Sawdust – and the Possible Dangers for Budgerigars

This may seem like a trifling subject to some – but it is so important. In my case, it has been a cause of concern as I have lost a few 100% fit adults – found dead on the breeding cage floor for no reason at all that I could fathom. Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” TV sketch always comes into my mind at such times – “it’s not dead, it’s resting!”.

So, thinking cap on and the first step was to consider what changes had occurred in recent times? It came down to a suspicion about the sawdust bedding on the breeding cage floors, which I had been forced to change to following the cessation of business by my previous suppliers.

I changed to “Easibed” which is perfect for stables, but in speaking to fanciers like Trevor Clarkson, Geoff Tuplin and Les Martin, it is alleged that such bedding comes from all sources of woods including old pallets and is certainly not sterilised. Apparently, the Snowflake Easibed packs are cleaner, but I was also concerned that I had seen, when a cage was cleaned out thoroughly and new bedding replaced, that the birds went down immediately and started picking up all sizes of particles. The question was, were any of these being caught in the airways and death was instantaneous? My policy is that if there is any doubt, act and change the situation.

I made a lot of enquiries and finally decided to pass all my stock of Easibed over to my granddaughter, who has horses, and research a safer source. I accept that my suspicions about that particular product have yet to be proved. I can only surmise that ground down pallets may contain all manner of treated and untreated wood chippings – the question is, treated with what? Our Budgerigars are highly sensitive as we all know.

Gold Flake sawdust from LillicoI have been helped considerably by Les Martin, who did so well at the 2009 Budgerigar Society World Championship. He had earlier directed me to “Gold Chips Bedding” sawdust, from a company called Lillico, for nest box use. It is perfect for that purpose and I have used it for about three years. The company provide all manner of samples that can be sent for, but the big advantage is that they supply all their products from clean wood sources, some of which are heat treated to 550 degrees centigrade and supplied, if required, with a batch-numbered certificate of analysis.

Having talked to Trevor, Les and Geoff, I started by contacting Lillico for a heavy based sawdust for the cages so that it would not scatter everywhere. A set of samples were sent and two seemed suitable. However, I spoke again to Les Martin and he said “Gold Chips” was perfect for flights, cages and boxes. It was also pointed out – and this is important – that “Gold Chips” in the boxes can be too deep, so that the eggs cannot be turned by the hens and are consequently addled! So only a thin layer is required. I tend to put a big handful in myself – so I continue to learn.

Geoff Tuplin mentioned another Lillico sawdust product that he uses for the nest boxes. I got a sample sent to me and it looks great – so I am thinking about that and will make a decision after a test run with some pairs that are yet to start breeding. It is called “Gold Flake Bedding Material”.

In conclusion, the last time I was in South Africa (at Reinhard and Holger Molkentin’s home), I noticed they were using a thin layer of silver sand in all boxes. That is also worth thinking about, as young chicks, as they start searching around, will get sand grains down into their gizzards much earlier than usual – which I would guess could be an advantage. Secondly, one could add silver sand in with the “Gold Chip” which would cover both the absorbing factor and sand grain effects together?

Before somebody writes to me, I am well aware that a contradiction to deep sawdust being a problem in a nest box, is that Ray Steele in Yorkshire has really deep boxes, almost full to the top and yet seems to breed well. So it is a matter of choice and a bit of deep thinking. Anyway I am going over to the Lillico products immediately and I will have a happy granddaughter getting a few freebies of “Easibed” for her horses!

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. Keith Flockhart says:

    Over here in New Zealand, quite a few of us have been using peat in our nest boxes.

    This is bought from garden centres and is probably of a similar consistency to normal soil – but more fibrous.

    It also has the advantage of holding moisture, though it needs to be reasonably dry when first used as it can hold a lot of water.

    It does not compact in the nest box and, even if it dries out, it stays powdery.

    I have used for last four seasons with good results.

  2. Barrie Shutt says:

    Hi Gerald,

    Having a very sensitive chest, I found after using easibed once it affected my breathing so much I could not go into the aviary it was used in.

    I would never use this product again in a birdroom.

    I also noticed blue particles in the easibed, these I assume came from the blue pallets we often see scattered about.

    I did comment on a forum about easibed and how it affected me but everyone who replied was happy with it – I wonder if their birds were happy with it?

    Barrie Shutt

  3. Betty Berry says:

    Hi Gerald,

    I would check with Rob Marshall about using sand in the nest boxes, as this can become impacted in the crop.

    When I was working with Dr Ross Perry in the early 1990’s – he was helping me with my aviary as I had a problem – many budgies came in with sand impacted in the crop.

    Please run this past Rob Marshall, as I know you are in contact with him regularly.

    Regards
    Betty Berry
    Australia

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