Aw Nuts!!

No, this is not a dissertation on the famous comments of General Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne, when asked for his surrender during the Battle of the Bulge towards the end of World Was Two, but rather a look at an alternative food source/supplement for our finches!!

The "nuts" of this short piece is the oft overlooked seed pod of the native Casuarina and Allocasuarina tree groups. Regardless of the species that grows in your local area most Australian finches will relish the addition of these seeds - albeit as a treat rather than a staple – to their diet.
Large pods, small pods, medium pods it makes little difference as they all contain a quantity of seed that most finches will tackle.

The Casuarina and Allocasuarina trees themselves are denizens of Australia and the South Pacific region which are usually recognised by their distinctive needle-like "leaves" which, in fact, aren’t leaves at all!! Clear as mud?

If you are still confused then it is also the bearer of those remarkably sharp, round cones that I imagine every Australian child has either pelted at someone or had pelted at them selves – they sure do sting!
Whilst on the cones the trees that bear the smoother ones here in Tasmania are called "Bull-Oaks" and the trees with the sharp rasp-like cones are called "She-Oaks"
. Any species of the Casuarina family will provide you with an ample supply of seed stock for you birds.

Fig.3. Adult male by Foch Dowling.

Fig.4. Adult Females By ME!!

Once you have identified your "target" tree then simply gather a heap of cones from the trees remembering to ensure you leave a few for seed stock for the trees to regenerate next time a fire goes through! Now, when selecting cones just ensure that the valves on the cones haven’t ‘opened’. Each valve represents a closed receptacle for a seed and, if unopened, it means the seed is patiently waiting inside until you can prise it out for your finches.
Oh, and before I forget, the trees come in males and females (dioecious) so don’t be dispirited if you don’t find any cones to start with just simply keep looking for those ‘girl’ trees they’ll be lurking about there somewhere!!

Once you have bagged a goodly supply the next stage is relatively simple. You just spread the cones over any sort of an elevated fine bird wire rack and wait until the valves start to open. As the cones dry out the valves open releasing the seeds which fall into your waiting collection tray below.
I have read where people suggest popping the cones into an oven set on low heat as this will cause the cones to dry out much quicker and release the seed earlier but knowing my luck I’d forget them and start some major appliance fire!!
So I’ll stick to letting them dry out a tad more naturally!! Maybe you could just enquire carefully whether your partner would "mind" if you popped them inside near the heater to dry out but please remember from part one that they do sting when thrown at close range!!

Fig.5. Rack For Seed Drying. Fig.6. Close Up Of Winged Seed.

As many parrot keepers will be able to attest to the cones from the Casuarina tree make excellent playthings for many of the larger parrots and a friends African Greys gain great pleasure from tearing them to pieces and extracting the odd seed or three in the process!
The Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) is a threatened parrot species which is heavily dependant upon the seeds from the
Casuarina and Allocasuarina trees and it is surmised that the seeds have a high nutrient content - as near as I could find the seeds themselves are rich in Manganese and Iron. In the case of this species it appears that they favour certain trees from a stand so, taking this on board, make sure you gather a representative sample from the entire sample of cone bearing trees that are available – "monkey see, monkey do"!!

Fig.1. Tassy Pod on Right - Note Size!!!!

Fig.2. Open Pod On Left

I have heard of tales that the seeds tend to heighten aggression in captive finches but have not been able to confirm this one way or the other. If that is a worry for you then maybe feeding small quantities is the way to go.
I tend to use them as a supplement rather then a staple and have not seen any detrimental effects….yet! Stay tuned!
If you scan through the literature you will find various snippets extolling the virtues of this seed for finches – especially if you keep any members from the Australian Firetail family. The Beautiful firetail and Sydney Waxbill in particular appear to relish the inclusion of these seeds into their diet.

As a final word of warning as these trees are Australian natives please ensure the where you are collecting them is not in a National Park or in an area set aside for the Glossy Black Cockatoo – nothing more embarrassing than being "sprung" 20 foot up a Casuarina tree with a seed collecting bag around your neck by Yogi the Ranger in your local Park! Costly too I’d imagine.
I have fed the seed from two of the local species from Tasmania and the birds appeared to have no hard and fast preferences for either seed but if you have observed differently from mainland trees then let us know!

Off you go, make a collecting bag and gather a few cones as "bush tucker" for your finches – you’ll never know if ya don’t have a go AND they’re free!