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Chapter 4
Bird food grains with potential for the tropics and semi-tropics

Niger seed (Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.)

Niger seed[14] is an oilseed crop produced principally in Ethiopia, India, Myanmar and Nepal. Thirty percent of the seed (shown in Plate 1) is oil. When extracted the oil is used in foods, for paint and soap making and for lighting. In Ethiopia this is the main edible oil in use. In India about 75 percent of the harvested seeds are used for oil extraction while the rest is exported for bird food. Roasted or fried seeds are eaten as a snack or used as a condiment. The press-cake from oil extraction contains 31 to 40 percent protein and is used for feeding cattle. In the United States of America, Niger seed is considered a high value crop for the bird food industry, and initiatives have been underway to introduce it as a cash crop alternative for grain farmers in the Mid-West.

Description and agronomy

The annual herbaceous plant of Guizotia abyssinica grows to a height of 0.5 to 1.5 m and matures in 110 to 120 days. It is a short day-length, photoperiod sensitive plant that is cross-pollinated with bees as the typical vector. The crop is widely adapted to all types of soil and is commonly grown in India on poor and acid soils or on hilly slopes that are low in fertility. In East Africa, the crop is grown up to 2 500 m altitude. It requires moderate rainfall and, although it is grown in both temperate and tropical areas, does not perform well when the nights are cold. Yield levels are reported to be 200 to 300 kg/ha, although they can reach 500 to 600 kg/ha with good management. Experimental plots with improved cultivars on fertile soils in India have yielded 1 000 to 1 200 kg/ha. Trials in Minnesota (the United States of America) have established the nitrogen requirement to be 60 kg/ha. Trials showed no positive response to potassium and phosphorus fertilisation[15]. The crop can be grown successfully in rotation with wheat or maize. It is susceptible to white mould (Sclerotinia spp.), and therefore rotations with soybean or canola should be avoided. Seeding rates are between 3 to 6 kg/ha. Because it depends on bees for cross-pollination, it is recommended Plate 1 that beehives are placed at a density of 2 to 3 hives per hectare. Harvesting can take place once all the flowers have withered. The seed is usually swathed and dried completely (to a moisture content of 10 percent or lower) before threshing.

Plate 1
Niger Seed

Imports of Niger seed to the United States of America in 2003


Quantity (tonnes)

Value (thousand US$)


22 609

12 225


18 290



7 043



1 463















4 9542

27 775

Source: United States Department of Commerce, 2003.

Varietal development

Although Niger seed originated in Ethiopia, the crop is now widely grown in India and, to a lesser extent, in Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. On the Indian sub-continent, the Niger seed germplasm is differentiated from that of African origin. Yields of Niger seed on the Indian sub-continent are generally lower, plants are shorter and mature earlier. Appendix 3 gives details of research institutes where germplasm accessions may be found.

Production and trade

The main production areas of Niger seed are Ethiopia and India. The crop is also grown in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and several countries in eastern and central Africa. In Ethiopia, Niger seed production accounts for 50 to 60 percent of vegetable oil production. After internal needs are met, the surplus is exported for bird food, mainly to the United States of America and Europe. Global seed production is estimated at between 300 000 and 350 000 tonnes[16]. India produces an estimated 80 000 to 100 000 tonnes with the states of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa accounting for about 80 percent of the total. Ethiopia produces 200 000 to 250 000 tonnes. Production is widespread over the country, but the most important production areas are Begemdir, Gojam and Welega.

In 2003, the United States of America imported 49 542 tonnes having a total value of almost US$27.8 million (Table 1). Long supply lines and political instability in the producing areas have resulted in initiatives to start production in the Mid-West states of the United States of America such as Minnesota.

For export to the United States of America, seeds should be heat sterilized (60 °C) before shipment. This is done to eliminate possible contamination by the parasitic dodder Cuscuta spp.


Niger seed is a high value bird food ingredient, especially in the United States of America. It is small seeded and therefore particularly attractive to finches. Its use as a bird food ingredient in Europe and other parts of the world is increasing, following the example of the United States of America. In the key production countries (Ethiopia and India) it is grown primarily as an oil crop. Any excess that remains after the domestic demand for oil has been met is exported for bird food. The crop is mainly grown on marginal soils and as a result, yields fluctuate widely. These circumstances, together with long supply lines, have led to an interest in its production in the United States of America[17].

