Budgerigar food should always be of the highest quality. As long as your seed is from a reliable source and kept dry, and your fresh food is indeed fresh, you won’t go far wrong. There are one or two things to beware of, though, especially if you are storing dry food in bulk. Not only can fungus or parasites spoil your supplies, but some of these can also cause harm to your birds.
A flour beetle
If you’re not careful when choosing your seed and grain supplier – or if you’re unhygienic or just plain unlucky at home – you might end up with a batch of contaminated food. The eggs and larvae of some common parasites are not always obvious at first glance, and it’s easy to assume that dry seeds and grain must be okay. Beware the cursory glance!
Budgie Food Infested With Bugs
If you can see small creatures crawling through the grain or seed, you’ve got a full-scale invasion of beetles or weevils, or some similar unwanted insect. If the grain smells damp or musty into the bargain, the supplies will have been spoiled by their waste and eggs, so ditch the lot and check with your supplier. Did the fault lie with them, or was it your storage environment that was the problem?
If you suspect invertebrate invaders, one way of gathering hard evidence is to take a jarful of the seed and put it in direct sunlight (which is admittedly easier said than done at certain times of the year). The invaders will overheat and head for the inside of the lid and the sides of the jar, betraying their presence. In general, beetles and weevils will gather at the bottom of food containers, so it’s worth a thorough check every time your box or bin is running low. Wash the contaminated container, and check your other storage boxes. A comprehensive clean of the whole storage space will help prevent an immediate recurrence of the problem.
Know your enemy - face to face with a grain weevil
Many insect and fungus invaders are potentially harmful to budgies’ health, and there is also the secondary issue of grain parasites spreading to your own food supplies (flour, rice, etc). If you catch the problem early, you can salvage your supplies by freezing them in batches. This will kill the insects without harming the seed.
Beetles in Bird Seed
Beetle intruders are often hard to spot. There are a dozen or so species of grain and seed infesters, and identifying the species is less important than taking immediate action. All types of grain beetle present the same problem – food spoilage – and a remedy for one type will work for all the others.
One of the most guilty culprits is the Saw-toothed grain beetle (Oryzaephilus surinamensis). At just 1 to 3 millimetres long, it’s not always immediately visible; but it flies, and can sniff out a sack of grain from several kilometres away, so grain can soon become infested.
Other common beetle freeloaders include the disarmingly named Confused flour beetle (Tribolium confusum), a 4 millimetre long brown insect with yellow-white larvae; and the similarly-sized Rust-red flour beetle (Tribolium Castaneum), which also infests stored spices and dried fruits.
Grain weevils (Sitophilus granarius) can become a problem too, along with their cousin the Rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae). They have a characteristically long weevil ‘nose’, and grow up to 3 millimetres long. If your grains are not sealed in airtight containers, they’ll become a playground for these beetles. Check individual grains for tell-tale holes – this is where the weevil larvae have emerged.
If you catch the problem early, before the mouldy smell has set in and condemned the whole batch to the bin, you can freeze the seed in batches for 48 hours to kill the beetles. If weevils are the problem, take the seed from the freezer after 48 hours, leave it for two days, and then freeze again to polish off the survivors. Give your storage space a thorough clean in the meantime.
Moths in Bird Seed
If thread-like structures appear in the grain, sticking them together like messy ethnic necklaces, you’re looking at the work of Grain moth larvae (Sitotroga cerealella). They spin a silk cocoon prior to transforming into adult moths.
Adult Grain moths, up to a centimetre long, may infest the grain too. Another, similarly-sized culprit is the Brown house-moth (Hofmannophila pseudospretella). This is a common, small moth found in most houses throughout Europe (although it is a relative newcomer, hitchhiking over from India in the 1840s). Both these moths lay lots of eggs, and a few weeks after they first flew in, there will be thousands of larvae wriggling through your budgie food. These light brown maggots with red-brown heads are the same size as the adults.
Some bird-keepers salvage moth-infested grain by freezing it for a couple of days to kill the intruders. The insects themselves are not toxic for budgies. This method is fine as long as the eggs have not hatched – if your seed has already reached the ‘thread-like structure’ stage, you won’t be able to salvage it.
