Saturday, April 18, 2015

Food, Glorious Food!

It finally happened.  Well, OK--it happens to everyone at one point or another…writer’s block.  For some reason this month I had a lot of trouble coming up with a topic for my blog.  After a brainstorming session I realized some of my best blogs were based on questions people have asked about our birds. 

An assortment of food items cleaned, chopped, and ready to be delivered to the birds (photo: Leah Tyndall)

This month I decided to answer a question we hear frequently at World Bird Sanctuary shows and on site, “What are you feeding them?”  An excellent question!  We feed our birds an all-natural diet.  If they eat it in the wild, we feed it to them in captivity…as long as it is feasible.  For our meat-eating birds of prey we have a variety of options such as mice, rats, rabbits, pigeon, fish, chicken, and venison.

The omnivores such as crows, ravens, seriemas and cranes get meat as well as delicious produce and soaked dog food.  It may sound a little strange, but dog food is an excellent source of protein and well balanced for omnivores; also for many of the birds it is their favorite part of the meal.

The parrots have a special dry diet that looks remarkably like cereal (but doesn’t taste like cereal), as well as freshly chopped produce.  They also get nuts, over-ripe bananas and hard-boiled eggs.

One of our parrots watching intently as his bowl is filled with produce (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Raw eggs are given as enrichment to the omnivores and vultures.  Each species, and sometimes each individual, has their own unique way of eating them.  Crows and ravens poke the shells, vultures pick them up and drop them, seriemas slam them to the ground.

Since we process our own deer meat (donated by generous hunters –or-- road-killed deer brought to us by the State Highway Department), we often have deer leg bones that we give to the vultures.  Their specialized beaks can remove the meat from the bone more cleanly and thoroughly than we humans could ever hope to achieve.

Much of our food is donated to us by various generous individuals and organizations.  Without them our organization’s budget would be severely impacted.  Not that we don’t spend a large part of our budget on food for the birds, but donations help tremendously when you have about 200 birds to feed.  Since our birds get an all-natural, whole food diet we have to do some prep work before it can be fed to the birds.

Be warned this next section is a bit graphic!  In the wild, birds of prey will catch their food and often remove the lower digestive tract or “guts” before enjoying their meal.  In order to make things easier on ourselves in terms of cleaning, and for the health of the birds, we remove most of the guts before feeding meat to our birds.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, we have to gut and cut up rats and rabbits and deer (oh my) every day.  Keep this in mind if you ever plan to work with raptors.

Hunter, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, eating a tasty piece of rat meat after a lovely bath in his tub; room service and a bath--what more could an owl ask?  (photo: Leah Tyndall)

We also must cut up produce everyday and soak dog food.  Down at the behind the scenes area of World Bird Sanctuary we spend over half of our day doing food prep.  It’s a dirty, messy job, but someone’s gotta do it!

“But Leah,” you may be thinking, “do you ever feed your birds live food?”  Another excellent question, hypothetical audience!  We do not--for a couple of reasons.  The first is that we do not want our birds to associate movement with food.  Many of our programs take place outdoors and we don’t want our birds taking off every time a squirrel runs by or a songbird wanders into the theater.  The second reason has to do with the bird’s safety.  All of our birds were raised in captivity or must remain in captivity due to injuries that prevent them from hunting properly.  This means a bird either never learned to hunt or cannot do so and pitting them against live prey could result in the bird becoming injured if the prey fights back.  The only time we use live prey is with birds that are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild.  We need to be sure that they have fully recovered and can hunt on their own after being fed by humans during their treatment.

A diet as similar as possible to their wild counterparts is important to the health of captive birds.  Through generous donations we are able to feed our birds the best food for them.  This may look a tad unappetizing if you come to visit, but please know that it is the best possible nutrition we can give our animals.  It’s this knowledge that makes all of the countless hours of food prep, the scissors hand cramps, and the over familiarity with mammal and fish digestive tracts completely worth it.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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