Insect Food for Finches
Flightless Fruit Flies, Freeze-Dried Ants and Bevo

by: Randy Taylor, Member: NFSS, FinchSave, WPFS, AFA

All Rights Reserved

In my attempts to breed some of the African Waxbill Finches (Estrilda, Lagonosticta and Uraeginthus), I found that mealworms alone did not always fulfill the birds needs when they had young in the nest. The more variety in this type of food, the greater the chances of success. The thought of white worms ‘swimming’ around in wet compost was not particularly appealing to me.

I sort of ‘stumbled’ upon the idea of using fruit flies indoors when the birds were observed catching small flying insects in the outdoor aviaries. I thought that if I could provide them with a steady supply of these tiny insects that there would be a much greater chance of having breeding success and I was right. The birds seemed to enjoy catching the flying bugs. This form of insects has been supplied for many years by aviculturalists for their birds in outdoor aviaries. I had heard somewhere that there are fruit flies that can’t fly. I did not want to have the flying species loose in my house, so I searched the internet for a source of the ‘flightless’ species. It took me awhile but a supplier was finally located. The flightless fruit fly cultures were purchased from “Timberline Fisheries” in Marion, Illinois. They have a web-site at: www.timberlinefisheries.com, but their order page did not work when I ordered my flies. Anyone that is having problems with their breeders throwing out their young might consider this form of live food for their birds. Though they are very small insects, the fruit flies will make a difference in giving the adults a new choice in feeding their young. Birds in the wild have to ‘work’ for what they feed their young and catching these flies gives them that sense of doing their ‘job’. If you are interested, you can check out their web-site before you order, or you can place an order by phone. They have a toll free number: 800-423-2248. They will accept credit card orders and re-ordering is a breeze. They also have a catalog that they will send to you which lists some of their other insects and how to care for them.

There are two varieties of the flightless fruit flies: Drosophila melanogaster and Hydei sturdivant. The Drosophilia are smaller than the Hydei but they have a faster rate of production and shorter life cycle than the Hydei. Drosophilia’s life cycle is between 12-15 days while Hydei’s is about 25 days. The Hydei species is about 1/8 inch long as adults and the Drosophilia are quite a bit smaller. I purchased their “fruit fly culture kit” which includes 2 cultures of either fly species, 6 culture jars and medium for growing them for $25.00 (I purchased the Drosophilia species). Once the cultures were going, they were switched to pint canning jars with a fine mesh over the top (the same as I use for sprouting my seed) until ready to place into the cages or flights. I had to order more medium for this as I place a jar into each cage (sometimes two jars, the more jars the more flies) and lay the jar on it’s side so that not all of the flies will ‘escape’.

They tend to congregate at the top of the culture and if left just standing up-right, all of the adults would be eaten before they lay more eggs into the medium to keep it going. Only use about an inch of the dry culture medium in the bottom of the jar then add a little more than the same amount of water. I have found that to start a culture, you can place 12-15 flies into the jar and within 2 or 3 days there will be larvae crawling around in the medium. Once the larvae have ‘ate’ their fill, they will leave the moist culture and attach themselves to either the sides of the jar or to the plastic tube mesh that is included in the kit. At this stage, the larvae will soon turn into pupae in preparation for becoming adults. It sits at room temperature for a couple of more days until the first pupae start to ‘hatch’ into adults (these will be a ‘pale’ version of the older adults) and then cut out a small hole in the mesh large enough for the flies to get through and place it in the cage with the jar laying on its side. Don’t make the hole too large or all the flies will get out and soon it would stop producing flies. As long as there are some adults and moist culture medium in the jar, it will continue to produce. There will be more flies hatching every day. If you make the mesh large enough, you can just move it to position the ‘hole’ so that the flies can escape without having to ‘ruin’ the mesh and you can re-use it over and over for the same jar. The medium will sort of settle down when it is placed on its side, but it will not harm the culture. I keep an eye on the culture to make sure it is still producing every day (adults in the jar will signify this). New cultures are started about every week or so to keep the birds in supply. The birds were afraid of the jars at first, but soon learned that there was ‘live’ food there and are eager to eat them. This system will work very well indoors. For outdoors, just a can or jar with some over-ripe fruit (bananas for instance) will do the trick for the flying species of flies or you can use the ‘flightless’ species but it will soon become contaminated by the flying species as this is dominant over the flightless characteristics. The flies will just ‘show up’ in the rotten fruit. Wire mesh (½ or ¼ inch) should be placed over the top of the fruit culture to prevent the birds from getting into it. Since the flying species can escape from the birds, there should always be some adults that survive to keep the culture going. You will just need to keep adding more fruit on a regular basis. Either flying or flightless flies will give the birds some exercise as they catch them. I also give my birds the mini size mealworms only when they have young in the nest. The flies can be a stimulus to breeding when a pair is set-up in the breeding enclosure.

About getting birds to eating some of the dried insect and egg foods, it is much easier if you can place a bird in with them that will take these foods such as a Society or any other bird that will eat them. I was lucky in that I purchased some birds that had been cage bred and were already used to the commercial foods and the wild caught ones just checked it out since they had observed others eating it. I feed Bevo and Turbo dry in small containers and only refill as they get empty. They will not take a large amount of this unless they are feeding chicks. They will prefer the live insects over this no matter if they eat the Bevo or dried ants prior to having young or not. As far as the freeze dried ants, I was extremely disappointed when I first received them as they were very expensive and looked like something that I thought the birds would not eat. I was fooled however, as the birds scatter them around and do eat them. The ants themselves are a green color and are very large, most with wings. They are about one half inch long. As far as the ‘eggs’, I can’t find any in the product, but the seller assures me that they are there. They are very expensive and you can get a gallon jar (will last a long time) minimum size for $60.00 plus shipping. You can find them at: Cuttlebone Plus, PO Box 305, Fallbrook, CA 92088. 800-747-9878. The owners e-mail address is: dws911@earthlink.net His name is Dick Schroeder.

I hope that this information has been helpful to at least one breeder. I have no problem in sharing information and will help in anyway that I can. If anyone has questions, or wants to learn more, feel free to contact me.

Randy Taylor
17801 Robin Road
Canyon, TX 79015-7008
Phone: (806) 655-4398
E-mail address: TWBantams@aol.com

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