Practical - Index > Companion Animals > Pet Care > Parrots > food

NUTRITION

Your bird has nutritional needs that go far beyond just seeds and water. In the wild, birds only eat dry seeds if absolutely nothing else is available, such as during times of drought. Wild parrots will eat carrion, fruit, vegetables, fish, and anything they can find. Your bird shouldn't be offered carrion, but it needs a wide variety of fresh foods to supplement the seeds and/or pellets you give it daily. For the absolute best advice on feeding your particular species of new bird, consult your breeder AND your avian veterinarian.

FRESH FOODS

An extra dish can be placed in the cage with the daily "goodies" in it. The "goodies" can be shredded meat or pasta leftover from last night's dinner, chopped up fruit or vegetables (no salt or butter, please), hard-boiled egg, peanut butter, bean sprouts, even torn up bread which has been moistened with fruit juice. Be sure not to leave moist food in the cage for more than 4 to 5 hours, as it will spoil. Anything you would eat is safe for your bird, with the exception of avocado, which has been shown to be poisonous to birds.

For suggestions on things to make especially for your bird, see the recipes section.

Try to avoid feeding heavily salted, sweet or fatty foods-a little once in a while is OK, but don't make it a regular part of the diet. NEVER give your bird anything with alcohol in it. One teaspoon of alcoholic beverage can kill a bird, as their livers cannot process alcohol. It is all right to allow the bird to sample food from your plate, if you want to let the bird eat at the table. But don't let the bird eat from your mouth, or off a utensil you have already put in your mouth. The bacteria in your mouth can make your bird sick, as their bodies have different natural bacteria than ours.

Millet spray (millet seed which is still on the stems) is a good daily treat, and a source of entertainment. Millet spray is available at most pet stores, and is usually sold bulk-style (loose, not packaged). Buy millet spray which looks full and is not dusty-looking or bug-infested. Avoid the kind which is pre-packaged, as it is usually not fresh. Serve a three-to-four inch section every day. You can clip it onto the bars of the cage with an old-fashioned wooden clothespin (not the kind with the spring-your bird could be hurt if pinched in one), or just lay it on the floor, or in a treat dish. Special millet spray clips are available, but avoid the all-metal ones-they have dangerously sharp edges! You can also soak the millet spray in water overnight to soften it up before feeding it-many birds like it better this way.

Sprouted seeds are a good source of vitamins. You can sprout your own birdseed by placing two tablespoons of seeds in a clean jar, and tying several layers of clean cheesecloth over the jar top. Rinse the seeds with lukewarm water, and drain through the cloth. Continue rinsing till the water comes out clear. Set this jar near your sink (not in direct light), and rinse the seeds at least four times a day, more often if you think of it. In two or three days, the seeds will soften and start to sprout roots. Use them before they grow leaves. Do not serve them if they begin to smell bad. If the seeds never sprout, the whole batch of birdseed is dead, and should not be fed to the bird, as all the nutrition in the seeds comes from the living centers. Nutritionally speaking, feeding a bird dead seeds is like serving cardboard. It is a good idea to try to sprout some seeds from every batch you buy before feeding any to the bird.

VITAMINS

You may add vitamins which are made specially for birds to the bird's food. I don't put vitamins in the water. Adding vitamins, no matter whether liquid or powder, seems to make a scum on the water surface. Most birds won't drink scummy water (do you blame them?). Vitamins in the water also encourages bacterial growth, which can be dangerous to birds with weaker immune systems. The liquid vitamins work well on moist foods, like fruits. Look for the vitamins with the highest concentration of vitamin D3, Calcium, A, and E that you can find. Vitamins can help keep your bird's feathers in good condition, and help keep up its overall health. I have stopped using commercial vitamin mixes in favor of Wheatgrass powder and Spirulina powder; both are all-natural food supplements, available at health food stores. I feel they are safer, as it isn't possible to overdose on these natural supplements, as it is with the commercial products. And the birds seem to enjoy the taste of the natural products, too.

