Proper and adequate avian nutrition combined with good husbandry is probably the single most important factor in insuring that your pet bird lives a long and healthy life.
The good husbandry aspect is very straightforward; supply your companion with
a roomy, clean environment with full spectrum lighting, plenty of toys, quality
time with you, regular veterinary care and most important of all plenty of mental
and physical stimulation. The proper and adequate nutrition aspect is more complicated
A sound nutritional program for all psittascine species, (with the possible exception
of the hyacinth macaw who lives almost exclusively on nuts in the wild), should
include fresh clean water, washed vegetables and fruit, grains, legumes, sprouts,
beans, nuts, pellets, people food, and limited amounts of seed. The basic nutritional
parrot's diet is similar to a human's macrobiotic or health food diet. However,
all species are not the same and some have special dietary requirements.
Fresh water should be given at least twice daily. I recommend that you boil all
water to be given to your birds. Fill a clean freshly washed gallon container with
boiled water and place in the refrigerator for future use. This is the simplest
way to provide safe drinking and bathing water for your birds. A container will
probably last almost a week. Many people always ask, "Can I give my bird bottled
or spring water?" I always say "no"! Spring water comes from a stream and is untreated,
there is no guarantee that it doesn't contain some harmful bacteria. I realize that
this thought is uncomfortable to some people, but there is a good possibility of
this happening. Why take the chance?
If you have to use tap water on occasion, always let the tap run for 2 - 3 minutes
first. Certain bacteria, such as psuedamonas live in most water pipes. This bacteria
does not routinely effect humans, but can be very harmful and sometimes deadly to
birds. Running the water helps to flush out the bacteria and gives your bird a better
chance of receiving clean uncontaminated tap water. Your pet's water should be clean
and free of additives! Do not add vitamins or supplements to the water unless instructed
to do so by an avian veterinarian. Put any additives on your bird's soft food or
feed it to them from a dropper or warmed and added to a small amount of juice or
oatmeal and fed from a small non-wax paper cup.
Vegetables add bulk and roughage to your pet's diet. They need plenty of roughage
to chew on. All vegetables should be washed with mild soap and scrubbed with a vegetable
brush. The following vegetables are safe and nutritious. It is just a basic list
and a good, safe place to start.
- Broccoli - whole vegetable
- Lettuce - romaine, chickory, boston, aruula, etc. Any but iceberg, which
has little or no nutritional value.
- Sweet potato - Raw or slightly microwaved (45-60 seconds per sweet potato).
It tastes sweeter that way, but is still crunchy and appetizing.
- Cauliflower - whole vegetable chopped up
- White potatoes - whole spud, chopped up. Remove all eyes, as they are poisonous.
- Squash - zucchini, acorn, spaghetti, butternut, yellow, pumpkin, etc. Any
portion of the squash is good, especially the seeds. They are high in silenium
and other healthy minerals.
- Melon - watermelon (pits are okay), canteloupe (rind is toxic), canary melon,
sabra melon, honeydew - the flesh is good, remove seeds and rind.
- Tomato - the tomato only, leaves and stem are toxic
- Carrots - whole plant is great!
- Beets- The whole plant served raw is supernutritious.
- Corn - On the cob, cut into 1 inch sections, no more than 2 sections per
bird daily. Corn can cause problems with proper calcium metabolism, so although
it is usually relished by all birds, it must be limited.
- Turnips- The turnip itself and the greens. The greens are rich in vitamin
- Kale- Rich in Vitamin A, E, K
- Watercress- Rich in vitamin A, C, E
- Collard Greens - Rich in vitamin A, C, Potassium, Calcium
- Dandelion - Rich in vitamin A. If you collect your own, make sure they are
- Chicory -Vitamin A
- Mustard Greens
- Cabbage - Cut horizontally to avoid long stringy pieces.
- Brussell Sprouts - Sprouts on the stalk can be hung in the cage as a perch
or food toy.
- Swiss Chard
- Beans- Beans will be covered in the following section in detail.
- Celery- peeled and cut up in samll horizontal pieces, so there are no long
stringy hard to digest pieces to obstruct digestion.
