What constitutes a balanced diet?

Our Finch Diet

Other Food Sources

Introducing New Foods

Eggfood Recipes


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Our Finch Diet

Water | Seed/Pellets | Calcium Sources | Eggfood | Fruits/Vegetables/Greens | Treat | Millet Spray | Vitamin Supplements


Clean filtered water is always available to our birds. We change the water at least once a day to keep bacteria from spreading. I avoid tap water because of some of the chemicals added to make it safe for human consumption. We use a water filter to remove these chemicals. Alternatively, bottled water or distilled water can be offered. I've heard that letting tap water sit out for 24 hours allows the chlorine to escape, making the water safer for pets, so this option might be used when other alternatives are not available or affordable.
Finch Seed Mix
E.M. Spec Finch Mix from Herman Bros. Seed.
Lafeber's Granular Finch Diet

Okay, maybe I came down on seeds a little hard. Seed is not bad. Seed is, in fact, the staple of our birds' diet. It is just not a complete, well-balanced diet by itself.

Fresh seed is important. Fresh seed is hard to find in a pet store. Sometimes, their seed doesn't sell very fast and ends up sitting on the shelves for a long period of time. Don't even think about how long it took to get the seed to the store in the first place. You can find out if the seed is fresh by testing how well it sprouts. Of course, if you've never seen how easily fresh seed sprouts, this may be difficult to judge. If it doesn't sprout at all - pitch it! There is very little nutritional content left.

In addition, pet stores tend to sell finch seed in small, expensive, 2 lb bags. Perhaps they reason that small birds don't eat a lot, therefore people don't need a lot. This may be true for many finch owners, but at the same time, many finch owners own more than a just a pair or two. When you have many finches, a 2 lb bag won't last long. You can get commercial seed mixes in bulk from some online bird supply stores if you want to save a little money (although shipping will drive the price up quite a bit, it still almost certainly will be cheaper than buying many small bags from a pet store). Seed can be purchased in bulk from Hornbeck's (now owned by Drs. Foster and Smith), among other places.

We now order our seed directly through a seed supplier. We order E&M spec Finch Mix from Herman Bros Seed. This seed is so fresh that I once accidentally spilled some seed in the pan beneath the grate of a quarantine cage - it got wet, and before I knew it, I had sprouts growing right there. After struggling to sprout a commercial seed mixture, I was amazed to see this seed sprout accidentally and so quickly. I would never go back to a commercial mixture. The price, even after shipping, is also much more affordable than the commercial seed. Unfortunately, Herman Bros does not have an online order form.

I usually buy enough seed to last me somewhere between 1 and 2 months so that it doesn't lose its freshness. Seed can also be frozen if you would like to keep it for longer periods.

When we switched to the E&M spec finch mix, we added Lafeber finch diet granules on the side (to compensate for the absence of the pellets that fortified the commercial mix we had been feeding before). Not all my birds like the granules, but some do, and I believe they benefit from the added nutrients they provide, even if only eaten on a supplementary basis. Lafeber finch diet can be purchased from most pet stores and can also be purchased in bulk from Hornbeck's (now owned by Drs. Foster and Smith). Some people convert their birds over from seed to a strictly pellet-based diet because it is supposed to be more balanced than seed, but this can be a difficult task. My birds enjoy seed so much, I don't want to take it away from them.

Don't think that by converting a bird from seed to pellets you no longer have to offer fresh foods. Yes, pellets tend to be fortified with the vitamins and minerals that some experts guess constitute a well-balanced avian diet. But taking a vitamin supplement has never replaced a balanced meal for humans, and your birds are no different.

Never feed your birds the bird seed meant for wild birds, even if it is especially blended for finches. There is a very wide range in the quality of wild bird seed -- much of which is at the low end of the quality scale. Even the high-quality wild bird seed is not appropriate for birds kept indoors. Outdoor birds have different needs. They are exposed to greater temperature differences and they have unlimited open space for exercise and flight. Therefore, wild bird seed mixes are frequently higher in fat content than mixes blended for pet birds. The fat content does not adversely affect the outdoor birds because they need more fat to stay warm in cold temperatures and they have the open space to exercise and burn off the fat.

