What Is All This Stuff?
Soaked seed is a method of feeding seed in a form similar to that in which it is found in the wild by a foraging bird. As the name implies, this method involves soaking the seed, followed by thorough rinsing and (usually) a short period in which the soaked seed is allowed to begin to sprout.
Wild birds eat many varieties of green and/or sprouting seeds in their quest for food. Seed in this form is highly nutritious.
Nestling food is what canary breeders call the dry mix on which they base the food they give to parent birds who are feeding babies. A number of items are usually added to this dry mix just before serving, among them being water, chopped or grated boiled eggs, grated carrots, crushed baby biscuits…the different mixes and methods vary almost as much as do breeders.
Nevertheless, nestling foods are a very healthy and nutritious addition to the pet canary’s diet, being much more nutritious than the more commonly seen “song food” or “condition food”.
The commercial nestling foods provide an easy, reliable way to keep your canary healthy and happy even if you don’t want to be a breeder. You will sometimes hear nestling food called “egg food”. Don’t be fooled; it’s basically the same thing.
I believe that soak seed and nestling food work best together, and how to do that is what this article is all about.
Starting Right With Soak Seed
You can use either your own soak seed mix or a commercial one. The seed must be fresh to sprout properly! Note that canary grass seed doesn’t sprout for at least 10 days or so; the rest of the seeds in this mix should sprout within two or three days. Don’t worry about waiting for the canary seed to sprout, but do include it in the mix; soaking will soften it and make it easier to eat, and even though it sprouts later than the rest of the seeds, it still helps to balance the the overall nutrition offered by this mix. Make sure to include the sesame seed, too, it offers essential nutrients not found in any other seeds.
A good basic make-your-own soak seed mix for canaries can consist of the following:
- 40% canary grass seed,
- 25% black oil sunflower seed,
- 10% canola seed, and
- 5% each of wheat berries, mung beans, safflower seed, raw sesame seed, and buckwheat.
Abba Products has been making and marketing a very good soak seed mix for years now, and Herman Bros will put together whatever kind of seed mix you want, especially for you, or you can just ask them to make you ‘Robirda’s mix’. Herman Bros will ship, too! Abba Products can be found – and sometimes ordered – in pet stores across the country, or you can visit their website to request a catalog.
Measure about 1 teaspoon dry soak seed mix per bird serving you wish to prepare (if you’re feeding parent birds be sure to count each baby as 1 1/2 birds each – they need a lot of food to support the rate at which they grow. Remember too, that they will need several servings a day, when young!)
Place the dry seed in a jar or bowl and cover it with twice the amount of room temperature water. Add about a teaspoon of bleach per quart of water to prevent molds and such from forming. Stir well, then let this sit for about 12 hours or so, then pour the seed into a nylon – mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly under running water for several minutes.
Leave the seed in the sieve and immerse the entire affair in a fresh bowl of room temperature water so that the seed is covered, and leave it for another 12 hours or so. Remove from the water, rinse thoroughly as before, and now you may either serve it to the birds, or let it grow for another day or so.
If you wish to do the latter, a method that works well for me is to place the sieve in the dish drainer or an empty bowl. In order to discourage mold growth, a wad of wrung – out damp paper towel is placed underneath the sieve.
This breaks the surface tension of the water in the sieve and prevents excessive water from collecting in the bottom of the seive, which would encourage rot or mould. The sprouts must be rinsed thoroughly several times during the day. Squeeze excess water from the wad of paper toweling each time as well. After 24 hours or so of additional sprouting, you should refrigerate any sprouts you haven’t yet served to the birds. They will usually keep for three or four days this way.
Serving Soak Seed & Nestling Food
While you can feed the soaked and slightly sprouted seeds alone, my favourite method of feeding them is to take about a tablespoon of sprouted seed per bird and add to the damp seed about a teaspoon of dry nestling food. Mix this thoroughly until you have a crumbly mixture, a little on the dry side rather than wet, and feed it to the birds.
They find this mixture highly acceptable, and it raises beautiful baby birds, as well as keeping the adults in exceptional condition year round.
Use this mixture once or twice a week throughout the year as a conditioner and song stimulator, and for extra nutrition, feed it every day through the annual molt.
For use as a breeding diet, serve this mixture fresh at least twice a day, but preferably three or four times a day when there are babies in the nest, and about two or three times a week for several weeks prior to hatching. Remember, damp foods can go sour easily, and should remain in the cage only about an hour or so, a little longer if it is not too warm.
Increase the amount as the youngsters grow until at two weeks of age you are feeding about two tablespoons of mixture per bird per feeding. As they begin to learn to eat on their own, start to reduce the amount of nestling food in the mixture, substituing in a little ground bread crumbs or some uncooked rolled oats if the mix gets too wet, until by six weeks of age or so there is next to no nestling food in the mix. By now they should be eating fairly well on their own, and you can begin feeding them as adults. Include lots of soft foods such as greens daily until they are fully able to crack enough dry seed to support themselves, which can take as long as 12 weeks of age.
Some commercial nestling foods contain fairly high quantities of sugar or honey – be very careful not to use such nestling foods when the nestlings are three days old, or younger – too much sugar is literally a poison to them, and can be a killer. If you are unable to find a good commercial nestling food you like, or have the time and would prefer to make your own, you will find the recipe for a good basic homemade nestling food mixture on our FAQs page, or in Robirda’s book, Brats in Feathers. I actually prefer to use this kind of recipe, because I find it raises stronger, healthier, faster-growing nestlings than the commercial mixes do.
A Few Words of Caution
Remember when feeding any soft or wet food that you must remove it from the cage within a few hours, less if the temperature is hot. The warmer the weather, the faster soft foods can go sour – and if that happens, it can make your birds very sick, and maybe even kill them!
Another ‘must’ is to never mix wet and dry foods in the same dish. If you do this you will have to remove the whole lot in a few hours or less.
Please note that all moulds are potentially very toxic to canaries; if you should happen to find any moulds forming on the seeds while they are soaking or sprouting, throw the whole lot out. Never try to pick out the mouldy seeds; even if you think you removed it all you will have missed some. Always remember when using soaked seed and nestling food that you are dealing with foods which can be potentially very harmful if sufficient attention is not paid to cleanliness and freshness.
So be careful, but do give this wonderful, nutritious food a try. Your birds will thank you for it, and you may just find yourself wondering how you ever got along without it!
R C ‘Robirda’ McDonald
original version written June 1996
first posted on the web Nov 1998
last update June 6, 2013