Budgerigars in the Second World War
In writing my book on animals in the war I have recently drafted a section about budgies, canaries and parrots. I have yet to find any story of companion birds being killed in the first week of the war. Accounts of the killing of birds, including several groups in aviaries, date to later in the war. The stories are essentially the same: lack of imported bird seed causing birds to be humanely killed rather than starved. There are tales of a black market in bird seed and, more improbably, soldiers on leave from fighting Rommel in north Africa bringing home seed in their kitbags. In all such accounts the inability to provide certain seed, such as millet, seen to be an essential component of the diet, is given as an explanation for the birds’ deaths.
Substitutes for “normal” food (which had worked for cats and dogs) were generally regarded as inapplicable for caged birds. Ironically recent advice from the PDSA has advised the restriction of millet and the promotion of fresh fruit and vegetables including root vegetables, such as grated carrot and pumpkin washed free of chemicals. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association has cautioned against high fat seeds such as sunflower and noted the value of a pulse diet for psittacine birds. Such specialist veterinarians in the twenty first century have acknowledged the lack of scientifically controlled studies on such birds to ascertain appropriate nutrition today. Arguably food grown (for humans) in allotments and gardens may well have been able to support caged birds, albeit not fulfilling all nutritional requirements – if people had realised this.