The importance of green seed in the nitrogen nutrition of the Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata

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Abstract

Abstract Australian grass-finches are widely reported to consume large quantities of green seed when it becomes available, and the opportunistic breeding of wild Zebra Finches in the arid zone has been correlated with the occurrence of rain. In this study, green and ripe seeds were harvested from seven pasture and weed grasses grown in experimental plots and, along with three cereal flours and whole-egg powder, were analysed for the amino-acid composition of their protein. The relative levels of ten amino acids essential in the diets of growing birds were compared between samples using a cluster analysis dendrogram generated from Raabe's Similarity Index. The protein of all green seeds clustered with whole egg, and away from all but one of the ripe seeds and seed products. Green and ripe seed profiles were found to be significantly different by a two-sample multivariate test of significance (Hotelling's T2). Histidine, lysine, phenylalanine and threonine were the amino acids most different. Of these four amino acids, lysine and threonine (along with methionine) were potentially limiting in ripe seeds when compared with whole-egg protein. In green seeds, lysine was only marginally limiting, threonine was no longer limiting, but methionine was still limiting when compared with whole-egg protein. These results indicate that the benefit of green vs ripe seed in the diet of breeding Zebra Finches is partly a higher level of the limiting essential amino acid, lysine, and partly a higher intake and throughput of soft green seed and consequent greater extraction of limiting essential amino acids.

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