September 1996 Magazine
Grains are a blessing for bird owners. They are that rare combination of a nutritious food which birds also love to eat! There are many varieties of grains, each providing somewhat different nutritional values. As a group they are low in fat and packed with proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. And prepared properly, birds love the taste. Use grains along with pellets, seed mixes, veggies, pasta, etc to increase the variety in their diet.
I have included a great run-down on the various grains plus cooking instructions for each. I use all organically grown grains from the health food store and add pasta, veggies, nuts, beans.
It's great and the birds just love it. I sometimes take a baggie full for the bird club raffle table (it is often the first to go). A friend has a macaw who is a dumper of EVERYthing. He tasted the grains mix and never raised his head until the bowl was empty. Now, he checks the bowl and if it's the grains mixture, he NEVER dumps the bowl until he's eaten it all.
PEARLED BARLEY - a cup of cooked barley offers the same amount of protein as a glass of milk, along with hearty increments of niacin, thiamine, and potassium. A substance that inhibits cholesterol production in the blood has been traced to the nonfiberous portion of the grain.
TO COOK PEARLED BARLEY - Use 2 cups boiling liquid to 1 cup pearled barley, cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes.
BUCKWHEAT GROATS - the proteins in buckwheat are the best known source of complex carbohydrates. Buckwheat also contains a high proportion of all eight amino acids which the body does not manufacture but are nonetheless deemed absolutely essential for keeping it in tiptop shape. All this makes buckwheat closer to being a complete protein than any other plant source - even soybeans!
TO COOK BUCKWHEAT GROATS - Use 2 measures liquid to 1 measure of buckwheat groats, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes.
BULGAR - each quarter pound contains over 11.2 grams of protein, 75.7 grams of carbohydrates, 338 milligrams of phosphorus, and 229 milligrams of potassium, as well as healthy doses of calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Or as many nutrients as one will find in a whole loaf of 100% whole-wheat bread! Freeze unused bulgar.
TO COOK BULGAR - 1 measure of bulgar to 2 measures liquid. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 20-25 minutes.
HULLED MILLET - rich in phosphorus, iron, calcium, riboflavin, the nutritional value of cooked millet (90 calories) is only a step below wheat on the protein ladder. It is also higher in the amino acid lysine than rice, corn, or oats.
TO COOK MILLET - Use 1 measure of millet to 2 measures of liquid, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to stand, covered, off heat for additional 10 minutes.
WHEAT BERRIES - high in protein, carbohydrates, B vitamins, and 7 amino acids that provide the body with energy: 335 units of protein per cooked half cup. And low in calories: 55 for the same amount.
TO COOK WHEAT BERRIES - soak overnight and boil in soaking water for 50 to 60 minutes or cook covered until the wheat is soft, adding water as necessary.
QUINOA - jam-packed with lysine and healthy amounts of the other amino acids that make a protein complete, besides being a repository for phosphorus, calcium, iron, vitamin E, and assorted B vitamins. Store in freezer.
TO COOK QUINOA - 1 measure of quinoa to 2 measures of liquid. Bring to boil, lower heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Allow to stand, off heat, for another 10 minutes.
TRITICALE - a hybrid grain of wheat and rye. The average protein content of wheat is about 12%, rye's is lower, about 7%; triticale runs about 15-17%. Triticale contains a better balance of amino acids than either of its parents, with twice as much lysine as wheat offers in every spoonful.
TO COOK TRITICALE - water to cover triticale, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook until done; adding water as needed.
There are as many ways to serve the grains to your birds as there are people to devise them. The following is a recipe which I use. It combines grains with pasta and vegetables. The grains and veggies can be varied. Experiment to find the combinations which work for you!
GRAINS, PASTA, & VEGGIE MIX
1 cup of several different grains. Cook separately so there will be many flavors.
1 cup cooked pasta (orzo) - roughly chop several hot peppers into cooking water.
1 cup brown rice - cook with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.
Add several of the following:
Broccoli - steamed lightly and chopped
small bag of frozen sweet peas - don't thaw
small bag frozen sweet corn - don't thaw
toasted sunflower kernels
dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries
mango, papaya or other dried fruits chopped
A variety of beans cooked separately, seasoned with a head of garlic chopped or a handful of green or red hot peppers roughly chopped
Use about 2 tablespoons for bigger birds, and about 1 tablespoon for conures or cockatiels. Package into baggies in 3 day portions, about the maximum time it is safe in the refirigerator. Remaining baggies can be stored frozen for an indefinite period.
