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 tocanaries. It is an inexpensive source of calcium and other minerals.Birds enjoy the activity, too, of pecking it, and whetting theirbeaks on it. Birds need calcium year-round, and it is especiallyimportant for laying hens to get as much as they want.

The cuttlebone is the skeleton of the cuttlefish, which is a memberof the cephalopod family, and a cousin of the octupus and othersquids. This lightweight internal shell helps the creatures stayafloat. Cuttlefish live for only a few years and die after breeding.Commercial fishermen harvest the cuttlefish primarily for food, andthe 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 ametal holder, whose prongs can be bent to attach it to the birdcage.Most canary owners do not use this holder, because birds get theirfeet caught - and cut - on the edges. Instead, some use a clip typeholder. The clips are usually plastic, and some come with their ownlittle perch. Other birders drill a small hole in the cuttlebone and putthrough a wire, like a small electric wire. (Take care that your wirecan'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 theshape is about the size of a large bird, some birds are intimidatedand hesitate to approach it.

If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, turn it over. Usually they likethe lighter colored, flakier side more than the yellower harder side.

If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, try soaking it. There may besalt or a "fishy" residue that makes it taste funny.

If the bird still ignores the cuttlebone, just scrape a bit onto his foodabout once a week, sort of like you salt your own food. Hold the boneover some treat food, and scratch it with a knife.

Some interesting facts about cuttlefish, Sepia officialis, a mollusc:

Cuttlefish are considered one of more intelligent of sea creatures.Their eyes, brains, and nervous systems are quite highly evolved andsophisticated.

The live in the oceans, in reefs and around rock outcroppings.Usually they grow to about 1 or 2 feet long. Sepia apama, the giantcuttlefish, lives near Australia and grows to the size of a dog.

Cuttlefish are cephalopods, which means head-foot, because we see twoparts to their bodies: the head and the ten tentacles. Unlike othermolluscs (clams, oysters, and snails), their shell is internal. It isbouyant and helps them stay afloat.

The cuttlefish can blend almost invisibly with their background.Their skin is covered with small sacks, chromataphors, that canchange colors instantly.

They have a small jet just below the tentacles. They can expel inkthrough here to confuse a predator. This ink leaves a nasty stain!Their name, sepia, is also the name of a dye made from the ink.

They also use this jet to squirt water, so they can dart out andsnatch prey. With this jet propulsion and the highly evolved flexibleribbon fins on each side of the body, a cuttlefish can maneuver quitewell, hover, zoom about, and stop and start suddenly.

The cuttlefish communicate with a highly elaborate series of armmovements and color changes. During mating, the males do quite adance for the females, waving their arms and flashing their brightestcolors. Then they lock tentacles, and he passes her a "gift wrapped"packet of sperm, which she guides into her body. The females layabout 25 eggs, leaving them pushed into coral or rock. She neverlooks back. The young hatch entirely capable of fending for themselves,just a smaller version of their parents.

Most molluscs have a beak, like a bird's. The cuttlefish's beak ispowerful, and shaped like a parrot's. Its front tentacles arespecialized for feeding. They grab crustaceans, then crack them toeat.

Cuttlefish are territorial, often spending their entire lives nearone coral reef or one rock outcropping. They live a few years, anddie shortly after breeding.

Safe Cuttlebone Holder Sources
Pet Bird Express(800) 729-7734
Sunshine (owned by Higgins)(800) 878-2666

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