Bird Diet Recommendations
Everyone knows that eating a good diet is one of the best things we can do to stay healthy and the same is true for our pet birds. The question that we must then ask is “What is the best diet for our birds?” Of course this will vary for the species in question but there is an unfortunate misconception out there that seeds are all a pet bird needs to stay healthy. This has led to many pet birds developing nutritional disorders and therefore, seeds have been implicated as a problem. It is true that in the wild, seeds are consumed by many species of birds but that is not all they eat. Parrots in the wild will eat various types of seeds, nuts, fruits, beans, flowers, and even foliage from plants. The varieties of seeds that are foraged for in the wild are numerous and different studies have shown birds to consume greater than 20 different seed types. In captivity many of our seeds mixes only have 5-7 different types of seeds.
So what’s the problem with all seed diets? Seeds are deficient in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, certain proteins, vitamin A, zinc and iron. Additionally, they are high in fat. Although, in the wild a bird may need this extra fat in its diet as a source of energy to fly and forage, there is a difference in the amount of energy that is required for a pet bird to get its food. Even if the pet bird is foraging for its food in its cage, they will still not expend as much energy as they would looking for food in the wild. Flying many miles a day in search of food will always require more energy than what is needed to live in captivity. Therefore, the energy requirement for pet birds should be lowered to reflect what they need as an individual. If a captive bird consumes a diet that is high energy like it does in the wild, but doesn’t expend that energy, it will gain weight and develop problems.
Many seed mixes, like this one here, do contain pellets. These pellets often go uneaten by the birds who will pick out the more fun to eat seeds, like a kid picking out the marshmellows in Lucky Charms cereal. Even when birds do eat the pellets in this mixes, they also end up eating way too many of the nutritionally incomplete seeds.
The deficiencies and excesses seen in all seed diets can led to numerous problems in the bird. Obesity and liver disorders are well documented. Atherosclerosis, a disorder resulting in clogging of the arteries, is being diagnosed more frequently and poor diets can influence its development. In addition, we see problems like respiratory disorders, kidney problems, and poor feathering and skin from inadequate diets. Reproductive disorders like poor shell quality, egg binding, and hypocalcaemia (low calcium in the blood) have all been seen in birds with all seed diets.
In order to avoid problems with an all seed diet, pellets were created to provide more balanced nutrition. There are many different brands available for birds. Some common brands that are recommended by many veterinarians include Harrisons, Roudybush, Lafebers, and Zupreem. It is generally recommended that most psittacine birds get about 80-90% pellets in their diet.
Pellets come in different sizes to suit the needs of many different bird species.
To round out their nutritional profile, it is best to provide fresh vegetables, fruits and grains as 10-20% of the diet. Examples of fresh vegetables to offer include squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, kale, mustard greens, cilantro and carrots. Fruits can include mangos, oranges, bananas, apples, pears, peaches, persimmons, and apricots. Grains that are healthy include rice, quinoa, and various types of beans. It is important for owners to make sure that when a bird is eating fresh foods it doesn’t eat just one or two items and ignore the rest. Variety is key in order to really get the most balanced nutrition. To try and avoid picky eaters, fresh food items can be offered in small quantities or chopped to a small size and mixed together. It is also important to note that things like avocados and pits of fruits should not be given to psittacine birds. Other foods to avoid include chocolate, candies, meats, cheese, and caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Although seeds and nuts can be offered they should be thought of more as treats. They can make wonderful training tools and it is often best to reserve their use for training sessions. There are some seed products available that make good treats or even good transition diets. Nutriberries and Avicakes are both products produced by Lafeber’s Bird Food Company that are recommended by many veterinarians as a seed source. The reason these products are superior to seed mixes is because of the way they are manufactured. With traditional seed mixes, when vitamins and minerals are added they are simply added to the top of the seed shell. When a bird eats the seed it only consumes the kernel and drops the shell on the ground. Therefore, all the good vitamins and minerals that were added get discarded. In addition, birds can be picky eaters and they may just select seeds they enjoy the most, leaving the other varieties behind. With nutriberries and avicakes, the shell of the seed is removed, leaving just the kernel. These are then coated with vitamins and minerals and may have pellets or fruits mixed in with it. They are then stuck together and given to the bird to consume making it more difficult for the bird to pick out one or two favorite seeds.
Lafeber's Nutriberries can make great treats and healthier for birds than standard seeds or honey sticks.
We recognize that there are birds that seem to live long lives on bad diets. There have been numerous examples, of psittacines that lived on nothing but sunflower seeds and peanuts for over 20 years. What one must understand is that this is similar to a human who has consumed a diet that is mostly junk food for that long. Eventually, the problem of a poor diet catches up to the individual and it is not different in our companion birds. We think the single most important thing you can do to give your bird a healthful life is to start with a good nutritionally balanced diet. More on diet conversion can be found here.