Title - Budgies, Bliss And Seeding Grass

Some favourite, early grasses
Some favourite, early grasses
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Freshly picked seeding grasses are a budgerigar's favourite food, and the season is -- with luck -- May to September in England. Seeding Grasses give the birds hours of pleasure. There is no surer way to make your budgerigars happy than to provide a generous supply of under ripe, succulent grass seeds. When the seeds are given to my birds, they stop whatever they are doing, fall silent, descend on them, and absorb themselves in eating! The effort of gathering the food is more than rewarded by the touching sight of the birds' deep contentment.

My budgerigars gnaw the juice from the soft stems as well as rummaging through the seed or flower heads, and they can often be seen skillfully manipulating hard to reach grasses, then grasping them against the perch with a foot -- behaviour which there is little other opportunity for in the cage or aviary. These skills would be in constant use in the wild. Some birds seem close to ecstasy, and it is such a joy to watch!

Where From?
Well, grass grows everywhere, and if it is left uncut for a few weeks in the growing season it begins to seed. The seeds can be gathered from any clean source where you have a right of access, and the opportunities will be different in each locality. Likely sources in England may include country parks, public footpaths across fields, wasteland (except with an industrial history), moorland, playing field margins, rough lawns in public places - possibly including college/university campuses, woodlands, and of course your own lawn following your summer holiday or other neglect. If you want to pick grass from a hayfield, ask the farmer first because this is an actual crop with a value. It may be worth considering growing grass deliberately as a crop yourself, just for your birds, and an allotment could provide the answer -- so long as the person in charge of the allotments is made aware that the grass is a crop, and not a sign of abandonment! For getting started, grass seed sold by an agricultural merchant may suit your purpose at least as well as lawn seed.

Different habitats offer different grass species, and although most individual species only have a short seeding period, the full spectrum of grasses can provide green seeds for your budgerigars for some 5 months in a good season. I rarely collect fully ripe grass seeds as my birds are unenthusiastic about them, but your birds may respond differently so try everything on them. They may become bored if you give them the same grass species for weeks on end, but ringing the changes with lots of different varieties will keep their interest alive.

The reaction of other people to the sight of an adult purposefully picking grass is rather interesting! First they look, then they walk on, then they stop and look again. Then curiosity finally gets the better of them and they ask you why you are doing it! Children, in particular, just can't resist being nosey. Strangely enough, everyone seems to be satisfied with the explanation that the seeds are for budgies!!! Some even like to continue the conversation by telling you all about the wild foods they have picked for their own pets, of whatever sort.

My favourite, ungrazed, unmown field!

My favourite, ungrazed, unmown field, is a handy source of many varieties of seed.

What Precautions?
Obviously, the seed must be free from contamination, the main hazards being dogs, pesticides and lead from car exhausts. I suggest keeping in mind the following points:

  1. Avoid grasses that grow right by paths popular for dog-walking.
  2. Don't pick from the vicinity of crops - pesticide risk.
  3. Don't pick from wasteland that has been an industrial site in the past - general risk of poisons.
  4. Don't pick from around trees and fences in the upkeep of your Council - weedkiller and dog risk.
  5. Avoid picking from the verges of busy roads - lead risk - And because lead can be absorbed from the soil, the risk will continue even when lead is phased out.
  6. Avoid the banks of polluted rivers - these will have been soaked in chemicals when river was high.
  7. Watch out for moulds on the stems or seeds. For instance, some grass species develop rusty mould if very dry at the roots.
  8. Avoid certain uncommon grasses which feel noticeably scratchy to the touch. I once had a minor problem with a very tall-growing, scratchy grass, because it caused irritation and vomiting in susceptible individuals. The birds were fine afterwards, so this was no big deal.
  9. While picking, smell your bundle every so often to check for unhealthy odours such as dog or -- turps! - Yes, I did say turps!!! I once found that very substance on grass growing on a small patch of wasteland between houses, and I was glad I'd used my nose!
  10. Wash all grass thoroughly, and shake dry.

That's quite a list, but don't panic!
While taking precautions, it is important to remember that budgerigars are not particularly at risk from fresh foods, wild or otherwise. I have never lost a bird because of any sort of fresh food, but dirty commercial birdseed has caused two deaths.

How Much Should I Feed?
I'd suggest as much as you can provide, whether they have young or not! This is the most natural of foods. The spent grasses dry up harmlessly and create a pleasant litter that encourages fledglings to root on the floor. (NOTE: cages and aviaries should be clean).

Can Seeding Grasses Be Stored?
Yes, they are okay for up to 5 days in a plastic bag in the fridge; or for up to 3 days standing in water - if all right way up and un-broken.

But don't sneeze just to please!
Hay fever sufferers, and those without access to this food, should not feel guilty about depriving their budgies of grasses!! There are many other good foods for them, and other ways to keep them occupied and happy!

© Helen Day 2000

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