Prevention is once again the best cure. If the budgies are kept indoors, keep all surfaces clean, not forgetting to take the vacuum cleaner to any niches and corners where moths might hide out. You can also buy pheromone-based moth traps. If you opt to use these, keep them out of reach of free-flying budgies, to avoid feathers getting gummed up on the traps’ sticky interior. A candle in a dark room will lure the unfortunate moths too: their brains are wired to navigate by the light in the sky at night, and your candle will be a big, fat, irresistible moon with a nasty surprise. Some owners employ a less bloodthirsty herbal sachet deterrent, although this is more effective for the Common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) than for the grain moth. Recommended ingredients include bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, eucalyptus, dried lemon peel, and black peppercorns.
Mites in Bird Seed
If your supplies develop a mouldy smell with no obvious sign of beetles or moths, it could be down to mites. Flour mites (Acarus siro and Tyrophagus putrescentiae, usually) are the commonest culprits, and they are potentially deadly to budgies if ingested. They’re tiny – tricky to spot in a small bag of flour, never mind a sack of grains. Some are even invisible to the naked eye. The mouldy smell is a giveaway, though.
To check for mites, put a pile of grains or seeds in a small bowl or cup, filling the vessel, and making the sides of the mound as steep as possible. If mites are present they will work through the grain in the bowl like earthworms in soil, flattening it out. There may be a few grains lying outside the bowl too. Sadly, there is no remedy other than ditching your supplies and cleaning your storage space.
If your birds are outdoors, it’s like a party invite for all kinds of invertebrate gate-crashers. The flies and wasps you can do nothing about, and they’re not such a problem. Ants are a different matter. They will be attracted to fresh food in the cages, and can reach plague proportions that can cause real problems, especially for nesting birds or chicks. Budgies are not usually insect-eaters, so they won’t lend a hand in keeping the ant numbers down.
Ant-zapping dust cannot be used safely in the aviary itself; although you can use it as a kind of chemical moat outside the cage. Some owners swear by the efficacy of cinnamon powder too, and this can be used safely inside the cage. It is also said to deter cockroach and garden beetle invaders. Similar claims have been made for powdered, bone meal, cayenne pepper, chalk, charcoal, coffee grounds and talcum (not the scented variety, which may upset budgies’ stomachs). Cucumber peel has a mild deterrent effect too, so that’s also worth trying.
Young budgies in an outdoor aviary
Another gentle approach to ant and beetle deterrents is to mix cider vinegar and water, or crushed garlic and water, and spray on the ants’ trail, and on any feeding station where they are congregated. Lemon juice is effective too. The spray will not harm the birds (as long as you don’t spray it on them directly). Infested fruit, etc, should be thrown away. Take a look an hour later and re-spray problem areas. If you can trace the ants back to their nest, you’ll be able to blast them with ant dust, or inflict a tsunami of boiling water on them. They’ll be back; but the goal here is to achieve as much prevention and damage limitation as possible in a world full of resilient ants.
Fruit flies (Drosophila) are another unwelcome guest, and if you spot one, you can guarantee a swarm of them in a couple of days. You can keep numbers down using fruit fly traps – place containers of wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar in the aviary. These should have lids with holes in, allowing the flies to enter, but making it hard for them to find their way out. It needs to be a lid that the budgies cannot destroy. They won’t drink or be harmed by the contents, but they will release the prisoner flies.
If mosquitoes are a problem, you need to tackle them at their source. Mozzie larvae hatch out in standing water - open water butts, abandoned buckets, plant containers, garden ponds. Get rid of, or cover, all the water sources you can. A film of vegetable oil on an open water butt works too: the larvae cannot penetrate it to access air, and will drown. If you have a decorative pond, stock it with goldfish or minnows, which will eat the insects. If your pond is more about frogs and newts than carp and Zen, introducing fish will ruin the ecosystem, as they will browse on amphibian eggs. That’s a choice you’ll have to make, if the mozzies are a real problem.