Niger seed is also cultivated to a lesser extent in other sub-Saharan countries and parts of Asia. Its production has been reported in Malawi, Sudan, Uganda and the Congo, and production in these countries could be expanded and improved by better agronomic practices and varietal selection.

Canary seed (Phalaris canariensis L.)

Canary grass is native to southern Europe and the Middle East. Commercial production was introduced into the United States of America in the 1950s and spread to Canada in the 1970s. Canada is currently the largest producer with an estimated 75 percent of world production (200 000 tonnes). The other major production areas are Argentina (12 percent), Australia (3 percent), Hungary (2.5 percent) and Mexico (2.5 percent). Other producing countries include Turkey, Uruguay, Thailand and Morocco.

Description and agronomy

Canary grass is an annual grass that can grow up to 1 metre in height and matures in 105 to 110 days. It is a cool season crop, which prefers long warm days and cool nights. Plants tiller strongly after the fourth-leaf stage, and thereafter form a dense ground cover. The root system is rather shallow and therefore less tolerant to heat and drought than crops such as wheat. The crop grows best on heavy clay or clay loam soils with good water retention characteristics.

In Canada the grass is mainly grown in Manitoba Province. Sowing starts in May when the soil temperature has reached 7 °C. It is promoted in southern Australia (South Victoria), where winter rainfall is between 300 and 500 mm. Standard sowing equipment for small grain cereals can be used, but the seedbed must be firm and moist. Planting depth should not exceed 50 mm. Seeding rates are 30 to 38 kg/ha. The seeding rate is a compromise between getting a good cover to exclude weeds and the desired seed size. If planted too densely, product will have small-sized seeds and will be less acceptable to the market.

Canary seed is very susceptible to herbicide carry-over or herbicide drift from adjacent fields (especially for trifluralin and ethafluralin herbicides). Therefore, it should not be planted within 24 to 30 months after such herbicides have been applied to the same land. The susceptibility to herbicides makes annual grass weed control difficult. The use of a non-selective herbicide before planting, or delayed planting, are control measures that can be considered. Fertilizer requirements have not been extensively studied for canary seed but requirements are similar to wheat.

The seeds are relatively shatter resistant and can be direct combined or swathed. Harvesting takes place when the seed heads are 20 to 50 mm long and the seeds have reached 13 percent moisture content. The appearance of the seed is similar to flax seed. The brown seed coat is covered by a glossy, papery yellow hull that is attractive to birds (Plarte 2). During harvesting and handling, care must be taken not to damage this coating. De-hulled seeds are dark brown and are thus less valuable to the bird seed trade. Under good conditions, the seed stores well for long periods without quality loss.

Yields vary widely from season to season. Table 2 illustrates this point using Canadian statistics. In Australia (southern Victoria) yields vary between 0.5 and 0.6 tonnes/ha.

Plate 2
Canary seed

Yield of canary seed in Canada (1998 - 2003)


Area sown (thousand ha)

Average yield (tonnes/ha)













2002-2003 (estimated)



Source: Statistics Canada, available at

Processing and storage

Canary seed has tiny hairs that can cause skin and lung irritation during handling and processing. Therefore, workers need to use some form of protection and take care during handling. In addition to cleaning, seeds are also polished (to remove the hairs) and sometimes oiled to increase the glossy appearance.

Varietal development

The varieties Keet and Elias were developed in Minnesota in 1983 and 1988 and are now extensively grown in Canada. The Crop Development Centre in Saskatchewan, Canada, maintains breeders' seed. A few commercial varieties have been developed in Australia (for instance, variety Moroccan). In 1997 a new hairless (glabrous) variety was introduced in Canada, which has now been commercialised under the name Canarioä. Removal of the hairs from seed has several benefits: it reduces the irritation to handlers and processors; reduces the volume of seed and hence the shipping costs by up to 12 percent; reduces the processing costs by eliminating the need for polishing of the grain[18].

Production and trade

The market is highly volatile. For example, world production varied from 300 000 tonnes in 1995 to 167 000 tonnes in 1997. Most of the seed is exported, with Canada leading, followed by Argentina and Hungary. Table 3 shows the main importing countries in 2001.

Most exports take place as bulk, unprocessed seed shipments and, to a lesser extent, as pre-packaged seed mixtures. There is no futures market, therefore prices are negotiated between producers and customers depending on the supply and demand. Prices fluctuate over the years as production goes up and down. Long-term averages suggest a range of US$200-US$240 per tonne. For the year 2002/03 prices were around US$480 per tonne, illustrating the volatility of the market.

