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by Marian Cochran
First published in the Pacific American Singer newsletter, volume 5, number 4, October 1998.
Cuttlebone is probably the most common dietary supplement given to canaries. It is an inexpensive source of calcium and other minerals. Birds enjoy the activity, too, of pecking it, and whetting their beaks on it. Birds need calcium year-round, and it is especially important for laying hens to get as much as they want.
The cuttlebone is the skeleton of the cuttlefish, which is a member of the cephalopod family, and a cousin of the octupus and other squids. This lightweight internal shell helps the creatures stay afloat. Cuttlefish live for only a few years and die after breeding. Commercial fishermen harvest the cuttlefish primarily for food, and the skeleton is cut out during preparation.
You can buy cuttlebone in several sizes, small for finch-sized birds, on up to large for parrots. In the pet store, cuttlebone comes with a metal holder, whose prongs can be bent to attach it to the birdcage. Most canary owners do not use this holder, because birds get their feet caught - and cut - on the edges. Instead, some use a clip type holder. The clips are usually plastic, and some come with their own little perch. Other birders drill a small hole in the cuttlebone and put through a wire, like a small electric wire. (Take care that your wire can't catch the bird's foot.) Others push the shell through the bars, hold it steady with a clamp, and let the birds stand directly on it.
If your bird ignores his cuttlebone, try turning it sideways. Because the shape is about the size of a large bird, some birds are intimidated and hesitate to approach it.
If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, turn it over. Usually they like the lighter colored, flakier side more than the yellower harder side.
If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, try soaking it. There may be salt or a "fishy" residue that makes it taste funny.
If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, just scrape a bit onto his food about once a week, sort of like you salt your own food. Hold the bone over some treat food, and scratch it with a knife.