Feeding pet birds the right foods is important
for their health. A balanced diet based on sound bird nutrition
recommendations is the key. An unbalanced, unhealthy diet is the main cause of disease and early
death in pet birds. Be aware that malnutrition is a human-made disease. Fortunately,
it is also preventable. Owners must actively study avian
nutrition in order to provide a healthy, balanced diet to their pet birds. It is much easier to start a young bird on a varied diet of healthy foods
than it is to convert an older bird to a new diet, but it's never
too late to get your pet bird on a firm nutritional footing. When a dietary transition is necessary, a bird on an
unhealthy diet must slowly (over several months) be converted to a
healthier diet to avoid digestive problems.
When feeding pet birds, we must realize that the species of
birds we have as companion pets do not all have the same dietary needs.
Just as our North American wild birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers,
and hummingbirds do not eat the same foods, neither do our companion
birds. In general, parrots can be classified according to their normal
diets. Most psittacines (members of the parrot family) are florivores,
meaning the main portion of their diet is obtained from plants. Among
florivores, there are granivores (birds that eat grain and/or seeds,
including nuts), and frugivores (birds with diets based on fruits).
Some pet birds are omnivores, whose diet can consist of both plant and
animal components. There is a special class of florivores called
nectarivores, who eat mostly nectar.
Even for seed-eating birds, seeds alone are not a proper diet. There are several reasons for this:
The seeds we offer our companion birds are not the same
seeds they would find in their native habitats.
We tend to offer seeds
that are lower in protein and other nutrients, such as vitamins.
amount of energy used by wild birds in foraging for food is far greater
than that used by our companion birds. Since our pet birds use less
energy, they need to eat fewer calories or they will become overweight.
Eating less, however, could result in vitamin, mineral, and other
When offered seeds, our
companion birds tend to pick out their favorites, and leave the rest.
Limiting the diet to only several types of seeds can lead to certain
Even when multiple types of seed are offered, the seed-only diet
will not supply the necessary array of vitamins and minerals that is
needed for optimal health.
Birds love seeds, like children (and adults)
love candy. They will eat a favorite seed over what is healthy for
The best diet for most seed-eating birds consists of formulated
diets (such as pelleted foods), vegetables, small amounts of fruit, and
an occasional treat.
Formulated foods are readily available from many reputable
manufacturers, pet stores, and veterinarians, and include Harrison's,
ZuPreem, and Roudybush. The food is a blend of grains, seeds,
vegetables, fruits, and various types of proteins, as well as
additional vitamins and minerals. The ingredients are mixed and then
baked. This formulated diet may be in the form of pellets, crumbles, or
nuggets. Unlike a seed mixture, the bird cannot select particular
components out of a formulated diet, so nutritional imbalances are much
less likely to occur. There are commercial foods for different species,
so be sure to select one appropriate for your bird. Some foods have
higher fat levels for those birds with higher caloric needs such as
macaws and Golden conures. Other foods are lower in fat and higher in
protein to provide better nutrition for birds such as cockatoos and
Amazons. Realize that some species, such as the Hyacinth Macaw, have
very specific dietary needs and need special diets.
For most species, pelleted food should be 65-80% of the diet.
a good source of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, and should
comprise 15-30% of the diet. Fruits, which are higher in sugar and
moisture, should comprise about 5%. It is best to provide a variety of
vegetables and fruit.
The following is a list of good fruits and vegetables:
Radishes Apples Turnips Berries Carrots (root and tops) Kiwi Cooked sweet potatoes Mango Radicchio Cantaloupe Endive Honeydew Mustard & dandelion greens Pineapple Swiss Chard Cherries Kale Cranberries Parsley Banana Cooked red potatoes Pears Green beans Peaches Tomato Oranges Sweet red & green, and other types of peppers Pomegranate Cauliflower Tangerines Broccoli (head and leaves) Star
fruit Beet & turnip greens Grapefruit Eggplant Papaya Kohlrabi Plums Sugar snap or snow peas Grapes Squash (peeled & steamed) Apricots Red beets (peeled) Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce Collard greens Corn Cucumber
all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before feeding. Remove the pits
and apple seeds from the fruit. Any vegetables and fruits left uneaten
should be discarded daily so spoiling is not a problem. Because
vegetables and fruits are high in water content, the urine portion of
the droppings will increase.