Accepted standards for export are a minimum of 99 percent pure seed and a maximum of 4 percent dehulled seed. If clean and dry, the seed stores well for several years. At present there are no grading standards, but purchasers pay attention to uniformity, seed size, appearance, smell and the percentage of dehulled seed. There are no packaging standards for bulk canary seed. Most international trade takes place by the container load, while smaller markets accept bagged seed.


Canary seed is a minor crop and is not quoted on grain markets. In Canada there are about 30 companies that buy, process and trade the seed. Although predominantly a spot market, some contracting of production takes place. Contract prices typically have a fixed price component and a flexible component that is determined, according to market prices, at the time of harvest. Belgium and the Netherlands are major importers of Canadian canary seed, which is mainly repacked and re-exported. Appendix 2 lists some of the major brokers. Agri-food of Canada publishes market and price information on canary seed on a bi-monthly basis (see Appendix 1 for website and subscription details).

Main countries importing canary seed from Canada in 2001


Proportion of total Canadian canary seed export (%)

Quantity improted (tonnes)



25 650



24 300



18 900



10 800

United States of America


9 450

United Kingdom


6 750



6 750

The Netherlands


5 400



4 500



2 700



20 250

Source: Statistics Canada, available at


Bearing in mind that it is a cool season crop with a preference for cool nights and warm days, opportunities are probably limited to temperate and subtropical areas either during the main season or during winter. At present the seed is used for the bird seed market and is less subject to substitution than the other small grains. Packers may vary the amount used in their mixes, but will always include the seed because of its attractive appearance.

Quality requirements are high with a special emphasis on uniformity, seed size and seed colour. Undersized seeds are undesirable, while extra care should be taken during harvesting, processing and storage to maintain the papery seed coat, which imparts a glossy appearance.

A large proportion of the Canadian export goes to Mexico and Brazil, a volume that increases when the Argentine crop is insufficient. There may be opportunities for Central and southern American countries to increase production of the crop.


Millet is a generic name that includes several small-seeded cereals. Millet classification is complicated by the fact that certain names appear to be used exclusively in the bird seed sector to denote an origin or colour rather than a genus/species.

Millets can be grown over a wide range of environments, but are particularly adapted to hot and dry regions. They are probably amongst the first cultivated crops of ancient civilisations and are still staple foods in Asia and Africa. Developing countries in Africa and Asia account for 94 percent of the global production of 28 million tonnes. Of this, pearl millet accounts for 15 million tonnes, foxtail millet for 5 million tonnes, proso millet for 4 million tonnes and finger millet for 3 million tonnes. India is the world's largest producer with about 40 percent of world production. China is the world's largest producer of foxtail millet (3.7 million tonnes). Developed countries produce exclusively proso millet which is used mainly for fodder or bird food grain. Only a small proportion (1 percent) of global production is traded internationally. Fifty percent of traded millet is proso millet exported by the United States of America, Australia and Argentina.

Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.)

Proso millet is also known as white millet, common millet, French millet, broomcorn, ravi, yellow plate millet or simply panicum. In the bird food trade, the preferred names are proso millet or French millet. It is one of the oldest food crops known to man. Its origin is disputed, but it is generally assumed to have originated in Egypt or Asia Minor. It is still widely cultivated in India, China, Russia, the Middle-East and Afghanistan.

In the bird food trade, proso is a staple ingredient for both wild and caged birds. The seed coat colour is important and there are regional differences in preference. However, the trend seems to be towards white or yellow creamy colours. In western Europe there is a preference for yellow-coloured millet from the Plate Region of Argentina, which is reported to be softer than white or red millet. White proso millet can still contain up to 5 percent red coloured seed, which makes it less acceptable to the trade.

Plate 3
Proso millet

Description and agronomic notes

Proso millet is easy to grow, has a low water requirement and is widely adapted to different soil and climate conditions. It is a short season crop that matures in 60 to 90 days. The crop is relatively tolerant to cooler climates and can be grown at higher latitudes and higher elevations than most other millets. For instance in Russia it is grown at altitudes up to 1 200 m and in India up to 3 500 m. It is a short-day length plant, which grows up to 1 m tall. The plant is predominantly self-pollinated but out-crossing may occur to the extent of 10 percent. The seeds are oval in shape (Plate 3), smaller than finger millet or sorghum, about 3 mm long and 2 mm wide. Seed colour may vary between varieties from creamy white to red. Proso millet efficiently converts water into dry matter/grain and can yield between 4 000 and 5 000 kg per hectare. Response to fertilizers is low. In Nebraska, nitrogen application at 45 kg/ha is recommended on proso following a wheat crop. In India, optimum application levels are 40 kg N/ha, 20 kg P/ha and 20 kg K/ha for irrigated proso (FAO/ICRISAT, 1996).

