Live Food


Feeding live insects sometimes presents difficulties. Insects and spiders, decapitated or cut-up mealworms, white worms (Enchytraeus), water fleas, and dew worms (gathered from chemical-free grounds) are all rather popular. Many insect varieties can be collected by passing a fine-meshed net against weeds and putting the resultant catch in a box. Shake the box vigorously so that the insects are stunned and can be eaten by the birds before they have a chance to escape. Never give bees to your birds! Naturally, in lieu of collecting insects in the wild, you could start breeding live insects, especially since various insects are a "must" during the breeding season: not only for insect-eaters but also for most finches, which feed their offspring almost exclusively on insects and spiders!

There are various foods for insect-eaters and the like commercially available. These foods have dried insects already mixed in these soft- or universal foods, as they are usually called. There are also other foods available, such as foods designed for birds with delicately built beaks and for those with sturdier bills, such as thrushes, myna birds (there are also pellets for these birds), etc.

Apart from such prepared foods, it is also absolutely essential to provide birds with live food. We will concern ourselves with the breeding of some of the most important "feeding- insects."

Small Fruit Flies

These insects can be found in great numbers, especially on warm summer days on fermenting fruit. They have been bred in laboratories for many years for genetic purposes. In general it is best to work with vestigial-winged fruit flies (drosophila). However, it is not always easy to acquire these short-winged fruit flies, but they can be bought as starter cultures from several dealers in live foods that advertise regularly in the major magazines for aquarium fanciers. They are also sold by laboratory supply houses specializing in biological supplies (check for addresses near you at your local college biology department).

Work as follows: thoroughly wash two wide 3/4-liter pots with hot water and dry them. Mash a medium-sized banana until it is reduced to a soft mush and add just a knife-point ofNigapin (or a similar chemical) to it; this is to retard spoilage.

Nipagin is available in any pharmacy. Thoroughly blend the Nipagin through the banana mixture, making sure no lumps remain. Now mash three medium-size cooked potatoes and blend them with the banana mixture, adding a tablespoon of calcium supplement available in any pet specialty store.

The mixture, which should not be too dry, but definitely not too moist, is carefully transferred to the pots using a spoon but not touching the sides. With the use of a yogurt scraper we press the mixture evenly against the bottom so that it is not likely to come loose when we shake out the flies. The thickness of the food base should work out to be about 2 cm (0.8 in).

To avoid excessive forming of condensation, which affects the flies' legs and in tum can lead to paralysis, we press a small firm roll of toilet tissue in the center of the pot, down to the bottom. If preferred, one can substitute a piece of cardboard folded like a harmonica.

Next we place the breeding samples of no more than 40 specimens per pot into the containers and close them with a double piece of nylon, cut from pantyhose, holding this in place with a rubber band.

Place the pots where a temperature of about 22°C. (72°F.) can be maintained while avoiding placing them in the sun. During the summer we will have to watch for too much drying out because the maggots and flies will no longer be able to consume the food. In addition, the maggots will generally hatch sooner, which leads to smaller and weaker flies. In such a case we will have to add a few drops of water. The flies will now lay eggs in enormous quantities on the edges of the paper or cardboard. After four days they will hatch, after which the white larvae will take advantage of the food base.

When they are fully grown they will crawl up the sides of the cardboard to pupate and emerge as flies. The larval stage takes about seven days, after which a new generation of flies will see the light of day. To achieve a continuity in the breeding of these insects, it is best to set up two new broods within five days, but now using young flies from the first generation. To set up the new broods, do not use flies that are older than five days, since this can cause a weakening or degeneration in the strain.

Toward the end of the third week the food base will be depleted while the flies are becoming smaller and smaller, so continuing to breed with them is not recommended. It is possible, however, to use the same healthy breeding material again for a new brood after you have discovered the first small larvae. You just shake the flies into a different pot after having first provided the new pot with a new food base. When handled in this manner, you can successfully breed your drosophilas for years without bringing in "fresh blood."


Mealworms should be available to your birds throughout the year, but especially during the breeding period. It is certainly not possible for everyone to breed them, however. In order to breed mealworms, we must have a few beetles. In a crate that measures, as an example, 50x25x25 cm (191hx 9.8 x 9.8 in), we drill three holes in each side, each hole having a diameter of about 4 cm (1.6 in.). The inside of these holes is covered with screen to prevent escape. The holes should be drilled at a level of 4 cm (1.6 in) from the bottom. The crate itself should be lined with sturdy plastic or zinc to prevent rotting (of course not covering the ventilation holes that have been drilled in the sides). A properly fitted lid is made for it to halt overly ambitious "travelers" and to lessen the smell a little. The lid should also be fitted with some holes to allow good ventilation, and these can be a little larger, for example 5 cm (2 in) in diameter. It goes without saying, that they, too, will need to to covered on the inside with screen and the rest covered with plastic or zinc.

When the crate is ready, fill it with a 5 cm-layer (2 in.) of chopped straw. This should then be covered with an old hand towel, on which we place a layer of bran, about 4 cm (1.6 in.) thick. On top of this layer we also place an old hand towel, on which goes another layer of bran, and so on and so forth until we reach a level of 4 cm (1.6 in.) from the top of the crate. All of this is now covered with a cloth, which should not be so thick that the lid does not close properly, and on this cloth we...