decide what to eat by sight, texture, and taste. Offer a wide variety
of vegetables and fruit to provide a balanced diet. Keep them in as
natural a state as possible and be creative when preparing meals. Hang
food from the cage top or sides, weave food into the bars of the cage,
or stuff food in the spaces of toys. As an example, for larger birds,
feed corn on the cob rather than feeding kernels of corn in a dish.
This will help entertain the bird as well as provide physical and
It is much easier to start a young bird on a varied diet of healthy
foods than it is to convert an older bird to a new diet. A bird on an
unhealthy diet may take more effort to be converted to a healthier
diet. For more information, see the article: Switching from a Seed-based to a Pelleted Diet.
When switching a pet bird's diet to one based on pelleted foods, you
may notice a change in the bird's droppings, which will appear larger
and lighter in color. If you see only scants amount of dark droppings,
contact your veterinarian; it may mean your bird is not eating well and
may need to be converted more slowly.
Diets for non-seed eating psittacines such as Lories and
Lorikeets consist pirmarily of a commercially prepared formula. Some of
these may be fed dry or moistened; others need to be made into a
solution and fed as a nectar. The nectar will need to be replaced
several times daily; every 4 hours in hot weather.
The diet should also include some fruits such as: apples,
pomegranates, papaya, grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, figs, and kiwi.
Pollen, corn-on-the-cob and some flowers such as pansies, nasturtiums,
roses, hibiscus, marigolds, and dandelions may be offered, as well.
Check with your avian veterinarian to determine the proper amounts.
For most adult birds, supplements are not necessary, and should
only be provided if recommended by your veterinarian. Commercial
formulated diets contain the minerals and vitamins your bird needs.
Using vitamin supplements could result in vitamin overdoses.
Some foods are on the do-not-feed list. These include:
High-fat junk food (potato chips, doughnuts, etc.) Avocado
(guacamole) Chocolate Alcohol or caffeine Fruit pits Apple seeds Persimmons Table
salt Onions Mushrooms
Fresh, clean water should always be available. If a water bottle
is used, the water should be changed daily and the tip should be
checked daily to be sure it is working. Dehydration is a serious
problem that can occur within a day or two if water is unavailable. If
you are switching your bird from a water dish to a water bottle, make
sure your bird knows how to use the bottle before removing the dish.
Birds in the wild spend at least 1/3 of their day foraging for
food. Simply putting food in a dish deprives them of that physical and
mental stimulation. Try using foraging toys and other methods to
enliven your bird's eating times.
Formulated diet can be available at all times. Natural feeding
times in wild birds are about a half hour after sunrise and again at
5-6 PM, so these would be good times to offer the fresh vegetables.
Always remove any uneaten vegetables or fruit at the next feeding.
Foraging toys can be left in the cage throughout the day for snacking
You should offer your bird only what he can eat in a day. This
will make it easier to monitor his daily intake. Decreased food intake
may be the first sign that a bird is ill.
Dishes should be washed daily
in hot soapy water. No food should remain in the cage for longer than
24 hours, as the risk of fecal contamination or spoiling is high.
While not a food, grit
is something people think all birds need. They do not. If it is
overeaten, grit impaction can occur in the digestive system. Finches
and canaries may benefit from a couple of grains of grit every couple
of months, but most budgies, cockatiels, and other parrots do not need
No matter which bird comes into your home, read and ask your
veterinarian questions regarding your bird's specific nutritional
needs. Feeding a balanced, varied diet will play a major role in
helping your pet bird live a long and healthy life.
If you have any questions regarding dietary requirements and/or recommendations for pet birds please call 516-379-6200 to schedule an appointment or phone consultaion with one of our avian doctors.