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Softbills are birds which live on either fruit, nectar, meat and multi-ingredient insectile mixtures NOT just seed. Exceptions to the rule can be dealt with by experience.

With the ever increasing destruction of forest lands in the third world, it is vital that aviculturists learn to keep and breed many different species of Softbill before they become extinct. For example, specialists are now helping to increase the Worlds population of the 'Bali Starling'. Without their help it would probably be extinct by now.


Most softbills will benefit from more than one type of diet. A wide variety of food will produce the best breeding results. Recommended diets for species can be found at the end of this.

Nectar - Commercially designed nectar powders for humming birds and sunbirds are now readily available. Instructions for mixing the nectar should be followed carefully as nectar feeders can suffer from protein poisoning easily. The nectar should be fed in tubes and changed daily. The feeding tubes should be sterilised regularly to prevent contamination. Nectar feeders can be susceptible to a fungus growth in the beak. This can usually occur when the owner is feeding honey in the diet, but is easily treated.

Insectile Mixture - There are now many type of insectile mixture available. Some are quite fine and are specifically designed for small softbills like Tanagers and Tits. Others are very coarse and contain larger pieces of dried fruits. These are designed to be used with larger birds such as Broadbills, Starlings, Thrushes etc. They can sometimes be referred to as 'Universal Mixtures'. When keeping species such as Toucans and Tourarcos a 'low iron' softfood should be provided. In these specific species a build up of iron in the bird`s body can be fatal.

Fruit - All type of ripe fruit can be used and should be changed daily. Fruit should be washed thoroughly before being used, especially those fruits sometimes coated in wax to preserve them. Most fruits can be offered including apple, pear, paw-paw, kiwi-fruit, melon, star-fruit, tomatoes, grapes (green and black), berries etc. The harder fruits, such as apple, should be chopped up into small pieces so they can be swallowed whole. Bulbuls, Toucans and Touracos will eat more then the fruit is chopped up into bit-sixe pieces. The softer fruits such as Paw-paw and kiwi can be sliced and left for the bird to take a mouthful from. Oranges will provide lots of vitamin C, but in smaller Softbills can scour the crop and cause indigestion. Bananas when fed in large amounts are fattening and should be fed in moderation. Fruit that is too overripe should not be used as they undergo chemical change. (We don`t want drunken softbills do we!). Advacados contain high levels of vitamin E, fats and oils. These can be harmful to some Softbills.

Livefood - has now become more readily available, in many different types and sizes. It can be purchasd from most pet centres and even by post.

Mealworms - Now available in many different sizes ranging from the ' mini-mealworm to the 3' long Morio mealworm. They should be stored in bran, and given carrot or thinly sliced potatoes daily. This ensures that the mealworm does not dehydrate before being fed to the birds. Normal and mini mealworms if fept cool can be stored for many weeks. The Morio on the other hand should be dept warm; minimum temperature 65C. Some breeders like to feed the mealworms with a softfood and add extra vitamins, these are then passed to the young birds when the livefood is fed to them.

Crickets and Locusts -This type of livefood should not be used to form the basic daily insectile intake for softbills. Crickets and Locust should be used to supplement the diet. When breeding softbills they should be 'dusted' with a calcium powder, so that this is passed onto the young birds. Many types of cricket are now available. The 'black' crickets will be taken by small Softbills such as Pekin robins etc. Both types provide protein to growing birds and help to maintain roughage levels in the birds intestine.

Meat Products - Many different Softbills will appreciate small quantities of meats on a weekly basis. Apart from the obvious carnivorous birds like the Crow and Jay family, many other species such as Barbets, Broadbills, Toucans, Hornbills etc., will all take small amounts of lean minced beef, heart, to the Softbills universal mixture on a weekly basis. Only feed fresh meats, and remember to remove any leftovers before they start to turn rancid. Mince should be offered in 'marble' size balls, and can be dusted with vitamin powder if the parent birds are feeding youngsters.

Hard-boiled Eggs - Eggs contain many nutrients and vitamins. They should be boiled and used the same day. Most Softbills will take eggs mashed or finely chopped. Once again, care must be taken to remove any unused egg pieces before bacteria is allowed to contaminate them. Some breeders like to crush or grind up the egg shells and include them in the Universal softfood, as a calcium suppliment.

Cheese - Most breeders offer cheese in small quantities mixed in with the softfood. Cheese provides additional fats and vitamins. Vitamin D3, regulates the body's calcium and phosphorus levels. Vitamin B12 helps the intestinal bacteria. Vitamin B2, although only required in small amounts, helps to promote healthy skin and feather production. Cheddar cheese is probably the best to use.

Sponge Cake - Moistened with nectar and crumbled, can be used for all Softbills. If cake is not available an easy alternative is sponge finger biscuits available from the supermarket � it should be changed after 12-14 hours before it goes sour.

Dead Day Old Chicks/Mice - Form parts of diets of Crow-like birds (Jays, Magpies etc). Toucans, Barbet, Hornbills, large Shrikes, Kingfishers and even some species of Starlings will also benefit from small mice (Fuzzies or Pinkies) chopped to size. Different size of mice are now commercially available, and normally come frozen.

Maggots -These should never be considered perfectly safe to use on a daily basis. Some breeders refuse to use them because of the health hazards they carry. When purchased they should be kept in an open top box or tray, containing bran. They should be left in this medium for at least 3 days and kept quite cool, so they can cleanse themselves and remove the black spot from the intestines. This black spot is usually because the maggots have been reared on meat products and may be carrying botulism. Immediately the first chrysalis appears, change the bran since contaminated harmful bacteria will develop. Keep in cool temperature but not in a fridge. If you are not sure if the maggots are cleaned properly, then DO NOT USE THEM - throw them away.

Recommended Species

There are 4 basic types of Softbill, usually classified by their distinct dietary needs:-

  • Frugivores - Mainly feed on different type of fruit, Bulbuls, Broadbills, Toucans etc. Fairly adaptable, large appetites and simple to feed.
  • Nectivores - Mainly species suitable for the more experienced aviculturists, nectar forms the main diet. Humming birds, Sunbirds etc.
  • Insectivores - These create the biggest challenge. They may be difficult to wean onto a substitute diet instead of just feeding live insects. Rollers, Pittas etc.
  • Ormivores - Easy to keep, usually adapt to new surroundings quickly and eat a variety of foods, including livefood, fruits and meat (day old chicks etc) Crows, Jays etc.

      Quite often beginners to the fancy, purchase Softbills because they look pretty. Before you buy any birds, ensure that you are able to provide the correct diet for them.

      Pekin RobinSilver-eared Mesia
      Silver Beaked TanagersPalm Tanagers
      Verditers FlycatchersRed-vented Bulbul
      Black-chinned YuhinaRufous Laughing Thrushes
      Red-Billed HornbillGlossy Starling
      Sprea StarlingsBlue Throated Barbet


      Humming BirdsSunbirds
      Fruit SuckersToucans

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