May 31, 2018

Less IS More

Less IS More
    The morning "coffee crowd" is busy chirping away, squabbling over broccoli bits, and I
imagine them gossiping about their neighbors. I am in the bird room, taking a break from work,  sipping my cup of Joe as the happy conversations of the canaries fill the room.
     My chair is squeezed into a small space between a floor-to-ceiling flight and a stack of
breeding cages. From here, I can see most of the room and am watching the flights of
youngsters, taking notes on their behavior.
    In the beginning of this 'bird obsession' I call a hobby, my bird room had a very different
appearance. There was room for a rocking chair with footstool, a small table for my coffee and notebooks, with hanging plants and lace curtains at the window. But as the number of birds grew from 6 pair to 40 pair, the space for "non-essentials" shrank.
    Last year, I spent three hours in the birdroom each day, plus washing water tubes, seed
dishes, and nests added two more hours each week. I spent the time sweeping, feeding,
banding, and cleaning cages I would rather have watched the parents feed their chicks or sat next to a young male with personality to listen to his first teenage song.
    I am trying to remind myself why I bought my first bird, and the things that I most enjoy. I don’t regret the hours spent in the bird room, but if I kept fewer birds, I’d have more time for play rather than work.
     Less is more. Simple is better than complicated. That principle works for many things.
    Whenever I am asked the question: 'What do you feed your birds?', my answer is
always the same: less is more. I am not talking about putting your birds on a diet. I am talking about keeping things simple rather than complicated.
    The basic diet for all cage birds begins with just a few guidelines. And these principles
apply to a single bird companion, or a bird room full of breeding pairs. Their food must provide nutrients to keep them healthy and be clean and fresh. The diet should be items we can buy easily and, let's face it, must also be priced within our budgets.
     Keep it simple. Some bird breeds have special requirements, but all need protein, fats and carbohydrates. The different types of seeds contain all of these, but in different proportions.  Many bird breeders mix their own seed types; others buy a bag of premixed seed for their general type of bird. It can be fun to do the research and make your own mix, but in all honesty, a packaged mix designed for your bird's breed will fill their need for seed.
     Pellets are popular and contain seed products with other nutrients. Personally, I like to begin with the seed and add supplements and other foodstuffs. Somehow, I keep comparing myself to the birds, and I would much rather eat a variety of interesting foods than a bowl of concentrated All-Food flakes, even if it was a complete meal.
     Seed only supplies a portion of their nutritional need, so we add other items. Following the example of the songbirds outside our homes, our indoor pets will benefit from green leafy vegetables, carrots, green peas, cucumbers and others such as seeds from a green pepper. Feed a small amount, lightly chopped or grated. You can feed these every day, or as an irregular treat on the days you have more time.
    At various times throughout the year, our birds need additional protein and supplements.  During breeding, while feeding chicks, and during the annual molt, add a small amount of animal or plant protein. This can be mashed hard-boiled egg, mixed with whole wheat bread crumbs, or soy protein, mealworms, or sprouted seed. Here again, you can buy packaged foods or prepare them from scratch. There are powdered vitamin-mineral supplements created to be fed separately in a small dish or sprinkled onto the soft mix.
    Now take that simple diet of seed, vegetables, and make sure every bit is fresh. Don't feed stale seed. Don't feed wilted veggies, and don't let the protein mix spoil, if you use moist food.
     Maybe you enjoy creating a complicated diet for your bird. I admit to real satisfaction when I have mixed a bowl of mashed hard-boiled egg, grated carrots, and dried bread crumbs.   Even the crumbs are from bread that I made specially for the birds. But if you keep the list of ingredients small, and you use the same mix every day, you will find it saves time. You can spend several of those saved moments to watch them enjoy their meal.
     Speaking of happy birds, back to my birdroom. One young opal male is perched right up against the front of his cage, very still and watching me. He trills lowly, insisting that I feed him a special  treat. He will eat broccoli and he received a portion with the rest of the room. But he really desires a few flakes of oatmeal, which I always feed him after he asks politely.
     I must keep that opal male, because he returns my affection. So, add one more to my growing list of keeping birds. Less is more? If only I could simplify my Bird Life.

Q: What plants can I grow in my own garden to feed my birds?
A: We can grow many of the vegetables for our cage birds. Some are very easy, such as
green leaf lettuces, kale and carrots which are commonly grown for our own tables.
Other vegetables are more demanding. Green peppers can take three months to grow to full
size. Cabbage and broccoli are often attacked by insects, so I cover them with special netting to keep the butterflies out. Cucumbers are an example of the plants that need lots of space to ramble as they grow.
Don't forget to pull dandelion leaves (from lawns that are not sprayed or fertilized). They are a special treat much enjoyed by my birds.