SPROUTS- Beans & Seeds
Sprouted beans and seeds are, in my opinion, the single most nutritious food that
you can feed to your birds. Fruits and vegetables are very nutritious, but once
they are cut open, they start losing nutritional value. A sprout on the other hand,
only becomes more nutritious as it continues to grow and is finally eaten. Sprouts
are full of nutritious enzymes that convert the stored energy in the bean or seed
into a positive nutritional cornucopia. Fatty sun and safflower seeds, when soaked
and sprouted, become a wonderful and integral part of a balanced diet. Dry sunflower
and or safflower seeds can be fed in small amounts, but the traditional seed mixture
diet is deadly! A diet rich in seeds can cause malnutrition and all its accompanying
bad side effects and disease.
Take part of a package of dried beans. Put a small amount of beans in a collander
or strainer and place the strainer in a small bowl. Cover the beans with about 2
inches of warm water. Let stand for about two minutes, then rinse. Repeat two or
three times, until the water in the bowl is clear when you lift the strainer out.
Rinse and refill. Let the beans soak in the water overnight or for about 8 hours.
Change the water after about 4 hours and repeat the process. After 8 hours drain
the beans. Put down paper towels and lay the beans out on them. Dry the beans thoroughly!!!
Refrigerate continuously, while soaking and until mixing with rice to be given to
the birds!!! The beans must not be allowed to get slimey. They must be totally dry
or the bird will get sick.!!! The beans will be cold and firm, but not slimey or
moldy. After 5 days, discard any soaked beans and make another batch. Most of the
beans will have started to sprout by this time. Mix with some rice and corn (fresh
from the cob or canned - fresh stays better), warm and serve.
Sprouted lima beans and navy beans are poisonous - do not use lima beans!!! The
following beans are good to use: pinto, black, lentils, pigeon, barley, whole green
peas not split, mung, kidney, garbanzo or chick peas. Natural rice, wheat, rye,
barley, sunflower and safflower seeds are also nutritional sources for sprouts.
Fresh fruits, thoroughly washed and rinsed in order to remove dirt and any chemical
pesticide residues should make up a large portion of a bird basic diet. The following
are recommended but do not use the pits - many are poisonous: apples, oranges, cherries,
pears, nectarines, plums, peaches, whole cranberries, papaya, mango, persimmons,
apricots, leechees (seeds OK), pomegranites (the seeds are the best part), bananas,
grapes - seeded or seedless, berries - black, blue, raspberries, mulberries, currants
are all great. Commercially grown strawberries have the highest level of stored
pesticide residues of any fruit or vegetables, so should be avoided. Homegrown or
organic strawberries are fine. This is just a basic list, many other fruits can
Nuts are nutritious and are relished by most parrots, but must be fed appropriately
according to the fat content requirement for a particular species. There is one
generalization that holds true for all parrots. Peanuts should never be fed to any
parrot! Although dearly loved by almost all parrots and people alike, they carry
aspergillus spores, which causes aspergillosis and should not be included in any
psittascine diet! Aspergillosis is a very serious and sometimes fatal avian disease,
why expose your bird to it every time you feed it a not very nutritious treat? Peanuts
also carry cancer causing aflatoxins. African greys are especially susceptible to
aspergillosis, but it has been reported to occur in all psittascines.
Macaws and many other New World parrots require a diet high in fat. Nuts are
an important and integral part of their diet. Hyacinth macaws live almost exclusively
on palm, brasil and macademia nuts. A captive diet rich in these nuts is great for
them, but the same diet would kill a rosebrested cockatoo or a budgie. Most cockatoos,
cockatiels and budgerigars do not adequately metabolize fat from their bodies. They
are prone to developing lipomas or so-called fatty tumors around their internal
organs when fed a diet high in fats. A seed diet, mixed with nuts is anathema to
them. Their nut intake should be very limited if at all. The following nuts are
healthy, again in moderation and according to fat the metabolism capabilities of
specific species: almonds, cashews, brasil, walnuts, pecans, almonds, macademia,
and pistachios (undyed and unsalted).
Many good quality commercially formulated pelleted and extruded foods are on the
market today. Contrary to many advertising claims, due to the differences in species
nutritional requirements, no one pelleted food can satisfy the nutritional needs
of all species. Be aware of the nutritional requirements of your particular species
and read the labels. Macaws need pellets high in fat, cockatoos need pellets low
in fat, African greys need pellets that are high in calcium. See which pellets your
bird likes. Not all birds will eat every pellet. You might have to try a few, but
pellets should be an integral part of your birds diet.
