I have used mineral blocks for many years – as well as being good for birds’ health, they provide them with something to relieve boredom and it is surprising how quickly small finches can go through them.
I once gave some blocks to someone who gave them to budgies while still in the plastic cups and the birds chewed the plastic to get at the block – not a particularly good idea because the small plastic pieces could lodge in the intestine and cause a blockage. I once had a Red-rump Parrot autopsied and found a staple, which had ruptured the bird’s gut.
Like most recipes, the blocks’ makeup can be varied to suit specific birds’ needs. To make five blocks I mix one cup each of shellgrit, mineral grit, crushed eggshells, charcoal pieces, roughly crushed cuttlefish else bone, two cups of water. and one-eighth of a cup of cattle/horse salt lick block.
SHELLGRIT – I take it from a local area that is being developed. It is illegal to take shellgrit from most South Australian beaches, but it can be bought from some sand-yards and it must be clean.
MINERAL GRIT – Norton Minerals in Adelaide sells all types of different grades of grit in bulk. I bought 20 kilos more than 10 years ago and still have plenty. Finches need smaller grit than parrots.
EGGSHELLS – I wash ordinary chicken eggshells in plain running water, then lay them out to dry before putting them in a microwave on high for three minutes – that’s for an ice cream container three- quarters full. The ice cream containers work well for me, but I’m told there are problems with some microwaves, where proper microwave dishes should be used. I then crush the eggshells by hand.
CHARCOAL – To make charcoal it must be removed from the fire or put the fire out before it turns to ash. When cooled I break it up into small pieces then wash it gently, otherwise the blocks may turn black, which can look unsightly.
Charcoal can be bought from hardware stores, where it is sold for barbecue fuel. Any wood used to make it must be clean – untreated, unpainted and from a non-toxic tree.
CUTTLEFISH – I pick cuttlefish up from the beach. If it has seaweed on it I rinse it in sea water and if it has ink or anything else on it I leave it on the beaches, which are covered with cuttlefish during winter. To use cuttlefish in mineral blocks I crush it up with a pair of pliers.
SALT BLOCKS – These can be bought from any fodder store. They are made for horses, cows and sheep. Salt can be harmful in large amounts so I scrape a very small amount into my mixing container.
PLASTER OF PARIS – Before I started making mineral blocks I called a manufacturer to make sure it was safe for birds to eat. Plain plaster of Paris is just calcium carbonate and is safe once it has been added to water then dried.
CUPS – Disposable plastic or foam cups can be used. They are very cheap, so I just cut them from the set blocks and throw them away.
WIRE – I make wire hooks from heavy gauge galvanised wire to put into the blocks for hanging. I once had an Eclectus hen chew the block completely then catch the wire hook in her loose-fitting leg ring. The only damage was to my fingers when I removed the wire hook. Now I remove her blocks before she chews them right down.
MIXING – I use a plastic bucket or bowl, mixing all ingredients except the Plaster of Paris before adding water, then gradually add the Plaster of Paris, mixing it in by hand. If you put all the Plaster of Paris in first the water will wash the plaster to the bottom of the plastic bucket or bowl.
The amount of water depends on whether the other ingredients are wet or dry, as well as the temperature at the time. It is best to mix small amounts and if the mix starts o set add more water.
The mix is ready when it is well stirred up and looks like porridge. It’s just like mixing concrete and if the mix is too wet it takes longer to dry and may crack. It should be starting to set by the time the fifth cup is being filled.
Push the mix firmly into a cup and place the bent, non-hanging end of the hook into the mixture. If too much is mixed, or it is a hot day, the mix will start to set before you get it into the cups.
If this happens you can put the whole lump into a colony, for instance lovebirds, or you can break it up with a hammer and mix it again.
I don’t grease the cups because the blocks are still hard to pull out of the cups, even when they are greased. It is easier to just cut the cup away.
The blocks take a couple of days to dry completely, can last for several months and do not cost much to make.
Reprinted from the December 2001 edition of the Western Australian Avicultural Magazine, the official publication of the Avicultural Society of Western Australia Inc.