Varietal development

The Nebraska Millet Improvement Centre has carried out major improvement work and during the past decade, several new varieties have been released such as Huntsman, Sunrise, Dawn and Sunup. ICRISAT in India holds over 50 000 proso millet accessions while varietal improvement is also carried out by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). Other breeding and germplasm evaluations are carried out in Australia and Germany. The University of Queensland in Australia has released a selection of white proso with a reduced level of red seed contamination.

Production and trade

The global area sown with millets is relatively stable at around 38 million hectares. However, only about 1 percent of world millet production is traded internationally. This represents 200 000 to 300 000 tonnes or approximately 0.1 percent of the global cereal trade (FAO/ICRISAT, 1996). Out of all the millets, proso millet is the most important species being traded with a volume of 100 000 to 150 000 tonnes per year. This proso millet is predominantly produced in the United States of America, Australia and Argentina and is exported almost exclusively to other developed countries (European Union, Japan, Switzerland and Canada) for bird food use.

Exact statistics on production and trading are hard to come by as they are mostly grouped with other millets under the heading "other cereals". Prices of internationally traded proso millet are highly volatile and depend on supply and demand. Over a five-year period (1993-1998), proso millet produced in the United States of America sold for between US$88 and US$550 per tonne. The current (March 2003) prices are high (US$690), as a result of severe drought in the United States of America production areas (Burgener et al., 2002). In general, prices are higher than other cereal prices.


There is no organized trading. Most trading takes place between a few commodity brokers on a sample basis.


Proso millet can be grown in temperate climates under low rainfall conditions. It is one of the staple ingredients of bird food grain mixtures. The predominant place of production for non-food proso millet is the United States of America, where about 200 000 hectares are grown annually in the arid parts of the High Plains. The harvested area fluctuates annually as a result of climatic conditions and farming cropping decisions, which has consequences for bird food packers. In 2002, the proportion in bird food mixes was severely reduced as a result of low supply and high prices. Some of the major brokers place contracts for growing the crop.

Spray millet (Setaria italica (L.) Beauv and Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.)

Spray millet is included as a treat in bird feeding. It consists of the intact heads of foxtail or finger millet with the grain still attached (Plate 4). The heads are hung in birdcages or aviaries to stimulate active foraging behaviour in caged birds. It is produced by specialized farms in the United States of America or imported from other countries such as China. There are no readily available data on the production or trade of spray millets.

Japanese millet (Echinochloa crusgalli var. frumentacea)

Japanese millet is closely related to barnyard grass and is widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. It has the highest protein content of all the millet species. It is mainly grown for grazing and haymaking, although a small volume is harvested as grain for the bird food industry. It is also popular in cover crop mixes as the plant and seed are attractive to waterfowls.

Production and trade

There are no data on the production of, and trade in, Japanese millet for the bird food industry. However, Japanese millet is often cited as an ingredient in companion bird food mixes, which indicates a global trading[19]. Japanese millet is grown in Australia (Queensland), China and the United States of America mainly for grazing or hay. Average yields obtained in Queensland, Australia are 1200 kg/ha.

Quality standards

The Australian standards for Japanese millet as bird food are 98 percent purity, a maximum moisture content of 13 percent, and a hectolitre weight of at least 46 kg.


Japanese millet is of tropical and subtropical origin and could be grown in most developing countries. The crop is relatively drought tolerant, has a low fertiliser requirement and matures early. To date there are no registered varieties, but in Australia improved varieties with bigger seeds are known as Shirohie millet.

Plate 4
Spray millet

Other millets used in bird food

Other millet species included in bird food mixtures include finger millet (Eleusine coracana) and pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum).

Plate 5
Black sunflower seed

Sunflower (Helianthus anuus L.)

Sunflower is a major ingredient in bird food, both for outdoor and indoor feeding. Both black (oily) and striped (confection) sunflower seeds are used (see Plates 5 and 6).