Winged Wisdom Note: Bobbi Brinker owns Bobbi's Tropical Treasures, has been breeding birds for 10 years and is a founding member of ZAP (Zero Avian Polyomavirus). She is the Editor of The Avian Quarterly which is published in cooperation with Great Lakes Bird Lovers Club.
Wouldn't it be nice if all species of birds could be visually sexed? Unfortunately, nature was unconcerned about us humans when many of the bird species evolved. A bird's sex is often a well kept secret, known only to the bird and perhaps others of it's own species.
Some species' genders are easily identified. Male and female eclectus are different colors, the male is green, the female red. When they mature, male parakeets have a blue cere (nasal area) while a female's is brown. A female cockatoo's eyes turn brown as they mature, but not always. Other species show color differences as they mature, but many do not.
Some people want to know the sex of their pet so that they can give them a proper name or know what pronouns to use when referring to them. Others are interested in mating their birds and know not to expect too many babies from male-male and female-female pairs.
How then can gender be determined? There are many old wives tales and a few scientific methods which have been used with varying degrees of success. Below is an overview of four scientifically based approaches: DNA Sexing, Surgical Sexing, Blood Feather Testing and Fecal Analysis.
Each method has its positives and negatives. The choice depends upon the situation and the needs of the owner.
DNA sexing can be performed from as little as one drop of blood. The DNA in a blood sample is processed to produce a 'picture', which is then analyzed to determine the bird's sex. Results are available in about three to four weeks and are very accurate.
The sampling process is simple, using a few drops of blood taken from a vein or toenail. It is both a convenient and non-stressful technique. The sample is then placed in a prepared collection vial and shipped to a lab. Regular mail can be used.
Like a human, each bird's DNA is unique and doesn't change. Thus the test works on babies as well as adults. In addition, the test results can be used as a means of identification. Some labs, also offer a registry service. The DNA is banked, similar to a fingerprint, for future matching and identification.
This method is accurate, convenient, non-stressful and affordable if the waiting time for the results is not critical. Chromosome testing identifies the sex of a bird, not whether or not it can successfully produce offspring.
Surgical sexing is performed by a veterinarian at his office using endoscopic surgery. It is usually not recommended for very young birds. The bird is first anesthetized. The veterinarian inserts an endoscope (a metal tube with a light attached) into a small incision made in the bird and can literally see the sex organs. This enables the vet to not only identify the sex, but to determine if the bird is sexually mature and if there are any abnormalities or potential breeding problems as well.
Surgical sexing is extremely accurate and quick, though somewhat stressful for the bird. Results are immediate and it provides needed information for those interesting in breeding. If performed by a competent veterinarian, the procedure is considered quite safe, although there is some risk from the anesthesia or possible post-operative complications. Most concerns have been with anesthesia. One type, an injectible, keeps the bird asleep longer and tends to cause vomiting. Advances in the field have produced safer anesthestics (eg isofluorine - a gas), and the risks are now deemed negligible by experts. A bird should be up and about within a few minutes after the anesthesia mask is removed.
It has been the practice to tattoo birds, which have been surgically sexed, under their wing - left wing for a female, right for a male. More recently veterinarians have been using leg bands or microchips.
Blood Feather Analysis (BFA)
BFA is a blood chromosome testing method. Tissue from a bird's blood feather is cultured and used to perform a blood chromosome analysis. If a bird currently has no blood feathers, then a few feathers must be pulled so new ones can grow. This take approximately two to three weeks. When the feathers are pulled they are placed in a special tube, packed with cold packs and sent priority mail to a lab. The tissue is then grown and examined under a microscope. Results are available in about two weeks.
This method is safe and accurate, but results are not immediate. It also works on birds of all ages. It's disadvantages are in the inconvenience and cost of shipping and for breeders, not actually seeing the condition of the sexual organs.
This method involves collecting fresh fecal samples, according to directions, and then mailing them to a lab. The samples are examined to determine the male and female hormone levels (testosterone and estrogen), limiting the testing to sexually mature birds. It's accuracy depends upon proper collection of the samples and the health of the bird.
This method is safe and relatively inexpensive. Results should be available in about one week.
Choose the method which best corresponds to your needs. Those interested in breeding birds will likely choose surgical sexing. The DNA and Blood Feather methods are very safe, accurate and also work on chicks. They are good choices for pet owners who want to know the sex of their pet.
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Cockatoo parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises
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