do all birds need grit

Do birds need grit? This is not only a common question of concern to bird owners, but a source of disagreement as well. Understanding what grit is, its purpose, and the possible problems which may result from its use, can help us in deciding whether or not to offer it to our birds. Most of the information presented here has been gathered and summarized from the well respected book Avian Medicine: Principles and Application by Ritchie, Harrison and Harrison.

What Does Grit Do?

In the wild, birds typically consume large amounts of food. They do, after all, burn a significant amount of calories while flying all day. Because they are not picky eaters, birds will consume both easily digested and non-digestible foods. Grit is believed to aid birds in breaking down tough-to-digest food. It is believed that by grinding, the bird can better utilize these food items. The grit is mostly undigestible material. It will remain in the gizzard, or ventriculus, for several months or even years until the stool passes through it.

The gizzard is the primary grinding organ. This digestive system’s muscular portion works to break up big objects like shells and husks. Sand or rocks help to make the grinding process simpler and more efficient.

For birds in captivity, their diets are selected for them. The majority of seeds are already shelled or husked, making it simple for the bird’s gizzard and beak to break them apart. The ideal diet of pellets is even easier to digest. There is continuous discussion over whether or not grit is necessary for captive birds.

Given that grit’s main function is to aid in the removal of husks and shells from seeds, doves and other birds that consume whole seeds are probably the best candidates to require grit in their diets.

Most parrots in the psittacine kingdom can use their beaks to scrape off the shells and husks. These species do not need grit in their diets as a result. Canaries, finches, and other passerine birds can usually break off the shells with their beaks and do not usually require grit to aid in digestion. Additionally, as previously stated, grit is unnecessary for birds fed pellets.

It’s up to you whether or not to feed your bird grit. Numerous birds have gone decades without consuming any grit in their lives. Grit is not necessary for a healthy diet when the animal is fed an easy-to-digest meal.

Make careful to give grit sparingly to your bird only if you think it will benefit it or if your veterinarian has suggested it to help with digestive issues. Don’t just pour grit into a cup and give your bird free rein. Over-ingestion of grit has caused intestinal obstructions and impactions. One recommendation is to give very little grit—between 1/8 and 1/2 teaspoon—every two years. (Yes, every 2 years). There’s not much, if any, need because insoluble grit will stay in the gizzard for months or years. Every few weeks, some advise a small amount of soluble grit. To find out which is best for your particular bird, speak with your veterinarian.

Grit – What is it?

Grit is made primarily from ground up minerals and sand. Certain substances utilized are insoluble and incapable of being broken down. These include silicates and sandstone. Grit is mostly composed of calcium carbonate, or limestone, which is soluble and therefore digestible. You can use crushed oyster shells or cuttlebones to make the soluble grit.

Offering sand from a sandbox or tiny pieces of gravel is not the same as providing grit for birds, which is a specially made product. If you intend to feed grit to your bird, make sure you purchase manufactured grit from a reliable supplier. Lead contamination from improperly collected oyster shells has been reported in a few cases. Contamination is unlikely if you only buy reliable brands.

The Purpose of Grit

Birds utilize grit to help break down whole, intact seeds. The fibrous coating of seeds is difficult for birds’ digestive enzymes to break down, but they are effective at breaking down the seed’s inside. Whole seeds, like sunflower seeds, have fibrous hulls that function as a barrier to keep digestive enzymes from getting to the nutrient-rich seed inside.

Grit helps the digestive enzymes in the ventriculus grind and wear away the seed’s outer shell, exposing the seed’s valuable interior. It is unknown if birds use grit for any other reason at this time.

Two distinct categories of materials are referred to as “grit”: soluble grit and insoluble grit.

This type of grit, known as insoluble grit, is used to break down unhulled seeds and is made up of tiny stones like sandstones and silicates. Such grit is necessary for birds that eat the entire seed, like pigeons and doves. Insoluble grit cannot be broken down by the body and will stay there until it is eliminated.

Organic soluble grit is made of crushed shells, like oyster shells, or cuttlebone. Soluble grit is mostly limestone (calcium carbonate). There is minimal chance of it building up in the digestive system because proventriculus acids readily break it down. Soluble grit is a source of calcium, but it doesn’t really help with whole seed digestion. Furthermore, feeding soluble grit from areas with contaminated waters has been linked to reports of heavy metal toxicity.


What birds don’t need grit?

In the wild some birds eat sand and tiny pieces of gravel to help break down indigestible items like hard seed husks. If you have a species of bird that knows how to crack seeds – such as parrots and finches – then stop feeding grit to your birds. Parrots and finches do not need grit.

Which wild birds need grit?

Who Needs Grit? Since the primary purpose of grit is to help remove husks and shells from seeds, birds that ingest whole seeds, like doves, would likely be the best candidates for needing grit in their diets.

Why do some birds need grit?

Birds do not have teeth and thus cannot chew. The bird’s gizzard helps grind up seed that is swallowed. To accomplish this grinding process, “grit” is a required nutrient. There are several forms of grit available.

Is grit necessary for finches?

Many avian vets now recommend no grit even for finches, as they do hull their seeds (grit is essential for doves and pigeons, for example, because they swallow seeds whole and need the grit to help hull the seeds).