Slow and Steady
When it comes to adding new foods to a bird’s diet, patience and creative approaches are essential.
The best diet for most birds, especially medium to large parrots, is one made up of approximately 60 to 70 percent pellets and then a variety of other food items, both from our own kitchens and commercially made healthy mixes and treats. But, just offering a variety of food is not enough—bird owners must entice their pets into trying the new items as well. The hard part is getting the pet birds to eat different and new types of food.
Giving birds a variety of food right after they fledge is the best way to ensure they eat lots of different food items. If the bird is older, then new things must be added gradually. Suddenly giving a whole new diet can be dangerous, as birds may not even recognize the new items as edible and can starve themselves. Patience and trying different techniques are key to getting pet birds to accept and eat new food. Like people, birds have certain kinds of food they prefer over others, although over time, they often will eat almost anything.
One method is to place new items on top of the familiar diet, so the birds have to at least move the new things out of the way to get to the food they know and want. This way they get used to seeing and tasting the new food. It’s important to give the same new food items every day and be patient—sometimes it can take weeks for the bird to try it.
Another way to get a bird to eat something new is to pretend to eat or even eat the food in front of them and make it seem like it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. If a parrot is strongly bonded with the owner(s), they may try what the person is eating. Watching other birds eat the food can also be inspirational.
Offering the food in an unusual way can help convince the bird to consume it. Suspending the food from the side or top of the cage with a clip can pique interest, and some treats are made to hang for this reason. Putting the food in a foraging toy may also help, although usually favorite foods should be used in these toys.
Bird owners can also try appealing to multiple senses. In the wild, birds rely on color to look for ripe fruit, but they can also smell well enough that if a food has a great aroma, they may be more willing to try it. Warming food can make it give off a strong enough smell to interest a parrot to try it. Some pet bird food mixes on the market can be heated and fed warm. No food should be served hot or with hot spots that can be caused by microwaves, as that can damage the crop.
Since birds are warm-blooded, they can have frozen treats. Sometimes freezing a vegetable or fruit piece is a great treat for a bird and may encourage them to try something new. Bird owners can also freeze fruits and veggies while they’re in season, then offer them as a frozen treat throughout the year. Don’t feed too much fruit, however, as it is high in sugar and should not be more than five percent of the daily diet for most parrot species. It is also best to stick with fruit that has lots of nutrients, like berries.
Any food made at home needs to be clean, fresh and healthy for the birds. Avoid junk food, including anything that is salty, greasy or sugary or has artificial ingredients, preservatives or bleached flour. Feed whole grains, fresh greens and vegetables and other items that are great for us to eat, as these are usually good for birds to have as well. Like us, birds will have their favorite foods and ways they like to eat them. For example, some birds prefer their vegetables cooked, while others prefer them raw. Note that the food should be cut up for smaller species of birds so they can eat it easily.
It’s extremely important to know what cannot be fed to birds, as some of our favorite things can be poisonous to our feathered pets. Never feed birds chocolate, honey, avocados, onions or anything with alcohol or caffeine. They should also not get any fruit seeds or pits, like from apples or peaches. Dairy should also be avoided. Beans, including pinto, black, red, kidney and so on, must be cooked before being fed to birds.
Retailers should help educate bird owners on what they can safely feed their pets and how to provide a varied diet. Of course, there are plenty of safe and healthy bird treats available on the market. Retailers can offer grain mixes, freeze-dried vegetables and fruits, breads, pastas and many others to help customers build healthy variety into their birds’ diets. PB
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.