Proper nutrition is the most important single factor in ensuring a long healthy life and complete physiological efficiency of any animal.
The cage bird is totally dependent upon the aviculturist to provide this proper nutrition in the form of a complete and balanced ration. The ration should supply the proper amounts of all the nutrients required for vigorous growth, normal development, reproduction and resistance to diseases.
Growth is not only manifested by an increase in size, but it also involves continuous multiplication of body cells and their differentiation to perform the different functions of the body organisms. Maximal size of the bird may be limited by heredity, but maximal development can be achieved only by continuous realization of the full growth potential by proper feeding throughout the growing . period. Love birds raised in aviaries where selective breeding is practiced and where a high level of proper food elements is provided, show a marked increase in size when compared to the same species in the wild.
Failure to provide the proper food elements results in dietary stresses upon both the parents and young which may be reflected in poor egg hatchability, improper growth, and decreases resistance to disease and parasites.
Food elements are broken down into different classes which include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Carbohydrates, in the forms of sugars and starches, and fats function mainly as sources of energy and heat.
Proteins, as the "body builders", form a large part of muscles, body organs, feathers, skin, beak, claws, and eggs. Proteins are composed of relatively simple units, the amino acids. Some amino acids (the "non-essential" amino acids) can be manufactured by the bird; others (the "essential" amino acids) can be obtained only from the diet.
Vitamins are required in very small amounts, but deficiencies in them can result in major disturbances in the health of the bird. Fortunately most practical diets contain adequate amounts of vitamins and they can be easily provided in readily available vitamin supplements.
Minerals have many functions and are as necessary to life as the other food elements.
Grit or gravel is needed by all seed eaters. It should not be considered a source of minerals, but rather the minerals should be provided separately.
Besides the food elements, birds require water which is usually obtained by drinking and eating succulent foods.
The basic ration of the love bird consists mainly of seeds, which should be supplemented with greens, fruit and additional mineral and protein supplements.
Seeds are sometimes classified as starch (carbohydrate) seeds or oil seeds. Starch seeds include the cereal or grass seeds (such as the millets, canary seed, oats, etc.) and buckwheat. They generally contain less protein than the oil seeds and are low in the essential amino acid "lysine". Common millet is deficient in the amino acid "tryptophan" while canary seed is a fairly good source of this amino acid. On the other hand, canary seed is deficient in "methionine" while this amino acid is found more abundantly in millet; so, the proteins of millet and canary seed tend to supplement each other with respect to their amino acids.
The oil seeds (which include niger, sesame, safflower and sunflower) generally contain more protein (up to 20-25%) which is of a higher biological value and they provide somewhat more of the essential amino acid "lysine" than do the starch seeds. Niger is one of the most useful of the oil seeds.