Everybody has their opinion on bird diets and parrot nutrition, so it stands to reason that I have an opinion as well. I am a Certified Avian Specialist, not a vet. I would also like to warn you that I am not a nutritionist, nor have I done any double-blind scientific-analytical research on the subject of parrot nutrition.
What I can offer is over 20 years of experience in observing how birds have handled different foods over time, and by asking our customers a lot of questions about their birds. From this foundation, I have formed an “educated” opinion as to the “do’s” and don’ts” of avian (psittacine) diets and parrot nutrition.
The Role of Balanced Bird and Parrot Nutrition
There is a Monty Python skit that best illustrates how a bird chooses to eat: there is a large gentleman sitting at a table, and a waiter comes over and asks what he would like to eat, to which he responds, in a deep, British voice, “The lot.” That sums up what birds want to eat – everything on the menu! However, we are entrusted with giving them only what is healthy for them, and it is my hope that after reading this brief article you will be better able to do just that.
One of the worst diets one can feed would consist solely of oil seeds such as sunflower or safflower. Not only does a diet high in fat lead to a reduction in water intake and small compact stool, but it also leads to liver disease, feather discoloration, and aggressive behavior. The above diet is even worse if salted nuts and seeds are used. I have seen quite a few birds in the wild, and I have yet to see dried sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts as I walk in the rainforest.
In the wild birds eat soil, bugs, leaves, berries, flowers, nuts, eggs, and vegetable matter. Also, there has been a lot of debate and questions about birds and dairy products with lactose. Birds lack the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in milk that is normally used in human bodies as a source of “brain food.”
For proper parrot nutrition, you should not feed excess amounts of milk, cheese, or ice cream to your bird since they derive absolutely no nutrition from it. (Dr. Adrian Gallagher, “Avian Nutrition” Parrot Society of Australia). In other words, your parrot is filling up with food that can not be used as fuel, which will result in a fat, malnourished bird.
Furthermore, although moist foods are enjoyed by parrots, they can not be left out for more than one to two hours since they harbor large amounts of bacteria. Eggs, fruits, veggies, soaked or sprouted seeds, table food, and special cooked diets for parrots all should be removed within two hours of being offered. Regardless of what certain vets will tell you if you are feeding your bird a good pelleted or extruded diet, to try to achieve proper parrot nutrition, I think it is cruel to ONLY offer the pellets to the bird and nothing else.
Bringing Variety to Parrot Nutrition
Birds are foragers in the wild, let them have some fun and variety! Offer another, smaller bowl of grains, dried fruits, nuts, cooked and dried beans, pumpkin seeds, dried corn, or many other non-oily seeds as a healthy respite from the monotony of just pellets.
Also, they love cooked pasta, chicken, chicken bones, cooked eggs, and many other healthy table foods, so go ahead, and share! I guarantee you will have a happier, healthier bird as a variety of foods is great for parrot nutrition. And yeah, I know your bird just LOVES coffee, but don’t give them any – it actually removes nutrients from their body (as well as being toxic). Absolutely NO chocolate or avocado, as it will kill your bird!
Since the exact diet eaten in the wild can not be duplicated, major food companies have been doing research on what it is that parrots require in terms of protein, fat, and vitamins. “One thing is clear with both birds and humans – amino acids are required to be in proper balance to maximize the energy derived from the proteins eaten. The larger the number of different grains, legumes, nuts, and other protein sources the better the balance of amino acids will be.” (Mark Hagen, research paper, 1998).
Vitamins: The Pillars of Comprehensive Parrot Nutrition
Moderation is the key, stay away from an all-oil seed diet, and serve many beans, grains, and nuts. Sounds pretty healthy, right? Well, no less than six different companies make their own pellets (a little steam and a lot of pressure, making dense, fragile pieces) or extrusions (cooked and vitamins added later, a bit softer and do not explode when parrots bite into them) that have a combination of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins mainly consisting of A, D3, and E. I won’t go into how all the vitamins do what to which organ, but I will list a few facts about each of these major vitamins.
VITAMIN A: Essential for parrot nutrition. Many young birds have vitamin A deficiency, and interestingly enough, seeds are extremely low in vitamin A. All formulated diets have vitamin A.
VITAMIN D3: This is 30-40 times more potent than D2. However, sunlight is needed to convert the vitamin D3 into a form that is usable – normally one to two hours of natural, unshielded (i.e. no glass or plexiglass) sun per day is sufficient (watch for signs of over-heating) or three to four hours of artificial light, at least 5000K containing both UVA and UVB rays (otherwise known as full-spectrum fluorescent lights).
Signs of vitamin D deficiency:
- soft-shelled eggs
- egg binding
- leg weakness/bent bones in young birds.
Give them the sunlight!
VITAMIN E: A great anti-oxidant that prevents the fats stored in the body from becoming rancid, and aids in bird reproduction. Almonds and whole grains are great sources of vitamin E.
Deficiencies of Vitamin E result in 1. Splayed legs 2. uncoordinated movements 3. infertility.
Hopefully, this very basic bird nutrition summary helps you raise a healthier bird!
by Richard Horvitz, owner of Golden Cockatoo in Deerfield Beach, Florida
If you’re having issues with your parrot’s behavior, go read this article now!