Judy Higgins looks at metabolic disorders in budgies, and discusses how suitable food intake can improve their health
IN general terms, a bird’s metabolism (or metabolic rate) is linked to the body’s utilisation of food and how this affects growth, production of energy and elimination of waste. There are many ailments that are linked to a bird’s metabolism that may be overcome with the correct feeding regime and bird care.
Going back to basics
Budgies originally resided in Australia in an arid climate. Humans transferred these birds to almost every country in the world and bred them the way it suited humans and not the birds. Budgies are usually retained in small aviaries and do not have the advantage of free flight, nor the availability of many different types of seeds, grains, shrubs and bushes. They have lost their natural instinct to forage for foods that would heal many ailments. Instead, the birds rely on humans for everything, and sometimes we get it wrong. With this in mind, it is vital to supply our birds with as many dietary options as they would find in their natural habitat.
Budgies have a natural built-in instinct that permits them to seek out certain types of food that will cure most of the metabolic problems they may face living in the wild. I have several camcorder videos of budgies in the wild, taken over a number years, and I have noted that budgies often drink from dirty rancid water holes, without any ill effects. I have also seen these birds chew on burned timber, chewing charcoal at least once a day – this demonstrates the need to supply our birds with some form of charcoal for their digestive system. Charcoal has many benefits and should be considered as a daily dietary requirement.
In the wild, budgerigars swallow small particles of sand and even some very small stones. Since of course these birds have no teeth, the small particles act like a grinder to make the food they eat small enough to swallow. From the crop, food passes down the oesophagus. Budgies have two stomachs, of which the first is called the proventriculus. Here is produced the crop milk that hens feed to their newborn chicks.
The gizzard is a highly developed muscular organ which has a rough surface or lining. Budgerigars retain seed and grit within the gizzard to grind undigested food that will be absorbed later in the process of digestion. The gizzard has a bend called the duodenum, and various ducts drain into this section from the pancreas. The juices from the pancreas are responsible for digesting three main food constituents – carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
The crop and gizzard are often susceptible to infections. These may be caused by bacteria growing on leftover softfood, especially in the summer months when hot weather will cause food to sour quickly. When this occurs, other problems arise, such as loose droppings and regurgitation. Birds huddle with their feathers fluffed up to help retain warmth and the breeder then looks for reasons for illness, which may not be obvious.
Due to the benefit of researching budgies in their natural habitat and watching what they eat every day, I have designed my birds’ diet around the natural foods available to the wild birds, and I have fewer problems than breeders who just supply seeds and medication to their birds. In the wild, it is only the healthy birds that survive. In captivity we are responsible for the wellbeing of our birds and it is important to look closely at what we feed them every day to ensure good health.
Some do prefer it hot...
ONCE, a parrot breeder gave a lecture at the club I belong to and talked about feeding birds chillies. The reason for feeding chillies was to clean out the crop and gizzard, so I grew some and began to feed them to my birds to see whether what we’d been told was true. I started feeding the chillies to the breeding cabinets, and one by one the birds began to eat the chillies and feed them to the chicks in the nest-boxes. When these chicks were placed in flights several months later, I continued to feed them chillies, it took only a few days for the adult birds to get the taste for chillies. Now all my birds eat them. I can’t be sure the chillies are responsible for my healthy birds, but I do not have any digestive problems within my birds.
Australian fancier Judy Higgins has been a breeder and exhibitor of budgerigars for more than 50 years, breeding almost every variety available.