Below: three different ways to check up on your seed.
In Britain there are no adequate controls on the quality of birdseed. Some of the seed sold is of appalling quality, and I term this "killer seed" for ominous reasons. Seed from some better sources, like the supplier I used before and during my experiments, may vary from batch to batch, ranging from excellent to unacceptable. It is down to the bird-keeper to check it out. The quality of the seed has the potential to make or break a bird's health, so whether you have one budgerigar or 500, it is worth checking every new batch. Your birds need clean, fresh seed. If you find anything that is not up to scratch, insist on a refund. And, as a precaution against the delay that could result if you landed a bad batch that needed replacement, always stock up in good time. Also, for your birds' safety, always adhere to the old rule of mixing old and new for a while each time you get a new batch. This is sound advice, and is particularly important if you are changing supplier. Seed should, of course, be stored covered, in a cool, dry place.
Check One: Pouring
Cleanliness Check Two: Handling
The aim of the test is to discover whether at least 70% of the seed will begin to sprout within a reasonable number of days, at room temperature. Only a tiny sample of ½ a teaspoonful is required. The 70% threshold is chosen because 50% viability would, I believe, be too low, whereas 90-100% would be unrealistic. To be practical, the boundary between pass and fail has to be somewhere in-between - although excellent samples of some millets will sprout almost 100% within 24 hours, given good conditions. (The times and methods suggested are suitable for canary seeds and millets, and not necessarily suitable for other seeds).
You Also Need:
2) a small, flat-bottomed dish - such as a straight-sided plant pot saucer or margarine tub - for each sample.
3) dry sand - bird sand, or gardener's sand.
4) covering material such as sheet glass to fully cover all the containers. If not available, use cling film pulled tight.
5) a clean mist sprayer (not essential)
6) paper or labels, and something to write with.
Setting Up The Test
2) (Optional) If testing a mixture, assessment of results will be easier if you separate the constituent varieties. To do this, put the seed in the middle of a plate, then push the different sorts of seed to different points at the rim.
3) Spread the samples evenly on the sand surface, one dish at a time, labelling carefully as you go so that each sample can be confidently identified.
4) Moisten evenly, preferably with a mist sprayer because this gives fine control. DO NOT MAKE THE SAND WET! It is very important that the sand is moist - evenly moist - but NOT wet, and that it stays that way.
5) Cover closely and label with the date and time.
6) Leave to sprout at room temperature. If it is winter, select a warmish spot.
NOTE: Temperature affects sprouting time, and this is one reason a control sample is essential. During a heat wave, sprouting will be a day ahead of normal timing. If your house is cold, allow an extra day.
7) After 24 hours, examine the samples closely without touching them, and take notes. You are looking for the first signs of sprouting. Sprouting begins with the emergence of a tiny, white root which later grows fine and long and pushes the seed up a bit from the sand. Check for dryness, and correct if found, then cover again and leave.
8) After 48 hours, examine again and take more notes.
9) After 72 hours, examine seriously, and take final notes. Use a magnifier if it helps. If there are mouldy patches, take care because there is a health risk from breathing in spores. If all results are very poor, postpone assessment for another day or two. Excellent results will be easy to recognize, and so will abysmal ones! Those in-between require patient counting. Include anything that's begun to sprout. Work out the percentage sprouted, at least roughly.
Decision Time: Is The
Seed Good Enough?
If, on rerun, your main sample still hasn't proved around 70% viable, and you've achieved a satisfactory level of sprouting with a control of a similar seed variety, then it's time to insist on a refund. Only time will tell whether this is a one-off problem with the supplier, an occasional problem, or a persistent one. A particular seed merchant may be wholly reliable for one species of birdseed, but no good for another. The seeds in budgerigar and millet mixtures are often of unequal quality.
Viability Really Matter?
Seed starts out viable. If it is dead by the time the sack or packet reaches your home, then something untoward has happened to kill it. It may have been lying around for many years in poor storage conditions. My observations suggest that most seed with a low viability score is also very dirty - - as you may have observed for yourself if you have run the above tests on a range of samples and hit some bad ones. Sure, if the seed was dead because it had been cooked briefly in an oven, only a week before you bought it, then there would indeed have been no nutritional loss, - - but that will not have been the cause of death! Something much more messy will have happened to your low viability seed! I believe that the outcome of a viability test reflects the way the grain has been handled. If seed sprouts vigorously, then it must have been harvested, transported and stored correctly, in healthy conditions, and this is what the purchaser has a right to expect.
© Copyright Helen Day, first published April 2000.