Long gone are the days when it was considered appropriate to feed pet parrots nothing but seeds and human food. Seeds are essentially junk food for birds. They are relatively high in fat and low in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A and D, calcium, and certain amino acids. Not only is a steady diet of seeds not healthy for a bird, it can cause disease in the long run. As such, it is now felt that seeds are good for treats and training aids, but not for the main course. Birds who eat well are healthier, live longer, have higher activity levels, and enjoy better plumage than birds who eat a poor diet.
The mainstay of a pet bird’s diet (approximately 80% of the food consumed) should be a premium commercial pellet supplemented with vegetables and a small amount of fruit. The pellets themselves are made of vegetables, fruits, grains and seeds. Because all the ingredients are mixing together during the manufacturing process, birds can’t pick out their favorite items and as such won’t develop nutritional imbalances. Pellets are available to suit any pet bird now as they come in many sizes and varieties. While providing significantly improved nutrition compared to seeds, pellets are also superior to fresh produce as they can be easily stored without fear of decay.
Occasionally sharing some of your healthy food is good for your bird’s health both from a nutritional point of view as well as for bonding and training. That being said, it’s important not to offer food that has been in or near your mouth or take food that has been in your parrot’s mouth. As stated above, commercial pellets are an excellent base that should be supplemented with a variety of vegetables and sparing amounts of fruit. However, your bird will also benefit from and enjoy moderate amounts (less than 10% of total amount eaten daily) of healthily prepared pasta, beans, eggs, brown rice, pine nuts, and some unsalted nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and macadamia; however, beware the high fat content of most nuts. The amounts of these feeds that are appropriate to feed vary by species of bird, age and health status, so it’s best to check with your veterinarian about the specific amounts for your pet. While it’s often tempting, avoid feeding peanuts as well as processed, salty, fatty, or sugary foods. These items can have serious long-term health effects for your bird.
In the wild birds spend many hours seeking food and water, and interacting with members of the flock. In our homes they usually spend very little time looking for food, and often their flock members (humans) are out of the house for many hours of the day. As such, I recommend that you work towards incorporating captive foraging into your bird's life. In this process, birds have to work for their food via the use of various home-made and commercial foraging toys. This will increase the bird's active time during the day and decrease the risk of certain behavioral problems.
Birds require vitamin A to keep their immune systems strong. Vitamin A helps prevent bacterial infections, and yet vitamin A deficiency is unfortunately all too common in pet birds. Birds without enough vitamin A don’t have enough protective mucous lining their respiratory tract and are less able to fight off bacteria and fungi. The sinus cavity and respiratory systems are the most common places for these infections. Signs of bacterial infections include sneezing, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, swelling around the eyes and cere, lethargy, inappetence, weight loss, and bad breath. Lack of vitamin A can also affect other vital organ systems such as the bowel and kidneys.
Before pellets were readily available, it was commonplace to supplement birds’ diets with a powder or liquid vitamin A. However, this approach was only variably effective owing to breakdown of the vitamin and unreliable consumption of the vitamin by the birds.
Supplementation is unnecessary, and may be dangerous, for birds whose base food is a balanced and fortified pellet; it is yet another reason to work towards converting your bird to a pelleted diet.
In addition to the vitamin A provided in pellets, you will also be providing supplementation when you feed your bird fresh vegetables with vitamin A, such as: the dark leafy greens like broccoli, kale, dandelions, and spinach (although spinach should be given in limited amounts) as well as carrots and yams. Egg yolks and fresh or dried chili peppers also have significant amounts of vitamin A. Most birds like scrambled eggs, and frozen vegetables that don’t have spices or added ingredients are an easy way to give your bird vegetables. Remember to keep the amount of egg fed to a minimum as egg yolks are high in fat and cholesterol.
Foods to Avoid
While our birds can eat much of what we eat, in limited amounts, some of the items that your bird should not have are:
- Onions and garlic (small amount may be safe, but best avoided)
- Foods with sugar, salt, oils or fats
- Dairy (yogurt and hard cheese are okay in small amounts)
In addition to avoiding the above foods, all fresh fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed, as for human consumption, to reduce the risk of infection with bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella.
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