It is estimated that black sunflower represents 80 percent, while striped sunflower represents 20 percent of all sunflower going into bird food. A minor crop is white sunflower seed which is used in parrot food mixes. Sunflower seed provides energy and protein in the diet. However, energy in the form of oil is not always desired and several commercial bird food mixes exclude sunflower. Sunflower hearts (sometimes called meats) are dehulled striped kernels that are used in the health food industry, in baking, for sprouting, and also as an added value component for the bird food industry. Dehulling can be an intentional process but it is also common that seeds become dehulled during handling and transport. The seeds and hearts are either marketed in a mix with other seeds or as straight sunflower. Cultivation is done in many countries of the world under a wide variety of climatic conditions. The principal producers include the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Argentina, France, Spain, Romania, Hungary, the United States of America of America, India, and China.

Plate 6
Striped sunflower seed

It is difficult to obtain statistics on the use of sunflower seed for bird food as there is no organisation that monitors this trade. Moreover, depending on the price for commodity sunflower and the oil content in the seed, sunflower can easily switch from the oil extraction market to secondary markets such as bird food. To give an indication of magnitude, between 1991 and 1993, the annual use of sunflower for bird food consumption in the United States of America was 240 000 tonnes of black oil sunflower seed and 35 000 tonnes of striped confection sunflower. This represents an annual economic value of US$170 million per year[20].


Opportunities for farmers in developing countries are limited. The United States and European sunflower crops are large and will remain the major source for the bird food industry. In addition, the large size of the seed and its relative weight and bulk, make it an expensive crop to transport. Egypt and Kenya are the major suppliers of white sunflower seed. China is an important supplier of organic sunflower seed.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench)

Sorghum (also referred to as milo in the United States of America) has long been a staple in bird food mixes even though the tannin content in the seed coat is not attractive to birds. Plate 7 shows sorghum seeds. It may be added to the mix to provide a colour contrast and make the mix look attractive to buyers, rather than for its nutritional attributes. Although sorghum is one of the most important food crops in the world, global trade is strongly linked to the demand for livestock feed products. Only 6 percent of globally traded sorghum is used for human food consumption, while the remainder is used in animal feed. There are no data available on the proportion of traded sorghum intended for bird food production (other than poultry), but in recent years the use of sorghum in bird food seems to have declined.

Plate 7
Sorghum seeds


Opportunities for developing countries to trade sorghum for bird food in the international market place are limited. The international trade is dominated by the United States of America and prices closely follow the world market price for corn. The value for sorghum is about 90 to 95 percent of that of corn.

Groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Groundnuts (or peanuts) are popular in bird food mixes, both for outdoor feeding and for caged or companion birds. They are used unshelled, shelled, whole, or broken. Their use for bird feeding is more popular in Europe than elsewhere, although during the last decade there has been an upward trend in use in the United States of America. There are no statistics on the use of groundnut in bird food, but the total volume used is believed to be small.


There appears to be no groundnut production that is specifically targeted at the bird food market. Therefore, opportunities for developing countries to enter this sector of the bird food market are limited. Any requirements for the commodity are readily met by the general groundnut market.

Minor crops used in bird food

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.)

Safflower (Plate 8) is also known as kusum (India/Pakistan), cartamo (Latin America), and rufu (Ethiopia). It is traditionally grown for its petals from which an orange dye can be obtained, but today is mainly grown for its oil and use as birdseed. The major exception is China, where it is mostly used for traditional medicines. Global production is estimated at 1.1 million tonnes, the majority of which is produced by India - India produces 41 percent of the world's safflower for domestic oil extraction and 50 percent of the world's seed production. In addition to India, the other main producing countries are the United States of America, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China and Argentina. The only African country with a substantial safflower production is Ethiopia (80 000 ha).

Plate 8
Safflower seed

Safflower is drought tolerant and can be cultivated in regions where seasonal rainfall is around 375 mm. However, the best yields (up to 2.5 tonnes/ha) are obtained under irrigation. It is tolerant to soil salinity and low temperatures at the early plant stages, and matures in 110 to 140 days. In rotations with small grain cereals it helps to break disease and insect cycles.


For the bird food market, the seeds should be uniformly white in colour, free of bristles at their ends, and have a high test weight (minimum of 47.5 kg/hl). Brown striped seed of some varieties are not acceptable to the bird food trade. Most of the safflower for the bird food market is produced in the United States of America, especially in the arid parts of the High Plains. Yields vary according to the season, but range between 800 and 1 800 kg/ha. Most production is contracted before planting and prices range between US$0.17 and US$0.23 per kg. The quantity used as bird food is estimated to be 25 000 tonnes, which is approximately 2.5 percent of global production.

