By Robbie Harris
I keep reading all kinds of information on diets. I go to bird clubs and bird marts and talk to different people trying to find various ideas. I have heard lots of different opinions and way too many different answers regarding what to feed birds during the breeding season. What do you think I should I feed my birds — pellets, seeds, sprouts, fruits, vegetables?
Good question, but there is no easy answer. What may work well for me and my birds, may not work at all for someone else. Simply put, there are many different types of diets that can have great success.
Pellet diets are simple — all you do is keep the bowl full of fresh pellets and provide fresh, clean water. Most avian pellet diet manufacturers stress that pellets have been designed to be fed exclusively and contain all needed vitamins. Adding extra foods like fruits, vegetables or vitamin supplements could be detrimental to a bird's health. I have heard of problems with these diets due to people not feeding them to their birds correctly. If you choose to use a pellet-type diet for your birds, you must read the packaging label and do as instructed.
The pellet diet may work for the 9-to-5 working person, who just cannot do much more than that during the week for their birds. For the birds housed outdoors, working people may have little sunlight in the morning and no sunlight to work with the birds at night when they get home. So, for the working person this may really be the only diet to offer their birds.
However, a pelleted diet has never worked for my birds. I have tried it on some pairs of birds just to see the results, and it just could not compare to the diet I have been feeding them for more than 25 years. I like to feed my birds variety — and I do mean a real variety — of all kinds of foods.
Life can be a bit boring in a cage or aviary, so why not give the birds lots of enjoyment with a wide variety of foods and treats each and every day. My birds wait every day for their special feeding of a buffet-type diet. They are not waiting because of hunger, because they all have a variety of fresh seeds in their bowls at all times. They are waiting for that one special food they really enjoy. What is that special food? Each bird has its own favorite. It is what that bird runs over to grab out of the bowl, jump on its perch and eat with enjoyment. It can be apple to one bird, a piece of orange, a bit of corn or a green pea to others.
I also like to change things and surprise my birds, not too much, but just a little, to spice up their life. Yes, birds don't like changes, some will not even go near their bowls if the foods look different. But, if a single new food is added to their regular mix, they don't really get all bent out of shape about it, as long as everything else looks routine. So, it could end up being a brand new food they never saw before that they end up eating and loving. Also keep in mind that the brand new food they discover one day may have been in their bowl hundreds of times but, for some reason, they just happen to notice it that particular day, and now that is the treat of choice. Birds are odd like that, very much like a child, their likes and dislikes can change, and their favorite foods can easily change too.
So, to answer your question, my birds get a buffet each day. They get a wide variety of fresh seeds, sprouted seeds, all kinds of vegetables and fruits, berries, a variety of avian pellets (a few for a treat) and bread. My birds are well feathered, in good health and appear happy. They also breed very well, producing numerous clutches each years with lots of healthy chicks. My birds receive a lavish diet each day for 12 months a year. During andjust before breeding season (middle autumn well into summer), I may add a bit more vitamins and calcium, and more soft foods so the ones with babies can pick and choose what they like to feed their young, but they receive a good diet all year. After all, they have to eat every day to maintain their good health.
I have quite a few different types of pairs of conures set up for breeding, and doing pretty well with them. Early this year I bought a pair of painted conures to breed. This past spring they did not lay any eggs. I want to learn more about this species, but I can't seem to find much information on their breeding habits. I have your book, Breeding Conures, but was unable to extract much information about these birds. All I know is that they are less prolific than other Pyrhurra conures, like the green cheek and maroon belly. The female is 4 years old and the male is 3 years old. When do they start breeding? Do they have special needs when it comes to their diet?
Painted conures are less prolific than their close cousins, but once they start they are pretty good breeders. I have pairs that sometimes have three clutches a year for me, but most seem to have one to two clutches per year, usually containing four eggs. They also usually start a little later in the season compared to the others. My maroon bellies and green cheeks start laying eggs in December and January, whereas the painteds usually lay in March or April. They do not generally have as many babies per clutch as the maroon bellies or green cheeks (those birds can have up to eight eggs in a single clutch).
Painted conures start breeding when they are older, because they seem to take longer to mature. Green cheeks and maroon bellies may start breeding before they are a year old, but painted conure pairs usually do not start producing until they are more than 3 years old. I had a pair last year that was just turning a year old. The hen laid eggs, sat on them, but all were infertile. Because my yellow-sided green-cheeked conures (a newer color mutation) were laying large clutches, I placed a bunch of just hatched chicks under this young pair. They cared for the chicks very well. Your male may have been a bit young last breeding season, but should be old enough this upcoming breeding season. My pairs use a simple wooden cockatiel nest box with shavings inside. The pairs eat a fresh seed diet, and a soft food diet containing lots of fruits, vegetables and sprouted seeds. The diet the painted conures get is the same diet all my other conures receive, and they do really well on it.
Robbie Harris has a Web site so people can easily get in touch with her. She will post things she learns that may be of some importance to others, such as hoax e-mails. Questions for her Bird Breeder column can be sent through her Web site: www.robbieharris.com . She will answer questions that seem to be the most frequently asked and those that will help many.
Robbie Harris raises a wide variety of exotic birds at her home in Southern California. She has written two books, Breeding Conures and Grey-Cheeked Parakeets and Other Brotogeris, and owns and raises a large variety of African parrots, including greys, Jardine's, Capes, Senegals, red bellies, brown heads and Meyer's. Harris has received seven U.S. First Breeding Awards for various types of psittacines.