by Peter James
Can you remember when you were young you mother told you to eat your greens because they were good for you.
The same can be said about greens in a bird’s diet. As breeders, we are told by vets and other specialists, that finches need to eat greens as part of their diet. The only difference between me eating greens as a boy and finches eating greens is that they love it when most of mine was given to the dog under the table.
I don’t know the science and biology behind it all however my own experience shows that feeding greens improves health and breeding results in my finches. Greens contain important vitamins A and D which are not present in dry seed.
Some of the most common greens fed to birds are those you can collect yourself around the yard. These include dandelion (4), chickweed (3), thistle (1) and crab grass (2). Always wash before feeding. Leave them soak for about 5 minutes, remove from water and dry with absorbent towel. Chop into small pieces and feed immediately – the fresher the better.
Broad Leaf Greens
Greens that you can buy from the supermarket include lettuce (5), bok-choy (6), silver beet (7), rocket (8) and swiss chard (9) to name a few. You will note from the photos that all these “greens” are home grown. A lot of breeders prefer to grow their own because of the insecticides used by farmers. The residual left on these wide leaf greens may not hurt us but it is deadly to finches. When buying any greens always wash them thoroughly. Then soak, dry and cut them into small pieces to feed.
Half Ripe Seed Head Greens
Feeding half ripe seed heads is another way of providing greens to your finches. Once again you can grow your own or collect them from fields etc. Make sure you get any greens from a non polluted area. For instance picking seed heads from the roadside is not a good idea.
How do you know when a seed head is at the right stage for feeding? Squash a ripening seed with your fingers. If the seed collapses with nothing inside you are too early and if the seed falls of the stem you are too late. The seed should feel soft and still connected to the stalk. This is the best time to feed.
You can grow any of the hard seeds used as their basic diet. These include white french (10), Pannicum (11), Jap millet (12) and canary (13). Some of these seed heads have a protective defense against birds eating the seed. Pannicum is a good example with long hair like stems protruding past the seed. When the birds try to eat the seed they get poked in the eye. Well perhaps not, however the stem makes it uncomfortable for them. I have found the best seed to grow is white french.
The favorite seed breeders collect growing in the wild is Green Panic (14). This seed grows from September through to April with the best months during summer. Other grasses (15) can also be collected and tried. If the birds don’t eat a certain grass then don’t feed it. Once again these seed heads must be washed thoroughly before feeding. A good way to keep them fresh is to fill a soft drink bottle with water and place the stems of the seed heads into the water like you would with flowers. Then place the bottle with the seed heads into the aviary. They will keep fresh all day.
Sprouted Seed Greens
Sprouted Seed is by far the most beneficial way of feeding greens. As the name implies the seed is sprouted. This is done by soaking it in water, draining the water away and then leaving it to sprout
One of the major problems when soaking seed is the build up of bacteria in the water as the seed soaks or is wet. One way of solving this problem is to wash the seed at every stage in the process but sometimes this isn’t enough. If the seed goes off it stinks and must be thrown away.
A new method of sprouting seed is to use a product called “Virkon S” in the water. It stops fungal and bacteria buildup when the seed is wet and is harmless to the birds.
This is the method I use for sprouting seed.
You will need a container with holes for draining; enough seed to half fill the container, water and Virkon S. (16).
Virkon S is a pink powder and is expensive however only a small amount is required. The suggested mix rate is ¼ of a teaspoon to 1 liter of water. Don’t mix it any stronger as you are just wasting money.
- Mix Virkon S with water (pink colour) (17)
- Half fill the container with seed – don’t overfill as the seed swells when soaked.
- Add enough water mixed with Virkon S to cover the seed (18)
- Leave soak for only 2 to 3 hours. Longer may kill some of the seed.
- Drain the liquid from the container – if you drill holes for draining you do not have to remove the lid. (19)
- Put the container upside down in natural light – not in direct sunlight. The container acts like a hot house. (20)
- Stir the mix very 8 hours (or more often if you like) to ensure an even sprout.
- After 24 hours check the seed for sprouting.
- Sprouts should be no longer than 2mm. A longer sprout will take the nutrition out of the seed. (21 correct length, 22 to long)
- When you have the correct sprout length tip the seed onto absorbent paper towel and remove excess water.
- Freeze seed
I make enough sprouted seed to last a month. Some breeders only sprout enough for a few days. After sprouting put the seed into the refrigerator, not the freezer. This is the best method however you are sprouting more often so you have to be “on your toes” and make sure the sprouts don’t get too long.
Sometimes it is difficult to get birds to accept new food. Finches are very conservative and do not take to food they don’t recognize. This is due to the teachings of their parents. What they were fed when young is normally what they eat. That’s why it is always better to acquire birds from someone who feeds they same diet as you are going to feed.
Finches will copy other finches when eating. So if you put greens in your aviary and only a couple of birds come down for a pick don’t worry, within a week all will be feasting on your offerings.