Introducing New FoodsFirst and foremost, never attempt to change the diet of a bird who is ill; if a bird becomes ill during the process of dietary change, return to feeding the bird what it is willing to eat and postpone any changes in the diet until the bird recovers.7 The same is true of any bird who is being exposed to multiple stresses (i.e. changes of environment, exposure to temperature extremes, introduction of new cage mate(s)).6 Next, understand that birds are skeptical of novel foodstuffs and must therefore become familiar with new foods before experimentation is likely.6 Many of the following techniques are based on this principle, and aim to familiarize birds with new foods to encourage consumption.
- Make sure that the size of the new food items is small enough to allow the birds to consume them.6
- To begin introducing new foods, mix them in with the bird's normal diet.2,6,7 Initially, restrict the amount of seed eaten daily to 75% of what the bird normally consumes in one day. The other 25% should be the new food(s). This way, the bird will not starve, but will be hungry for new food(s).6 Add the new foods in increasing proportions over time, and make sure all of the birds have tried eating the new food before completely removing the seed.
- Remove the seed at night and provide the new foods first thing in the morning, when the appetite is greatest.7
- To transition birds from eating seed to eating vegetables and other fleshy foods, try providing sprouted seeds.6
- If you have at least one bird who is already eating the new food, allow the birds who have not yet sampled the novel food to watch the "teacher bird" eat.6,7
- The birds may prefer cooked forms of raw foods (e.g. carrots), and may prefer to be served only warm foods until they become more familiar with the new foodstuff(s).6
- Try using wide, shallow dishes to display the food more attractively.2
- If the bird already eats a particular soft food (e.g. egg mix, strained baby food), mix new foods or vitamin powder into that until the bird starts to accept other foods.6
- Birds are more likely to change their eating habits and try new foods when they have chicks in the nest to feed. If breeding birds, take advantage of this plasticity of food intake and provide the novel foods continuously, and diminish the proportions of the old foods provided.6
- If all else fails, try offering only the new food7 for a full 24 hours. Then, return the familiar food for a few days. Repeat. This method is based on a study done in cockatiels where familiar food was replaced with novel food. Within 48 hours, 90% of the birds tried the novel food. The remaining 10%, however, did not try the new food even after further exposure. The familiar food was given back to the 10% who did not try the novel food, and 2 weeks later was again taken away and replaced with the novel food. This time, 90% of the original rejecters tried the novel food. Apparently each repeated exposure results in the same acceptance rate as the previous exposure, and previous rejection does not result in consistent rejection.6
Shaft-tail finches eating mealworms (left) and a vegetable medley (right).