Budgies and Grit -
to feed or not to feed?

Whether or not to feed grit to your budgie seems to be a volatile topic of conversation.  People seem to have strong views in either direction so I thought I woud share my thoughts on feeding it and then you can make up your own mind. Whatever you decide, remember your budgie is in your care and you should do what you feel is best for them, not what you think someone else feels is best.

Types of Grit

Grit is usually grouped into two types: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble - describes small stones that are used in the crop of some bird species to grind up whole seeds so that they can be digested.  They are not dissolved by fluid in the gizzard, but are broken down over time so they are passed through the digestive tract eventually.

Soluble - describes something that is dissolved slowly by digestive juices.  These are usually something like oyster shell, which releases minerals like calcium as it dissoves. Not used to grind food but an important source of calcium for many bird species such as poultry.

Most of the difference of opinion is centred around the feeding of insoluble grit as it seems to have no obvious nutritional value.

So what is the controversy?

Differences of opinion

It seems that there is a difference of opinion on the safety of feeding it that is centred around which country you live in, or learn from.

In America vets usually discourage the feeding of grit as they have often seen impaction caused by over eating the insoluble form in dead budgies. It is generally considered that no parrot species should be given grit, and this is an opinion you find on many bird care sites.

In the UK and Australia pet budgies have been fed insoluble grit for many decades and it is considered a healthy part of their diet. Impaction seems to be less common in these countries. You will find it being recommended in many sites from these countries.

Why the difference I wonder!  Is it due to a difference in general diet?  Are the budgies that get impaction searching for something that they feel is lacking? I do not know, but it is worth occasionally taking a look at your budgies diet to look for gaps in nutrition.

Whats natural?

When I am faced with a decision such as this, with strong opinions in each side, I fall back on looking at what happens in the wild.  Living without our intervention what do these animals do instinctively?

In the wild parrots of many types regularly fly to the ground and pick at tiny stones and soil. Give your budgie a plant with soil on the roots and they will often go straight for the soil first. Many investigations of wild parrots have found grit present in the crop and the gizzard, so it seems to be a prefectly natural thing to do in the wild, and they would not spend time and energy doing things that have no benefit to them, especially as being on the ground increases the risk from predators.

Why do they need insoluble grit if they can process their feed without it?  I am wondering if the grit provides minute amounts of minerals as it is eventually ground down and passes through the digestive tract. Maybe it provides a mild sandpaper effect on the digestive tract, like fibre does to us? Lorikeets are parrots that live on nectar and fruits.  There is no need for grinding their food yet insoluble grit is found in their digestive tracts also.

It seems to me that it is providing more than mechanical grinding of seeds, something else that we do not fully understand yet. A quick search online brings up articles written by experts with the World Parrot Trust who are hugely experienced with many species of parrots and advocate the use of grit.

So, what should you do?

Heres where you make a decision for yourself and what you think is best for your pet.  If you choose not to feed grit, then you should ensure there are good mineral sources available, cuttlefish for calcium and a mineral mix of some sort for all the other necessary minerals.  If you are happy feeding a plant with some soil attached at times then you can see what your budgie thinks of this also.

If you choose to feed grit then I would take some precautions. Firstly, make sure your budgies is never left hungry with just grit available, that is just asking for touble! Personally, I would offer soil on plants regularly and occasionally I would offer an insoluble form in a dish for a day. I use cuttlefish and mineral mixes, but I sometimes put oyster shell (you can get this from feed stores as it is used with poultry) in a dish also for a day or two at a time especially during breeding. I know of many budgies that live in aviaries with soil or sand floors.  They have constant access to small stones and sand and it doesn't cause problems. Just use common sense when feeding it to a caged budgie that may run out of seed or struggle with boredom as they may pick at it just for something to do.

A note of caution - I do not feed it to young budgies when they are new out of the nest. They are still trying new things and working out what is food and what isn't and I wouldn't want one getting it wrong and eating a bowl of small stones by accident.  Give them a few weeks to get used to what is food first before offering it.

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