Are You Feeding Your Myna to Death?


T he Hill Mynas, Gracula religiosa, make fabulous pets. They are playful, happy birds; they don't bite (hard); they can be very affectionate; and, boy, can they talk! Buyers of my babies have told me their myna babies are superior to the parrots they previously owned. The demand is so great that there are not enough breeders to supply the renewed interest in this species and the prices are soaring. So why was my husband dismayed when I told him I was going to cut back on my parrots and get more myna birds? Because of the high mortality rate. I have lost about one out of every three myna birds I have owned. While I've heard of a number of mynas who lived to be 15 to 18 years old and a few who lived into their 20s, most don't make it that far. The main cause of death in younger birds is Hemochromatosis or Hemosiderosis.

Hemochromatosis or iron storage disease is a metabolic disease affecting many softbills besides myna birds. These include toucans, tanagers and birds-of-paradise, just to name a few. Birds with this condition store excessive amounts of iron in the liver causing the liver to enlarge which can lead to difficulty breathing and death. The disease is very poorly understood. One of the few treatments available is phlebotomy or the letting of blood. For birds the treatment consists of removing blood equal to 1 % of the body weight, or 10% of the blood. The bird's body is then forced to take iron from the liver to make new blood, thus reducing the amount of iron stored in the liver. Possible causes or contributing factors are diet, genetics and stress. It is possible that in the wild there is little iron in their natural diet, so they have evolved to use it more efficiently and therefore need much


less. The unnatural diets we feed may be much higher in iron than the birds are used to or may be lacking something like a chelator that helps them to eliminate the excess iron.

At this time there is no sure test for the disease. Blood tests and liver biopsies are used with varying success. The results from one test alone are inconclusive, but when looked at together can give a better diagnosis. The most reliable test is done using imaging technology. It is used successfully in humans but is cost prohibitive in birds.

In my opinion, attempting to screen for birds at risk is both too expensive and too risky, therefore, I have chosen to control the disease by feeding a low iron diet to my entire flock. For years I tried to limit the iron my birds consumed by using a commercial food labeled low in iron, by feeding fruits low in iron, and by making sure the water they drank was low in iron.

But when the losses did not stop, I consulted with my avian veterinarian and he recommended having the food tested for iron at a lab. Needless to say, I was shocked and upset when the results came back over twice the acceptable limits for iron and double what the "guaranteed analysis" stated. After getting no satisfactory answers from the manufacturer, I began a search for another product to feed my birds. I was no longer willing to trust the labels so had all the foods tested. Other softbill owners who have faced these same problems went in with me in purchasing and testing a number of commercial softbill and myna diets.

When we began looking for foods to test, I was amazed at the number of different products marketed specifically for softbills or myna birds. Most are pelleted or extruded diets coming in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes; some are dry, some are moist. Others


are mixes of grains and insect parts. Prices range from $1 to $6 per pound or more if purchasing small quantities.

Even with all the products available, some people still feed other foods like dog food, so we tested a few of these products as well. Although there are many softbill diets on the market, few, if any, are available locally. Most have to be ordered from a mail order catalog or direct from the manufacturer. Even mail order houses carry only one or two brands.

The foods were all tested at CAHFS (previously CVDLS), California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System - Davis. They can be reached at PO Box 1770, Davis, CA 95617, and telephone 530-752-8700. For each sample, less than a cup of food was sent and a heavy metal screening wasdone for nine heavy metals at a cost of $20 for California residents. The results were ready in about a week. Here are the results we got:


Product                              ppm iron

• Mazuri ZuLife Bird Gel 5ME4 67

• Prettybird Select Softbill Diet 68/90*

• Hagen Softbill 68

• Zeigler's Bird of Paradise 69

• Prettybird Handfeeding Formula 101

• Harrison's 118

• Bogena Myna Food 121

• Quiko Myna Bird food 142

• Bogena Myna Granules 193

• Wayne's Dog Food 202

• Reliable Protein Products

Low Iron Softbilled Bird-Fare 203

• Kaytee Exact Original

Softbill and Myna Pellets 208/220*

• Higgins Vita Crunch 221

• Scenic Apple Paradise 228

• 8Nl Ultra Blend 241

• Science Diet Feline 249

• RAFF Realpasto Universal with Fruit 299

• Zupreen Monkey Chow 302

• 8Nl Tasty Dinner 362

• Piki Crumble 465

• Kaytee Handfeeding Formula 48

• These products were tested at 2 different labs