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Written by Robert
Petrie (Kansas City, MO.)
Originally published in The NFSS
Bulletin, Vol. 13 No. 2. March – April 1996
Live food, egg food, soaked seeds, etc… we
aviculturists continually are striving to offer the protein to our
finches that they need. It seems I’ve counted an endless number of
teeny-tiny mealworms to give to my birds. Non-bird people often stare
in amazement that I pay for insects. Who knows how many different egg
food recipes I have concocted. I still modify my recipe every
What is it all for? What exactly is protein? If you think of an
animal’s body as a house, then most of the materials to build the
house, siding, wall coverings, roof, doors and windows, etc… are
protein molecules. Also the things that run the house, furnace, hot
water heater, water pipes, and so on, are made of proteins. The tools
to build the house, saws, hammers, cement truck and others, and the
workers building the house are all proteins.
This is why a new growing body needs a higher amount of protein than a
mature body. But even a mature body needs an occasional repair or
remodeling. Protein can also be used for energy. Typically a body
relies upon carbohydrates, the sugars and starches, for the energy to
run on, just like the electricity surging through your house. If
supplied with an excess, an animal’s body can use protein as an energy
Proteins are made of what is called “amino acids”. There are 20
different amino acids known (Eckerts, et. al. 1973). These amino acids
form together, in seemingly endless chains, to form the protein. These
chains can be put together in an almost infinite number of different
orders allowing different types of proteins.
Some of these amino acids an animal’s body knows how to make. Others
need to be in an animal’s diet for it to survive. Humans need to have 9
different amino acids in our food (Alberts, et. al. 1983). These needed
amino acids are called “Essential Amino Acids”.
Most of us know of some foods that are high in protein. Protein content
doesn’t say enough though. There is complete and incomplete protein.
There is also crude and usable protein.
The protein content is determined in a laboratory. I’m not even going
to pretend to know how it is determined. I do know that the measure
they give is for crude protein. That is all the protein in the sampled
material. But not all the protein is available to the animal eating the
substance. For example, if you eat a piece of wood, the cell walls are
made of protein but your body cannot use it, so it is of no value. We
haven’t found a way to determine usable protein, so we must go by the
crude protein content amount.
Meat and beans are good sources of protein. But meat is considered
complete, and beans, incomplete. All that means, is that meat contains
all the Essential Amino Acids. Beans lack at least 1 of the essentials.
But if you eat beans and corn, both good sources of protein, you will
have all your essential amino acids.
Well, why should you really concern yourself with this biology lesson?
People constantly ask for my recipe for egg food. I constantly ask
people for their recipe for egg food. No one knows everything and it
helps to continuously compare recipes. It helps when considering
someone’s egg food recipe to understand something about protein, so you
can make good judgements on what to do.
We know that in the wild our finches eat seeds and insects. The protein
content of seeds can vary anywhere from 12-20%. The protein content of
mealworms is around 20%. When seeds begin to germinate, the point when
the plant is just emerging from the seed coat and not when it looks
like a little plant, they increase their amount of protein.
So all these insects, egg food and soaked seeds are to make sure our
little ones get the protein they need. During the nonbreeding,
nonmoulting periods, a finch’s diet would probably be somewhere in the
neighborhood of 12-18% protein. These are only my guesses. During the
breeding season the protein requirement probably increases to a little
I have had the extreme good fortune to have all my finches raise their
own babies, indoors on mealworms, soaked seeds and my egg food recipe.
The list of species include Melbas, Lavenders, and Violet-eared
Waxbills, all reported to need lots of live food. I am only telling you
this because I feel I have struck on a good thing and I would like to
share it with as many people as possible. So here is my egg food recipe
and an evaluation of its ingredients.
3 hard boiled eggs with the egg shell
2 Tbsp of grated carrot
Sprinkle of dried spirulina
2 Tbsp of Nutritional Yeast
¼ cup of dry mix
Dry Mix Ingredients
½ oat bran (not meal)
¼ wheat bran
¼ corn meal
The egg of course is added for the protein, probably little over 20%
The eggshell is for the calcium. Carrot is for the beta carotene.
The dry mix is used to coat the egg crumbles and make it dry out when
left in the dishes. Making the egg dry out prevents any spoilage. The 3
dry mix ingredients are semi good sources of protein (Oat bran 17%,
wheat bran 16%, and corn meal 9% [Nutrition Monitoring Division 1989]),
but they lower the overall protein content of the egg food. By mixing
all 3 dry ingredients, I have gotten all the essential amino acids. The
carrot and eggshell also lower protein percentage. Spirulina and
nutritional yeast boost the protein amount. Nutritional yeast is about
40% protein and dried spirulina is 57% (Nutrition Monitoring Division
My recipe is hopefully over 20% protein. I also feed chopped greens and
cooked rice with the egg food, but this is for the non breeding birds.
A caution here on using the spirulina. Do not overuse. Too much of
anything is not good. I’m sorry I can’t remember the source, but a
study once done on protein needs of ducklings found that too much and
their limbs were misproportioned. I used too much spirulina once and
lost a clutch of Lavender chicks with tiny bodies and large heads.
Final note, with this egg food I must restrict some of my birds. These
birds have a tendency to become obese. The species most frequently
overweight are: Orange-cheeks, Red-ears, Violet-ears, and Red Heads.
B. Alberts, D. Barry, J. Lewis, M. Raff, K. Roberts, and J. Watson.
1983. Molecular Biology of the Cell. Garland Publishing Inc., New York.
Eckert, Roger. 1978. Animal Physiology: Mechanisms and Adaptations.
W.H. Freeman and Co., New York.
Nutrition Monitoring Division of the USDA. 1984. Composition of Foods:
Vegetables and vegetables Products. US Government Printing Office,
Nutrition Monitoring Division of USDA. 1989. Composition of Foods:
Cereal Grains and Pasta. US Government Printing Office, Washington DC.
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