Pet Bird Nutrition
What should you feed your bird?
Unfortunately, poor nutrition can be a significant contributing factor in the development of disease and shortening the life span of pet birds in captivity. For most pet bird owners, the selection of an appropriate food can be a difficult task due to the large assortment of commercial foods on offer at pet stores and online.
Most owners are mistakenly under the impression that most captive parrots require a diet made up predominantly of seeds, dried fruits and nuts. In fact, most of these commercial seed mixes are deficient in many important vitamins and minerals needed for daily health. This includes vitamins A, D, and E as well as calcium, which is important in growing birds and egg laying females. We also find that a diet of mostly seeds and nuts is very high in fat.
“A seed-based diet for your bird is like a candy-based diet for you.” ZuPreem Food
In the wild, birds spend large amounts of their day flying and foraging for food so are very active and probably require these higher calorie foods. In captivity however, their pet counterparts are often kept within a cage for most of the day with little opportunity for exercise and which leads to many birds become overweight or obese in captivity.
In general, we recommend feeding approximately 80% formulated pellets with 20% healthy table foods. Seeds and nuts are not recommended as a major part pet parrot diets. They should be reserved as treats or for use in foraging and positive reinforcement training. Pellets ideally should also be hidden throughout the cage and in toys to encourage natural foraging behaviors.
There are a variety of different pelleted foods for pet parrots that are available in stores and online. While there is some difference in quality between diets, any pelleted food would be healthier for your pet bird that an all seed diet. The pellets can vary in shape, size, texture and flavor. Therefore it is important to find a brand of pellets that your bird finds interesting and likes to eat.
Studies have shown that when parrots are given a choice in their diet, they choose unhealthy food options that are high in fat or deficient many vitamins, minerals and amino acids. This is why it can be difficult when owners are trying to introduce new, healthier food items including pellets and vegetables. Therefore, you should never change your bird’s diet without consultation with an avian veterinarian.
Lafeber Nutri-berries and Pellet-berries:
Nutri-berries and pellet-berries are a novel way to help transition birds to pellets. The manufacturer has coated the seeds and pellets in vitamins, amino acids and minerals and shaped them into balls. The seed-based nutri-berries are still very high in fat but make great treats and foraging items. The pellet based pellet-berries can be used to introduce birds to pellets, once they have been eating nutri-berries.
Some birds love to destroy and crumble the berries, while others love ingredients inside. Even smaller birds like parakeets can learn to eat the berries. If you find your bird is a bit intimidated by them, you can simply break them into smaller pieces.
Healthy table foods:
Select supplemental table foods from the list:
- Vegetables and Greens: Dark leafy green vegetables are an excellent choice. Options include broccoli, kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, beet greens and dandelion greens. Dark yellow or orange vegetables such as carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes and squash. Birds also like corn, green beans, and legumes (cooked).
- Grains, Breads and Cereals: Whole grain bread, cooked brown rice, pasta and nutritious cereals (no or low sugar), other whole grains (quinoa). Seeds are also part of this category, but should be limited they are high in fat.
- Meat and Fruit: These foods can be offered in small amounts. Examples include cooked lean meats such as chicken or fish. Cooked eggs are also a favorite, with or without the shell and provide a great source of calcium. Fruits that are full of nutrients include berries, mango and papaya.
- Not recommended but can be fed sometimes without incident: Certain plants including tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, rhubarb and mushrooms. In this case the fruit is safe but the plants themselves are toxic. Grit; most parrots do not require grit in their diet and can over indulge if sick. Dairy products because studies have shown that birds cannot digest lactose. Since not all dairy products contain lactose, some hard cheeses and yoghurts can be fed as an occasional treat in smaller amounts.
Foods to avoid:
Avocado, onion and garlic are toxic to many birds. Other human table foods that should be avoided include chocolate, fruit pits and apple seeds, high-fat/high-salt/high-sugar foods, sugar-free candy (xylitol).
Diets for special species:
- African Grey Parrots require additional calcium in their diets and current research suggests exposure to full spectrum UV lighting is important as well. Some pelleted foods are made specifically for African Grey Parrots with added calcium.
- Lories and Lorikeets need special diets, which include nectar type formula. There are some pelleted diets available but it is unclear at this time how nutritionally complete these diets are.