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Dr. Christine Sellers & Dr. Kelsey Grunewald
A Bird's Diet
The proper psittacine (parrot) diet has yet to be determined for every species. The following is a compilation of the data from numerous resources and research projects with various species.
Dietary recommendations from the American Association of Avian Veterinarians are as follows: The avian diet can be divided into 4 basic groups. The percentage of the daily diet recommendations is listed next to the category.
Whole grain breads, crackers and cereals, brown rice (cooked), pastas (cooked or raw), beans (cooked). I recommend buying the 15 bean soup mix and cooking them without the seasoning packet, or buying one of the commercial soak and cook mixes rather than using canned beans.
Chicken (thoroughly cooked with the bone – a thigh is best), tuna, well cooked beef or pork, low fat dairy products such as tofu cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, tofu, and soybeans.
High vitamin A vegetables. They include: Squash, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli and green beans (these vegetables are eaten better when steamed and served warm). Raw vegetables that can be chopped and mixed with the grain mixtures include: peppers (any kind), spinach, kale, endive, parsley, cilantro, chard, collard greens, dandelion greens, and beet greens.
High vitamin A fruits. They include: Papaya, mango, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, and pomegranates. (Apples, grapes and oranges are mostly sugar).
These food groups can be further broken down in their nutritional components:
Amino acids are building blocks of proteins. When ingested, proteins are broken down into amino acids, which will be used to form new proteins. These will ultimately be used to make up tissues like skin, muscle, feathers, and keratin. Protein deficiency results in muscle wasting, anemia, weakness, beak and feather abnormalities and other structural problems. Protein waste products are eliminated by the kidney in the form of uric acid; the white portion in bird droppings.
Simple and complex sugars make up the carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and seeds. Carbohydrates are used by the bird for energy and heat production. Deficiency results in the bird utilizing other forms of energy; mainly fat and protein, which can lead to muscle wasting. Carbohydrate excess may result in obesity as the sugars are converted into fat. Carbohydrates are eliminated from the body in the form of carbon dioxide, water and heat.
Fats are energy-dense molecules made up of smaller fatty acids. Fat is the most lightweight form of energy storage but too much will weigh a bird down. Psittacines’ are frugivorous or granivorous (fruit or grain eating). Nature precludes these birds from coming across many fatty foods. Consequently, birds “see” fat as an excellent source of energy and metabolize it very efficiently. Fat deficiency in captive birds is usually only associated with disease states. Unfortunately, fat excess is rather common and will lead to obesity and can ultimately predispose a bird to fatty liver disease. Fat is eliminated by metabolism, resulting in heat and energy production.
Minerals and Vitamins:
Minerals are required for structural components such as bone and egg shell. Both minerals and vitamins are necessary for proper metabolism. Vitamins are divided into two groups: fat soluble and water soluble. Most vitamins can be synthesized by the bird, but some need to be supplemented in captivity such as vitamins A, D and E. Vitamin deficiencies and excesses will be discussed later.
There are many brands of commercially produced avian pelleted diets. Some diets are designed to be a 50% diet (e.g., Scenic or Zeiglers). These should be fed as 50% of the diet and the other 50% should include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. No other protein source is necessary. These diets are excellent provided the other 50% of the diet is nutritious.Diets such as LaFeber’s Nutri-An or Harrison’s Bird Diet (HBD) are designed to be fed as the sole diet. For the birds that are resistant to eating a varied diet including fruits and vegetables, these diets may be fed instead of seed. They are believed to be nutritionally balanced and complete requiring no supplementation. Dog food, monkey chow or rodent chow have also been used as pelleted feeds, but in light of the variety of avian pellets now on the market, these may be viewed as a “treat” rather than a dietary staple. Click Here for List of Recommended Pelleted Diets
Seed mixes vary depending on the species or size of the bird that they are intended for. Most include various combinations of safflower, peanuts, corn, millet, wheat, canary seed, rape, flax, poppy, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Some mixes add vitamins and calcium block pieces, while others contain dried fruits and vegetables. There are problems with a seed diet. This is not because they are a poor source of energy, but because they are an unbalanced source of nutrition.
Seed has up to 58% fat, it is low in calcium, as well as sodium, copper, zinc, magnesium, selenium, high (or low) in iodine, little or no Vitamin A, no vitamin D, low in vitamin K, riboflavin, niacin, B12 and pantothenic acid. There is an incorrect mineral balance for a bird’s needs and a high fat to protein ratio. Seeds also have a reverse calcium/phosphorus ratio which leads to decreased calcium absorption (especially critical in high-need birds such as African Greys).
Vitamins are best added to or sprinkled onto soft foods. A good multi-vitamin supplement is essential for birds eating a high seed diet. A varied diet including the fruits and vegetables and grains mentioned above usually does not require supplementation. Minerals can also be sprinkled on soft foods. Dark green leafy vegetables are high in minerals and calcium. Hypocalcemia (a deficiency in calcium) is common in birds on all seed diets and persistent egg laying hens. Bone meal, crushed oyster shell, dried milk powder, cuttle bones and mineral blocks are the easiest ways to supplement calcium.
Grit or Gravel:
Most current research has concluded that larger psittacine birds do not require grit at all. Their ventriculus or gizzard is very muscular and able to grind hulled seeds easily. Budgies and cockatiels should be offered a small amount of grit 2-3 times per year.