The following are some commonly found brands of pellets that might be right for
your pet: Pretty Bird, Exact, Harrison's, Mazuri, Ziegler's, Scenic, Zupreem and
Squoz. Some of these companies, such as Pretty Bird, make pellets that are specifically
formulated for different species.
Most tablefood is okay for birds, but the following is poisonous! Never feed: avocado,
caffein, choclate, rhubarb, sprouted lima, fava and navy beans. Cooked rice and
pasta (both raw and cooked) have a place in your bird's diet. They can eat eggs,
dairy products, including yogurt, ice cream & cheese, as well as meat (fat removed),
poultry, pasta ,whole grain breads, vegetables and fruits.
A very nutritious and easy to make bird bread recipe is as follows: Buy a box of
Jiffy Corn Meal Mix. Follow the directions on the box for corn meal bread, but add
the following: 3 extra eggs (shell and all), 1 well cooked, mashed or pureed sweet
potato, zuchini or any other fresh veggie at hand, pieces of fruit, raisons, and
some applesauce. Seed and nuts are optional according to the species of bird. After
the bread is cooled, slice and serve part. Refrigerate or freeze the rest for later
Food toys are great for picky eaters. By food toys I mean food presented in such
a way that a finicky eater will be tempted to play with and then nibble on it and
eventually learn to eat it. Here are some examples:
Take a carrot or a beet , preferably with the top (greens) still on and make
a hole about ѕ of an inch from the thick end. Put a short piece of sisal through
it . Take a carrot peeler and peel down the side of the carrot without removing
the peels. Do this all around the carrot or beet and you will have a carrot mop
that your bird will hopefully play with and sample.
Take a thick woody carrot preferably with the greens still attached, and place
it high up in the cage. Notch or wedge the end without the greens between the bars
until it is secure, or secure with screw and washers and if it's the highest perch
in the cage, your bird is sure to investigate it. Eventually, they usually rub their
beaks on their new perch and then bite and chew on it. Chances are once they start
chewing on it, they will learn to eat carrots.
Brussell sprouts on the stalk hung in the cage usually winds up as a half eaten
swing. In the case of very timid birds, try hanging a fruit or veggie outside of
the cage almost out of the parrot's reach. What parrot do you know that won't reach
for something it thinks that you don't want it to have? Be inventive! Make eating
nutritiously fun for both of you.
Until very recently, parrots and their nutritional requirements were lumped together
as a group by most experts. Some very well respected avian experts still feel that
one or another specific formulated pelleted diet can satisfy the nutritional requirements
of all psittacines. This is just not true! Parrot diets in the wild vary as wildly
as do their size, coloration and personalities. We should try to take the environment
that a particular psittascine species evolved in into consideration when when formulating
a diet for each and every individual parrot.
As an experienced breeder of many different species of birds, I have observed
firsthand that certain babies failed to thrive and develop normally if the handfeeding
formula is not tailored to their needs. Stunted hatchlings are the result of improper
handfeeding formula and technique. Baby hawkheaded parrots need a diet that has
a minimum of 12% fat. They will not gain weight and grow if the formula they are
fed is too low in fat. Many aviculturists are unaware of this and have lost and
continue to lose hawkhead chicks. Cockatoo babies need to be on a low fat diet.
Cockatoo chicks need to have a low , no more than eight percent fat diet. When cockatoo
babies are fed a high fat diet, they develop fatty kidney and liver disease. They
are unable to properly metabolize the fat and store it in their organs. Both these
situations can be tragic and even fatal if not corrected. Both are totally avoidable
by using a little bit of common sense.
By extrapolation, we must modify the diets of our adult birds to be species specific.
Your parrot, like a small child, can't tell you what they need. Buyer beware! Do
your homework! Do your own due diligence and provide your parrot with the proper
nutrition and they will reward you with many years of loving devotion. A varied
diet will make a long lived healthy happy companion.
Switching Your Bird to a Pelleted Diet
Feeding Caged Birds
Feeding Your Canary
Is Your Bird Overweight?