Even if you keep your birds in an outdoor aviary, I still would recommend a seed mix specially blended for pet birds unless you are certain of the quality of the outdoor seed. My advice: Feed the wild birds the wild seed mix. Feed your own birds the pet bird seed mix. Everybody wins.

Calcium Sources
Crushed oyster shell - the product sold by Hagen is pictured
Female blue cap replenishes her calcium supply with some tasty oyster shell - yum!

Calcium is a nutrient that figures heavily into a bird's diet. It is especially important for egg-laying females. Hens can quickly deplete their calcium supply when producing eggs. Without an adequate source of calcium, they may become egg bound, which can be fatal if the hen is unable to expel the egg. But don't think that if you don't keep females that you don't have to worry about calcium intake. We frequently catch the male zebras pecking at the cuttlebone, and I have to believe that some nutritional need drives this behavior.

Calcium can be found in many green leafy vegetables. For example, turnip greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens are all good sources of calcium (see Fruits, Vegetables, and Greens).

In addition to the calcium found in vegetables, we supplement our birds' calcium intake with crushed oyster shell and cuttlebone, which we make available at all times. Cuttlebone can be found at any pet store. Some pet stores also carry crushed oyster shell (8 in 1 and Hagen have crushed oyster shell products), but if you can't find it locally, oyster shell is also available from Birds2Grow.

When available, I supply crushed eggshells for additional calcium. To prepare the eggshells, I rinse them thoroughly, then I microwave them. I heat one or two eggshells on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes. If I have a dozen or so, I microwave them longer (maybe 3 or 4 minutes). If they turn brown and start to smell like burnt popcorn, I've heated them too long. The important thing is that they come out dry, because the bacteria live in the moisture. I then break up the eggshells into small pieces and serve to the birds as is or mixed in with their eggfood.

In emergencies, I keep some Calciboost liquid calcium on hand. I've never needed to use it, but I've heard it can be quite effective in assisting an egg-bound hen to expel the troublesome egg. Although calcium at this stage can do nothing to improve the quality of the eggshell, Birds2Grow had reported it to have an effect on the muscle activity needed to expel the eggs. That article has since been moved or removed from their site.


Egg Bread Ingredients and the final product.

I believe eggfood is one of the most important elements of the birds' diet. It provides the added protein they might not get otherwise (unless being fed a diet consisting largely of live food). I offer eggfood every day, although many people offer it every other day or a couple of times a week.

There are many different recipes for eggfood, some very simple, some more elaborate. You can get as fancy as you like. The simplest recipe consists of hard-boiled egg, mashed with a fork, shell and all, and served to the birds. This is a good place to start if you don't want to spend a lot of time researching or preparing recipes (or trying to find some of the exotic ingredients that can be added).

Sometimes it may take a little patience if the birds are not used to eggfood provided in this manner. Some birds do not like the wet, mushy texture. Because of this, many finch keepers add ingredients such as bread crumbs or dry handfeeding formula to the egg food to make it drier and crumbly.

If your birds don't take to hard-boiled egg or if you are concerned about spoilage, you can try serving eggfood in the form of egg bread. My recipe was adapted from a simple recipe posted many times by a man named Joe who used to answer questions on the now defunct Finch Network message board. The recipe involves mixing a dozen eggs with a cornbread mix and baking. See Eggfood Recipes for details. Ideally, I believe a hard-boiled egg recipe is preferred because you don't have the added carbohydrates contributed by the cornbread mix, but I've found that my birds universally accept the egg bread recipe and take to it much quicker than hard-boiled eggfood. In addition, because this product has a dry muffin-like texture, the crumbs dry out rather than spoil as might sometimes happen with hard-boiled egg recipes, making it ideal for those who are not home to remove the eggfood after a few hours.

Many people add vitamin supplements to their eggfood. I add a touch of Nekton-Bio to mine. Many avian vitamins are available at Hornbeck's (Drs. Foster and Smith) and Birds2Grow, but some may also be available at petstores.

