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

Seven Layer Salad
by Pamela Clark

...this is a method for feeding a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with relative ease. I originally learned about this method of feeding from Jamie McLeod, who owns the Menagerie in Summerland, CA and I have modified it over the years for feeding my own flock.

Layered Fresh Food Mix and Diet Conversion

The longer I work with birds, both my own and those of my consulting clients, the stronger grows my belief that many behavior and health problems are a direct result of poor diet. It is true that no one yet knows the optimal diet for each species. However, certain health problems are emerging in parrots who eat either a 100% pelleted diet, or a diet devoid of fresh foods. It stands to reason that a parrot species that evolved to enjoy the best health eating fresh, raw foods plucked from nature would also enjoy the best health in captivity if fed a large portion of the diet in fresh foods as well. The following instructions will allow you to feed a fresh diet with minimal effort and convert any bird with as little trauma as possible to a fresh food diet. This diet has several advantages, not the least of which is that I can feed fresh foods to over 40 birds on a daily basis, while only chopping fruits and vegetables once a week.

Once a week, I layer in plastic storage containers (I use seven 2-gallon containers since I'm feeding so many birds) the following:

Layer 1 (bottom layer) - chopped greens, which are varied each week. One week, I'll use collard greens and parsley and mustard greens, and the next I might use Swiss chard, kale and dandelion greens.

Layer 2 - chopped (1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes) green vegetables, including any of the following: Brussels sprouts, zucchini and other summer squash, jicama, red or green peppers, fresh hot peppers, chayote squash, green beans, fresh peas, cucumber, celery, anise root, etc.

Layer 3 - chopped broccoli and shredded carrots

Layer 4 - dry, uncooked pasta. This will absorb some of the moisture from the mix and soften nicely.

Layer 5 - cooked beans. I usually buy one of the 13 or 17 bean soup mixes, which I soak overnight, rinse, and then bring to a boil and cook for about 25 minutes, then drain.

Layer 6 - a mixture of chopped apples, oranges and whole grapes

Layer 7 - frozen mixed vegetables.

The containers are then placed in the refrigerator (don't freeze).

Issues of freshness: this mix stays fresh in these tubs for up to seven days for three reasons. First, layered salads stay fresher longer. Second, the orange juice filters down and slightly acidifies that mix. The frozen mixed vegetables placed on top super-cool the mix immediately (cold air sinks/warm air rises). I do also wash all the fruits, vegetables and greens with Oxyfresh Cleansing Gele, which not only gets them clean but has some anti-bacterial action.

Use: each morning, I empty out one container into a large mixing bowl. At that point, I usually add other foods that might not either hold up, or stay fresh in the layered mix, such as: soft fruits (blueberries, peaches, plums, kiwi fruits, melon, etc), sprouts, or cooked grains (amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, barley, etc). Sometimes, in order to generate a little excitement, I'll sneak in a package of pine nuts or walnut pieces. Usually, I feed nuts separately, but I like to use this fresh mix to surprise the parrots as well.

Once everything from the tub is completely mixed together, I put into another large bowl - eight scoops of this fruit and veggie mix, one scoop of a very clean, high quality seed mix and one scoop of pellets (either Foundation Formula, Scenic Diet, or Harrison's High Potency). This is then mixed together and fed to the birds.

This recipe can be adapted for any number of birds with a little creativity, by reducing either the number or size of the containers used or both. For just one bird, you can create two small containers. One container will keep for about three days, even after being opened and mixed up.

Advantages:

1. There's no need to chop fresh foods every day.

2. Parrots are very visual creatures. If you stick a bird feeder outside, it will take the wild birds at least two weeks to start to feed from it. When fruits and vegetables are fed singly, or in large pieces, or in small combinations, and you add something new, it is likely to be rejected solely on the basis of the fact that it is visually unfamiliar. When you feed a mix like this, you can put anything into it and it will be accepted because the appearance of the mix hasn't changed overall.

3. This mix is exciting for the birds, and allows them a foraging experience. They never know what they're going to find in their food dishes and show considerable interest when I feed them. A huge amount of variety can be achieved. Greens and the types of vegetables used vary from week to week. The pasta shapes are varied (alphabet, whole wheat, elbow, etc.). You can use other types of citrus instead of oranges, including grapefruit, lemons, tangerines, etc. Instead of grapes, you can substitute fresh blueberries and pitted ripe cherries, or fresh cranberries. Instead of the 17-bean mix, you can use a soak and cook mix. Instead of grated carrots, you can use cooked and chopped sweet potato or winter squash. The possible variety is endless. I also vary the type of seed I use. I buy the Volkman's brand, since it is so clean, but will use Hookbill Super one day, and Parrot Super the next, or sometimes canary seed, or a combination of seeds from the health food store (sesame, pumpkin, etc).

4. Parrots that won't eat pellets, often will when they are combined into this mix as directed above because (1) they are part of an exciting mix, and (2) they will be slightly softened by absorbing some of the moisture from the mix.

5. I leave this in the cages from 7:00 PM until 4:00 PM, which you can't do with mixes that have been frozen or cooked. Since the majority of the foods are neither cooked nor frozen, they stay fresher longer. Bacterial growth is increased by temperature, moisture, and the breakdown of cell walls. This mix tends to be relatively dry, because the pasta and pellets absorb the vast majority of the moisture. Further the cell walls in the fruits and vegetables are largely intact because they have not been broken down by either freezing or cooking. In hot weather, it tends to desiccate rather than spoil.

And lastly,
6. Seed junkies can easily by converted to a fresh food diet using this mix and a methodical approach, which I will outline below.

Converting a hard-core seed junkie to a fresh food diet:

1. Begin with four dishes in the cage - pellets of choice (no dyes or preservatives hopefully), a high quality seed mix, water and the fresh food mix. The latter will not be eaten for several weeks. Get over it. Serve this twice a day, in the AM and in the late afternoon or evening, for the sole purpose of creating a pattern of feeding and allowing the bird to get used to looking at it. Note: the fresh food mix should have a ratio of 50% seed and 50% fresh foods (pellets optional).

2. The day you see the bird exploring the fresh food mix in order to eat the seed out of it, you make the following change: In the morning, you remove the seed dish and have only three dishes in the cage - pellets, water and the fresh mix. In the evening, you again feed the fresh food mix, but give the seed dish back. We don't want a bird undergoing diet conversion to be hungry. A hungry, anxious bird does not make behavioral changes gracefully.

3. The day you see the bird with a piece of fresh food in his mouth, or observe that he has eaten some of it, then you eliminate the seed dish completely. From that point onward, you provide only three dishes - water, pellets, and the fresh mix that is 50% seed and 50% fresh foods.

4. A month later, and on each succeeding month, you decrease the amount of seed in the mix until it is down to between 10 - 20% of the mix. So, for instance, if you remove the seed dish on February 1, then on March 1, you will begin to feed a mix that is 40% seed and 60% fresh mix. On April 1, you will begin to feed 30% seed and 70% fresh foods. And so on.

I've converted many parrots who previously ate only seed very successfully using this method, including a 20-year-old Moluccan Cockatoo. The amount of seed can be decreased more quickly if the parrot is really eating the fresh foods well.