Many people will hear the term “softbill” applied to birds and may assume that it means the bird's beak is soft, however this is an incorrect assumption. The term softbill actually refers to the foods a certain bird eats, while parrots eat hard food such as nuts, and other birds eat things such as seeds, the softbill birds eat soft foods, fruits, insects, and such. Some softbills feed on nectar, and as pets require very special care in regards to feeding.
Many people enjoy keeping softbills as pets, however they are a bit more demanding in terms of feeding because most of their food is perishable and freshness can be an issue. In general food that is not fresh should not be kept.
Softbill Bird Food
Each softbill species will have a specific diet, and each bird will have a few personal favorites. Anyone who keeps a softbill bird as pet should become familiar with what their bird likes, and does not like, and should not try to vary the diet too much from what the bird prefers.
Types of Food for Softbills
With the exception of the chicks and mice, all softbill birds will require different amounts of the foods listed here, some require more of one than the other.
Fruit – All fruits are fine for softbills with the exception of the avocado which may be too fatty for some softbills. Fruits should be washed and cut into bite sized pieces. Bananas and oranges should be fed in moderation only; bananas being fattening, and oranges causing indigestion problems in the smaller birds.
Nectar – Can be purchased as a powder fed with a nectar feeder. It is very important the nectar feeder be washed daily. The feeding tube itself should be carefully cleaned as fungus can grow within it.
Insectile Mixture – These come in different grades, from fine for smaller birds, to coarse, for the larger ones. Special insectile mixtures are available for toucans, containing less iron than would be fed to other birds.
Insects – Insects can be purchased live at many pet supply stores, a person can raise their own, or collected from the yard as field plankton (only if you know chemicals have not be used). Live meal worms can be fed in a bowl, but those insects that will crawl away can be hand fed, which also help to “tame” your bird.
Meat – Some softbills, such as toucans and barbets enjoy meat. This should be fresh lean ground beef or sliced beef heart, minced into small pieces.
Boiled Egg – Hard boiled eggs can be given as a weekly treat. The shell can be washed and crushed to add calcium to the diet.
Spongecake or Bread – Can be soaked with nectar and crumbled up, and can be fed daily to all types of softbills. Any uneaten spongecake or bread should be removed within 8 hours.
Chedder Cheese – Small amounts of cheddar cheese may be crumbled up and added to the food mixture to help add protein, calcium, and Vitamin D, to the diet.
Chicks and Pinkies – Some softbills, such as the rollers, hornbills, and toucans, will enjoy dead day old chicks or pinkie mice. The mice may be purchased at pet supply stores, and the chicks may be purchased at a hatchery.
Types of Diet
Some softbill birds are omnivores, depending on the species 50 to 75% of their diet should be fruits, with the rest being the above mentioned items (everything from insects to cheese, few will need the chicks or mice). These foods can be mixed together for feeding. Hornbills and Myna birds are generally in this group.
Nectivorous softbill birds require a diet consisting mostly of nectar, with about 30% of their diet being fruits and another 5 to 10% being meats and insects. The nectar is fed in a special feeder which must be washed daily. Humming birds and sunbirds are this type of softbill.
Insectivore softbills may be fussy and often only eat live food. You can purchase an insectile mixture. They can also have meat, and boiled eggs. This would be some rollers and Pittas.
Carnivorous softbills are often fed dead, day old chicks which can be purchased at a hatchery. They may have a small amount of fruit and insects as well. Some rollers and kingfishers fall into this group.