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Top 10 Nutrition Tips for birds

by Jacinta
in Our Blog
24 May 2014  |  36 Comments

Top 10 nutrition tips for birds

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 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.


1. Pellets for the palate
Even for seed-eating birds, seeds alone are not a proper diet. Although seed has been the traditional staple of a bird's diet, these days most experts recommend a high quality pelleted food that's formulated for your birds species. Seed mixes provide variety, but they do not always provide optimum nutrition. There are several reasons for this:
- The seed 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.
- The amount of energy used by wild birds in foraging for food is far greater that that used by our companion birds. Since our pet birds use less energy, they need to eat fewer calories or they will become overweight (yes birds get fat!) Eating less however, could result in vitamin, mineral and other nutrient deficiencies. This is where pellets come in.

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 favourite seed over what is healthy for them.
Formulated diets are readily available from many manufacturers, pet stores and veterinarians. 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 on pellets, crumbles, or nuggets. Unlike a seed mixture, the bird cannot select a particular component out of a formulate diet. 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.
For most species pelleted food should be 65-80% of the diet. Vegetables should make up 15-30%, and the remainder can be seeds and fruits.


2. Mix it up
Birds decide what to eat by sight, texture and taste. So pellets and seeds should not be the only foods your bird eats. Birds love variety and enjoy searching to obtain food, just as they would in the wild. Offering a wide variety of vegetables and fruit will not only provide a balanced diet but also keep them from getting bored and developing bard habits, such as overeating, feather picking and tearing up their surroundings. Provide physical and mental stimulation by feeding fun foods such as corn on the cob and leafy greens, broccoli and oranges. Theses are great foods because birds have to "work" to get them - i.e. pull kernels off the cob and tear bites off of greens and broccoli. For added variety, play with the placements of these treats, hang food from the roof or sides of the cage, weave through bars or stuff toys. This keeps them occupied for longer than when feeding on ready-to-eat foods.

 3. In living colour
Fruits and vegetables should be given twice daily. Vegetables are 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%. Appropriate fruits and vegetables for your bird include.



  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Carrots (root and tops)
  • Cooked sweet potatoes
  • Radicchio
  • Endive
  • Mustard & dandelion        greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Cooked red potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Tomato
  • Sweet red & green, and        other types of peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli (head and leaves)
  • Beet & turnip greens
  • Eggplant
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sugar snap or snow peas
  • Squash (peeled & steamed)
  • Red beets (peeled)
  • Romaine or green/red leaf        lettuce
  • Collard greens
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Pineapple
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Banana
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Pomegranate
  • Tangerines
  • Star fruit
  • Grapefruit
  • Papaya
  • Plums
  • Grapes
  • Apricots

Wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before feeding. Remove all the pits and apples seeds from the fruit. Any vegetables and fruits left uneaten should be discarded daily so spoiling is not a problem. Each companion bird will be allowed different type of fruit and vegetables some more variety than others, it's best to consult with your veterinarian or breeder on what is allowed for your bird.   
4. Can't touch this
Because birds are such social creatures, many owners allow their pets to be included at dinner time. While sharing food with your bird is a lot of fun, not to mention wonderful for your birds emotional health - there are many common human foods that are harmful or even fatal to your bird. Foods that your bird cant touch include:
- Apple seeds + fruit pits, avocado, onions, alcohol, mushrooms, tomato leaves, salt, potato chips, doughnuts, chocolate, milk, catnip, Gatorade and most house plants.
Some birds may be allowed small amounts of some of these items but it is best to first consult with your veterinarian or breeder for your type of bird.

5. Hi, protein!
Now, not all birds will require protein to be given if on a very natural diet, though a lot of companion birds in captivity will need protein in their feed. Carbohydrates and fats are used primarily as energy sources, but proteins are needed for construction of tissues, enzymes and so on. Reproduction, growth and malting all require more nitrogen than simple maintenance of the body, and proteins are the source of that nitrogen. Protein should be given twice daily. Appropriate sources of protein include: cooked lean meats, tofu, low fat cottage cheese, yogurt and cooked eggs. Yogurt may contain friendly bacteria like acidophilus, which can help keep the ratio of good and bad bacteria in check. Though be sure to read the label to make sure it contains live cultures and is low in fat.

6. Isn't that special?
Birds such as lories and lorikeets require specialized diets that consist primarily of commercially prepared formula (sugary liquids made from fresh fruit or formulated compounds). Some of these may be fed dry or moistened, others need to be made into a solution and fed as nectar. Nectar will need to be replaced several times daily (every 4 hours in hot weather). Soft billed birds may require mealworms, blossoms and leaves, diced fruit and nectar. Diets should also include some fruits such as, apples, pomegranates, papaya, grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, figs and kiwi. These diets tend to attract insects and faeces of these birds can be very messy. 
7. Water, water everywhere
Fresh, clean water should always be available to your bird. Change it at least once a day, preferably twice, and clean the water bowls at least daily. 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 switch your bird from a water dish to a water bottle (or visa versa) make sure your bird knows how to use the bottle, or where to find the water before moving the original source. 
8.  Freshen Up
Foods that can spoil such as fresh fruits and vegetables should be left in the cage for no longer than 30-40 minutes at a time. Dishes should be washed daily in hot soapy water. No food should remain in a cage longer than 24 hours, as the risk of faecal contamination and spoiling is high.


9. Weight matters
Just like other companion pets, birds may become overweight (there is no such thing as a big boned bird) It's a good idea to monitor your bird's weight closely. Obesity can lead to health problems, including fatty liver disease and pancreas problems. In addition to weighing your bird, you can perform the following checks to determine if he or she is overweight.
- Looking at your bird from the front, you should see a bone running down his midline (the keel). There should be a rounded muscle to either side of the bone.
- If your bird is too fat, bone won't be the most prominent part of his chest.
- If you bird is too thin, he or she will feel bony to the side of the keel; alongside the keel will feel concave (curved in).

You can also check the non-feathers areas alongside the neck and at the base of the jaw:
- You should be able to see the jugular vein
- If you cannot see the vein, it is likely that your bird is overweight.

If your bird is either under - or overweight, a diet change may be necessary. Ask your vet or breeder about the correct way to make this change.

10. Its only natural
In the wild, birds eat about a half hour after sunrise and again at 5-6pm. Sticking close to these feeding times will be most natural for your companion bird. Larger breeds should have vegetables or fruits throughout the day for snacking and entertainment. Smaller breeds can typically have pellets left in the cage throughout the day. They need to eat more frequently due to their high metabolic rate and energy needs.

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I had no idea that so many things could be fatal for my birds! I'm new to having birds and I haven't fed them much other than pellets. I'll have to keep these in mind so I don't feed them anything dangerous!

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