Varietal development

Private seed companies carry out most of the breeding work. Most attention is paid to the fatty acid composition (oleic acid content), agronomic characters and oil content. Although generally considered as a day-length neutral, long-day plant, the origin of the variety of safflower to be grown is important. Varieties adapted to summer cropping in temperate climates could have an extremely long vegetative stage when grown under short day conditions in tropical and subtropical regions. Varieties well suited for the bird food market in the United States of America are Finch, Montola 2000 and S-208.


Safflower for bird food use is almost exclusively grown in the United States of America for the domestic bird food market, where it is a prized addition to bird food mixes. Its use in bird food mixes in other countries is limited. Although India produces 50 percent of the world's safflower crop, it is almost entirely used for domestic consumption. Only small volumes are traded internationally. Production opportunities for the international bird food market appear to be limited. However, because the plant is tolerant to drought and soil salinity, it may be an alternative crop in some developing countries provided that the quality demands can be met (high specific weight, colour, etc).

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.)

Also known as "goosefoot", "Inca wheat" and "pigweed", quinoa is a pseudo-grain, native to the Andean mountain region of South America. Although it has been cultivated since 3000 BC, it has only recently been discovered by consumers in the northern hemisphere as a grain with excellent nutritional value, a well-balanced amino acid composition and a high calcium, phosphorus and iron content. It is a premium product in health food stores and is used in small quantities in bird food mixtures. Because of its premium as a health food, its use for bird food is expected to remain small.

Production and trade

Quinoa is a high altitude crop which has problems with sterile pollen at lower altitudes. The main areas of production are Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Bolivia is the largest producer and about 65 percent of the production is consumed in-country. The crop has been tried in several locations within the United States of America. The main importing countries are the United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Trade statistics are difficult to compile, as quinoa is usually grouped under "other cereals" in most trade statistics. Export prices in Ecuador are between US$1.16 and US$1.60 per kg[21].


There is some evidence to suggest that international demand for quinoa is higher than the supply, but it is not clear how much of the demand from the bird food sector is not being met. Quinoa represents one of the few cropping options for small farmers at high altitudes. Evidence from the United States of America and the Himalayas suggests that it can be successfully cultivated outside its native area of the Andes.

New crops

The birdseed market, both for caged birds and wild bird feeding is highly competitive. Bird food companies try to be innovative and continuously find new formulae. Key words in advertising are "healthy", "exotic", and "premium". At present, the number of grain species used in bird food is limited, and the most common ones have been described above. However there are probably numerous (wild or semi-domesticated) grains, fruits or nuts in the tropics and subtropics that have so far escaped the notice of bird food manufacturers, but which could offer new opportunities for product diversification and brand identification. For example, Harrison in the United States of America adds chia (Salvia columbariae) to its organic bird food. Chia is a "mythical" energy food of the native American Indians that can be found as a weedy plant in the deserts of California. Other minor innovations include the addition of seaweed and algae.

Through the observation of bird behaviour and indigenous knowledge of dietary habits of birds, it may be possible to identify (semi) wild fruits, nuts and other seeds that could be used in bird food mixes. The production and supply of these raw materials to bird food manufacturers and packers may present income generating opportunities for indigenous communities.

Most bird food packers are constantly seeking new sources and suppliers of raw materials, both to diversify their product lines and to maintain a competitive price. Most have product development departments where new potential ingredients can be tested for their nutrient profile, food safety and suitability for inclusion in bird seed mixes. A very important factor that potential suppliers of raw materials need to consider, however, is that packers will only be interested in changing their bird food formulae when supplies of reasonable quantities of the new ingredients can be guaranteed.

[14] Also sometimes, mistakenly, referred to as "Thistle seed". In order to eliminate the confusion and the sometimes offensive mispronunciation of the word "niger", the Wild Bird Feeding Institute of America introduced the name "Nyjer"ä in 1998.
[15] Source: Duke (1983)
[16] This figure is probably misleading as it only reflects traded Niger seed. It must be assumed that total production is higher as no account is taken of locally produced seed for own consumption or local trade.
[17] For more information visit
[18] Canary seed has recently received attention as human food. The development of hairless varieties may clear the way for food approval. Hairless canary seed would be useful for the health food sector for instance in multi grain breads.
[19] Japanese millet is in many commercial mixes present as 2-4 percent by weight.
[20] Source: National Sunflower Association (

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