WATER

Your bird must have fresh water available at all times. If you live in a house with older pipes, it may be better to give the bird bottled water. If that's not an option, then it is good to let the water run for 3 to 5 minutes before filling the bird's dish, to allow the settled water to flush out. Some older pipes contain lead, which concentrates in the standing water. Repeatedly giving your bird this settled lead could inadvertently give it lead poisoning. If your bird is a "soup-maker" who puts all his food and toys into the dish, you might consider teaching him to drink from a water bottle instead of a dish.

CALCIUM

Calcium is another necessity. You may offer a cuttlebone (the oval shaped bone of the cuttlefish), or a calcium block, both of which you can get at most any pet store. If the bird does not chew on the bone (many don't care for the taste, and some just never learn what to do with it), scrape the soft surface of the bone with a knife over the dish of food till the food is covered with powder, every day. Birds who don't get enough calcium get soft bones, and female birds who are calcium depleted may die if they try to lay eggs. You may also get calcium powder supplements from your vet or from a health food store. You can use these on any soft moist foods.

GRIT

It is not necessary to include grit or gravel in your bird's diet. Some birds will eat too much grit, due to illness, boredom or nervousness, and will give themselves impacted intestines. In the wild, birds get grit from eating foods found on the ground, and it helps to grind up tough plant stems and insect shells. The diet your domestic bird should be getting from you is already soft enough to digest without additional help from grit or gravel.

SEEDS

When you choose a seed mix, pick one that is fresh, with no small bugs or worms in the bag. The worms are a natural part of the seed plants, but some factories can't seem to clean them all out before packaging. These worms will turn into small moths and invade your whole house. Avoid purchasing seed in boxes, as you cannot see what condition the seed is in before buying. As a precaution, ANY seed mix you buy should be frozen for 24 hours before opening the bag. Choose a mix without sunflower seeds. These seeds are not very nutritious, but birds love them, and will usually eat them to the exclusion of every thing else, if given the chance. Save sunflower seeds for special treats that you hand to the bird, perhaps as a reward for trick training.

When your bird eats seeds, it shells the tough outer seed hull off before swallowing the inside part. As the birds usually eat leaning over the dish, these hulls will soon cover the top of the food. Whenever you think of it, you should take the dish out and blow gently across it to blow off the seed hulls. Some birds never realize that there is more food under the layer of hulls, and will go hungry. Other birds learn to rake their beak through the dish to uncover more food, and make an awful mess in the process. If you don't fill the dish more than full, this problem is somewhat reduced, but not eliminated.

PELLETED DIETS

Pelleted diets are considered to be the diet of the future for birds. Research has shown that seeds alone are not nutritious enough for birds to thrive on. Giving a bird a varied diet of seeds and goodies is better, but the nutritional quality of food offered is not always the same from day to day. Many companies have produced pellets (similar in appearance to dry dog food) which are more nutritionally complete than seeds, and healthier for birds. But some companies did not do any research into the nutritional requirements of birds before producing their pellets-they just wanted to get a product on the market to compete for consumer cash. Choose a pellet that has been around for a long time, and has done LOTS of research on bird nutrition. Read the labels-some pellet manufacturers use a l lot more preservatives or artificial coloring than others. Use the one you feel most comfortable with. Ask your vet for help in choosing a pellet if you are confused by the selections.

You may need to special order pellets to get them, but I feel they are worth the trouble. Pellets have added protein, vitamins and minerals which are not in seeds, and are less messy, as there are no seed hulls to be discarded when the bird eats. There is no waste with pellets, as the bird can eat the entire pellet. If you choose to feed your bird pellets, you may alternate seeds for one day, and pellets for the next three days, or offer daily people food treats with the pellets, so the bird does not get too bored with its diet. If you plan to feed pellets, you can ask the breeder to wean your baby onto them so he is used to pellets before coming home with you.