Feeding Your Parakeet or Finch -- Lessons Learned About a Healthy Diet and Hartz Seed Review
I’m far from a bird expert; in fact, I’ve only had one group of birds. They were adorable little zebra finches. We weren’t really planning on getting birds, and in fact were just in the pet store to buy a few fish. Usually, that’s the start of a horror story for the pet. It’s never a good idea to get an animal without doing any previous research, so please do not follow this example. On the plus side, I had to give myself a crash course in taking care of birds, and can now share some of the important points with you.
Don’t be the person who gets caught unaware, or at least don’t be the one who lets your pets suffer because you don’t learn as quickly as possible. This hub is dedicated to reviewing our birds' primary seed diet, as well as offering some tips for adding additional goodies for a well-rounded meal plan. Check out the book on the right if you're completely new to parakeets/budgies, and then read on for my personal experiences taking care of zebra finches.
Get off on the right foot with parakeet ownership
New to parakeets? Food isn't all you need. Check out this guide for tips on how to keep your bird happy and healthy.
Okay, so we went to buy some fish. I only had 19 tanks full at the time, so of course I needed a few more. The pet store was out of fish, so we drove to the one 25 miles away, in the next-nearest town. They, too, were out of any fish we liked. Since that’s a long drive for nothing, we wandered around a bit and ended up falling in love with these adorable little zebra finches. With just a tiny bit of deliberation, we plunked down $200 on four birds, a cage, bedding, food and treats. Whew. Great – now what? It’s time to learn how to take care of them. Please note that this is truly backward; ideally, learn about them FIRST, and THEN go plunk down the $200. We bought them because they’re a little less social than most birds (I still worked a “real job” outside of the house at that point), and because they have squeaky little chirps instead of the mega-loud squawks and whistles of many pet birds.
Don't have a bird yet? Think about the potential drawbacks before acquiring a new pet
What's the best diet for small birds like parakeets and finches?
The question popped up almost immediately – what do we feed these guys? We asked the guy in the pet store, who recommended the Hartz Parakeet Diet and some millet spray. Granted, selection is limited in this area, but it seemed like a good start. It has a good mix of seeds, and the millet makes an excellent treat for these guys. Still, I felt like he didn’t really know the full story. After all, this pet store brought in lots of students who just needed a job, and few were willing to learn everything about each animal just for a minimum-wage paycheck. It’s a good thing we have the internet these days, as I’m sure my finches would testify if they knew how to speak human.
After considerable research, I’d compiled a list of fruits and veggies I could feed my finches, which looks pretty much identical to what you can feed budgies. By slowly introducing one new food at a time, we soon had those little finches munching away at everything from kale to oranges. Though I was prepared to include a long list here for you, I instead opted for this great video (embedded below this paragraph). Production values are a little low, but it’s a great overview of what and how to feed your parakeets. I followed a very similar process with my finches, and they’ve done beautifully. We did still opt for vitamin drops in the birds' water since the house has little natural sunlight and we wanted to make sure all the bases are covered.
Don't forget to supplement; a seed-only diet is never a good idea. Here are some tips on adding fresh produce to your bird's diet
How much should you feed your birds?
My birds usually get about 1/8 cup of seed in one of two dishes every day. This amount lasts just a little more than a day, so you may want to consider a little less if your birds tend to soil the seeds with water or waste, or are likely to play with them instead of eat. Each day, one dish gets 1/8 cup while the other gets dumped of any husks and excess seeds and cleaned thoroughly. At this amount, very little actual (non-dyed) seed goes to waste for four zebra finches.
For produce, I’m sure there’s a tried-and-true formula out there somewhere for how much to feed. Since I don’t know that formula, I simply offer small amounts at a time – say, an orange section – and remove any remainder a couple of hours later. If the birds pick off small pieces and drop them on the cage floor, I do my best to pick them out or clean the cage so they don’t attract bugs or otherwise threaten the birds’ health. Expect that your birds will be a little hesitant if they’ve never seen the food before, especially if they’re not hand-tame and therefore don’t necessarily attach anything special to something you give them. Give them the opportunity to explore and sample. Consider cutting it in different ways or otherwise changing the presentation if something doesn’t work. If they don’t take to it after a couple of tries, then just try something else.
Experiences with the Hartz Parakeet Diet seeds
As mentioned, the seed we bought our finches was the Hartz Parakeet Diet, which contains several types of seeds and some added vitamins. It comes in a small 17oz box that cost us about $3, and lasted my four birds just over two weeks. There are larger jars available – three-pounders, I think – but I decided to stick with this size. Much larger and my birds would have old, stale seed. I don’t know if this dry seed could go rancid for sitting too long, but I wasn’t going to try it out.
Some of the seeds are dyed red and green to encourage the birds to peck at them. Apparently birds are more attracted to bright colors. At least, that’s the theory – my zebra finches won’t touch the dyed ones. No loss to me there; having had dogs my entire life, I have a deep discomfort of dyes. My birds make sure I don’t worry about them on that count, as they sift through and throw the dyed seeds onto the cage floor before they will eat the natural-colored ones. Obviously, this does eat into the economy of the seed a bit – they waste about 5%-10%. If you’re buying it because it’s cheap, you may want to shop around if your birds do this too. I buy it because there aren’t really any other choices unless I want to pay a bunch of shipping, and it’s not THAT big of a problem for me.
Overall, this seed really is a decent economical option, especially if you either have birds that will eat the dyed seeds, or don’t mind cleaning the cage fairly often. My own birds have been on the Hartz Parakeet Diet for about three years and are healthy, active creatures. The two females lay an egg each about once a week, though we’ve never let them develop to see if they’re fertile.
What did you think?
I hope this hub has been helpful to you, and that you have a few extra ideas on how to design a healthy diet plan for your parakeet or finch. These birds take some research and specialized care, but are well worth the effort in the long run. Please feel free to leave a comment with your bird diet questions, or with additional tips that I may have missed.
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