularly research prices from your suppliers, you will be surprised at how cost effective nutritionally balanced diets can be. Add into that an increased productivity, better health (less vet bills) and longevity and it all makes good economic sense.

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