Other ingredients people have added to their eggfood include game bird mash, crushed dog or cat food, and diced vegetables.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Greens
A Typical Fresh Food Plate
The Green of the Day: Mustard Greens

As soon as the plate hits the floor, birds come diving in to check out today's menu: eggbread, turnip greens, and some treat.

I've never been successful at adding fruits to my birds' diet. There has been the rare occasion when they've picked at an apple wedge, but other than that, no luck. I've finally given up, in the belief that fruit is not all that necessary.

I offer one type of vegetable or green a day. I used to offer a smorgasbord, but I noticed that many birds would stick to their favorite veggie in the mix and not get the balanced diet I was trying to provide. I therefore only offer one veggie a day and I can be more assured that they are getting a little of everything. The following are the vegetables I have chosen to offer to my birds: Romaine Lettuce (not the most nutritious choice, but better than iceberg lettuce and a favorite among my birds), Carrot Greens, Turnip Greens, Curly Mustard Greens, Kale, Broccoli, Spinach (no more than once a week because it is high in oxalic acid), Green beans (sliced lengthwise with a potato peeler), corn, and Dandelion Greens.

When I serve greens and vegetables, I slice them up into small pieces. If I offer whole leaves, someone (frequently my canary) absconds with the entire leaf. I cannot clip leaves to the aviary, either, since the button quails who reside on the bottom would not have access. A salad-style presentation makes it easier when you have a number of birds sharing the meal.

Vegetables can be an excellent source of two nutrients critical to bird health: calcium and vitamin A. The following veggies are some good sources of both: Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Dandelion Greens, Collard Greens, Kale, and Broccoli Leaves.

Varieties of Kaytee treat

I offer a small amount of Kaytee treat for finches. I started doing this to attract the birds to the food plate and to entice them to try the other selections, but I've kept it up because they seem to like it. The treat does include dyed pellets, which I am not crazy about, but I only offer this in limited quantities, so I let it slide. Treat should not take the place of a good finch seed mix.

Millet Spray
Millet on the spray
5 lb box of millet from Herman Bros. Seed.
The birds flock to the millet as soon as it is offered.

Millet sprays are bird candy. If you offer it ad libitum, they will eat it all day long. I offer sprays once a week, after I've finished my weekly aviary cleaning. It is their reward for putting up with me intruding on their space.

I get my millet spray from Herman Bros Seed. Their 5 lb box is $12.75 (at the time of this writing) and contains almost 100 long fat sprays full of fresh millet seeds. This is cheaper and better than the millet you can get from the petstore.

I highly recommend finding a source of fresh millet sprays. I've been very disappointed with the quality of commercially sold millet sprays available at pet stores. These sprays tend to be thin, dry, and likely quite old.

Vitamin Supplements
Nekton-Bio (left) and Nekton-S (right) vitamin supplements.

The need for vitamin and mineral supplements is highly debated. Many people believe that a varied diet will provide the bird with all the nutrients that they need. Others believe most birds do not get offered or do not accept a balanced enough diet and vitamin supplementation should be used to make sure they get it. Whatever the case, vitamins should not be used in place of fresh food, but only as a supplement in case something is still missing in their diet.

There are different types of vitamins. Some are meant to be mixed in soft food like eggfood, others are meant to be mixed in the water, and some can be mixed with either. It is not a good idea to add vitamins to the seed because they do not stick very well to dry food. Most importantly, the birds husk the shells anyway, so it is questionable as to how much of the supplement will actually be ingested.

When vitamins are added to the water, you can be sure your birds are taking it in, since they must drink the water to survive. But the vitamins can add an unwanted taste to the water and they also can promote bacteria.

When vitamins are added to soft foods, you can never be sure if all the birds are eating it or eating enough of it to benefit from it. However, since my philosophy is that the vitamins are nothing more than a safety net (just in case), I don't worry too much about the birds not getting enough. Some is probably better than none.

As stated above, I currently add Nekton-Bio to my eggbread. I follow the instructions supplied in the bottle regarding dosage and I haven't noticed anyone refusing the egg bread because of the included vitamins

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