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Nutrition And Diet For Pet Birds And Parrots

THE KEY to a well-balanced diet for pet birds and parrots is VARIETY. Parrots need a good variety of seeds, fruits, nuts, veggies, pastas, beans, rice, meats, dairy, natural juices, breads, etc. to stay healthy and happy. One should NOT depend on any ONE FOOD for a complete and well-balanced diet, and varied offerings should be rotated into the daily diet.

The "base" diet should make up about 50-60% of the total, and usually consists of a good seed mixture plus a formulated food (pellets) in a 50/50 ratio. "Seed" mixtures containing dried fruits, nuts, veggies, peppers, etc. are the best choice. A mix of whole nuts, dried fruits, and veggies, similar to "trail mixes" for humans, can also be added to the seed mixes or offered separately. Finally, a quality pelleted food, such as Harrison's, Roudybush, or Scenic can be added to the seed mix (approx. 50/50 mix), or offered in a separate feeder. The remainder of the diet should consist of fresh fruits, juices, veggies, pastas, beans, rice, natural cereal grains, meats, dairy, etc. These choices should always be fresh and natural foods, and heavily processed foods with lots of additives (NO MSG!), junk foods, fast foods, etc. should be avoided. Many parrots love chicken, and will break up the bigger bones to lick the marrow. Other meats and fish can be also be given. Always be sure to check the special needs for a specific species (eg., Lories are fruit and nectar feeders, and seeds should NOT be given. Certain fruits must also be avoided).

Pelleted Foods
The argument for pelleted foods is that they provide a more complete nutrition than the seed-mixtures, which are lacking in some of the essential nutrients and minerals that pet birds need to stay healthy. Some ads even hint, or outright state, that the pellets are the ONLY food your bird needs to stay healthy. The pelleted foods are scientifically formulated and tested, manufacturers say, and are therefore the best choice for complete bird nutrition and good health. Many veterinarians also recommend the use of pelleted foods for birds. There are also many who argue that pelleted foods should not be used at all, and can cause serious problems in some cases. They are concerned about the quality of ingredients, chemicals and additives, and not enough research into possible side effects. Many seed mixes from the major bird food suppliers also contain pellets, so check label/ingredients if you do not want your birds to have pellets. Harrison's, Scenic, and Roudybush are among the best choices, using high quality ingredients and avoiding harmful chemical additives.

Most experts agree that the best way to go for good nutrition is a VARIETY of fresh, natural offerings, from seed-mixtures to fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and juices, as well as some "people" foods like rice, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, bread, crackers, pasta, and unsweetened, natural cereal grains. So don't rely on pellets and seeds alone, and give your birds the variety they need and deserve! I would suggest that if you have concerns about pelleted foods, that you research the issue and decide for yourself whether to use them or not.

Vitamins and Minerals
Avoid overfeeding your birds, and make sure they get plenty of exercise. A good vitamin and mineral supplement is also recommended. You can use the poultry vitamins that come in a "sandwich size" bag in powdered form. The bag will say "Poultry Vitamins" or "Poultry Vitamins with Minerals and Electrolytes", and the cost is around $4 per bag. Empty the contents (a white or yellow powder) into a storage container, and keep it in your freezer. Add a very small "pinch" of the powder into the water dish, and stir to dissolve the powder. The powder should last you many months, depending on how many birds you have. You can usually get these vitamins at a farm feed/supplies store. Adding these vitamins every other day should be sufficient.

Another important thing to remember is to change the birds' water frequently during the day and before bedtime, and to keep their feeding dishes as clean as possible. The dishes should be bleached in a MILD water/bleach solution every week or so, but be sure to rinse them VERY thoroughly afterwards. I usually use anti-bacterial dish soap for the daily cleanings, or will sometimes just put them in the dishwasher. A water and vinegar solution is also used by some parrot owners to clean the cage, perches, and other bird items. A good drying in the sun will also help to kill bacteria on many items.

Linda Solomon, of The Parrolet Parlor, sent us this information about the importance of regular disinfecting of the food and water dishes:

"Water containers, whatever kind you may use, MUST BE DISINFECTED at least once a week with a strong disinfectant, and DO NOT use sponges to clean anything at all. Sponges take a long time to dry and bacteria sets in. If you use a water cooler, it has to also be disinfected because bacteria sets in. If you don't disinfect the crocks or water dishes in the cages at least weekly, bacteria sets in.

"Two of my parrotlets just went through one of these bacteria infections even though we were "thinking" we were doing it right. We used a sponge, didn't clean the water cooler often enough, and as a result the water had this bacteria in it and we lost one of our parrotlets, and the other, most valuable mutation, almost died as well. It was a very expensive lesson learned. Most expensive was the loss of one of our beloved babies that we hold dear to our hearts, and then the pocket expense of over $300 to find out what the culprit was:


"The most offensive enemy is the sponge, then the cooler and then the crocks, but the crocks because of the contaminated water from the cooler."

DO NOT, under any circumstances, give your parrots alcoholic drinks, avocado, large amounts of salt, chocolate or products with chocolate, or caffeine products (coffee, soft drinks, colas, chocolate milk with caffeine, etc.). Most birds seem to really like sweet tea, but give VERY small amounts only, if at all. Avoid all carbonated beverages.

Also, Chinese food usually contains MSG, which has been shown to be harmful and dangerous to birds. Some Pizzas may also contain MSG. Many of the foods from "fast food" restaurants are very heavily seasoned, fatty and greasy, and should be given only in very small amounts, if at all. Also, be sure to check canned and frozen foods, box foods, sauces and mixes, etc., for the above ingredients like MSG and salt.

All these are all harmful, and some, like avocado and chocolate, can even be deadly to your bird! Birds can eat a large variety of people food, but the less "processed" the food is, the better. Ready made foods, in whatever form, are usually heavily processed, and not only lack good nutrition, but contain all sorts of chemicals like preservatives, food colorings, and taste enhancers. Keep things on the fresh and natural side, and you won't likely go wrong.