You have a pet bird and you have probably seen grit and cuttlefish for birds in your local pet store. Are you wondering if these are necessary items to purchase for your bird and whether or not they are essential?
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So What Is Grit?
Grit is made up of ground-up minerals and sand. Seed eating birds often consume grit and these small pieces of stone accumulate in the bird’s gizzard or ventriculus as grit is insoluble and indigestible.
Grit for birds is specially formulated and is not the same thing as offering sand from a sandbox or small pieces of gravel. If you plan to offer your bird grit, only buy manufactured grit from a reputable company, as in the past there have been reports of lead contamination from improperly collected oyster shells.
Grit helps the bird to grind up the seeds it eats by the muscular action of the gizzard walls and grit also contributes valuable minerals.
Two types of grit are sold to bird keepers and they differ in their chemical properties.
Oyster shell grit is soluble and it breaks down in the acid medium of the gizzard, allowing the minerals to be absorbed by the bird’s body.
Mineralized grit is insoluble, remaining in the gizzard for a longer time.
What Types Of Birds Should Get Grit?
Grit should be available to some seed-eating birds although consumption may be variable. In the wild birds will eat grit naturally when foraging for seed. Domesticated birds get seeds that have been dehusked so the seed is more easily digestible, so it is debatable as to whether or not your bird actually needs grit.
Since the primary purpose of grit is to help remove husks and shells from seeds, birds that ingest whole seeds, like doves, pigeons, and poultry, would likely be the best candidates for needing grit in their diets.
In the psittacine world, most parrots are able to remove the husks and shells with their beaks. The parrot species also have very strong gizzard muscles, so they actually don’t really need to be offered grit within their diets.
In the passerine world, canaries, finches, etc, are also usually able to remove the shells with their beaks and do not typically need the grit to help with digestion.
If your bird is on a pelleted diet, he won’t need grit either.
Whether or not you offer your bird grit is a personal choice. Many birds have lived long healthy lives without ever ingesting grit. When fed an easily digested, appropriate diet, grit is not a dietary requirement.
If your veterinarian has recommended grit to help with digestive problems, offer the grit sparingly because the over-ingestion of grit has been known to cause intestinal obstructions and impactions.
One suggestion that I have read is to offer a very small amount of grit, such as 1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon every 2 years. Since insoluble grit will remain in the gizzard for months to years, very little is needed, if any at all. Some people recommend a small amount of soluble grit every few weeks. Consult your veterinarian to determine which is best for your specific bird species.
Here are some reputable grit products that can be ordered online by clicking on the picture if you feel your bird needs some grit in his life.
Cuttlefish For Birds
Cuttlefish bone is important as a source of minerals, especially calcium and minerals which are generally lacking in seed diets. Cuttlefish for birds helps with bone formation and blood clotting. Cuttlebone is an inexpensive source of calcium carbonate and other trace minerals for your bird.
Just prior to the breeding season, hens will often spend much longer at the cuttlefish bone, nibbling away at it to build up their body calcium stores for the egg-laying period ahead.
The soft powdery side should always be accessible to them.
While most parrots will chew up cuttlebone, birds such as mynahs or toucans will not eat it in its raw form.
However, you can simply scrape cuttlebone into their soft-food mix.
For a more creative way to provide your bird with cuttlebone, look for perches and toys that contain cuttlebone like the one below.
For finches, it is a good idea to cut off some slivers with a sharp knife, making it easier for the birds to nibble at the surface.
An iodine nibble is recommended, especially for budgerigars. These parakeets seem to have a particular requirement for this trace element and any deficiency will slow the molting process.
If you have exhibition birds, it may be better to provide white iodine nibbles rather than the more traditional pink variety, which could stain the facial feathering just prior to a show.
Here are some good sources of cuttlefish for birds that you can order online simply by clicking on the picture.