Delicious and Nutritious
Bird diets are not one size fits all. Retailers need to be prepared to advise owners on species-specific needs and stock the products to meet them.
The first step to keeping any pet bird healthy is feeding them the proper diet with the specific nutrients they need. Unlike dogs and cats, which have many breeds but are all the same species, there are many different species of birds kept as pets, all with different dietary requirements. Retailers need to be informed on various species’ nutritional requirements to help customers keep their birds in the best possible health.
While finches, including canaries, are mainly seedeaters in the wild and in captivity, parrots consume a wide variety of food items depending on where in the world they come from. For example, large parrots like macaws and amazons rarely eat seeds in their Central and South American rainforest habitats, relying more on vegetation, fruits, nuts and so on. The two most popular small parrot species, cockatiels and budgerigars (parakeets), are originally from the Australian outback, where seeds make up a larger part of their diet.
However, it’s not okay for cockatiels and budgies to eat a seed-only diet—that would not be nutritionally complete. All birds need to consume a variety of foods to keep them healthy and active throughout their lives. If a pet bird is mainly consuming seeds, owners should sprinkle a vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplement on top of a fresh, high-quality seed mix and offer a variety of other types of food to help fill in the holes nutritionally.
Pellets can be a fantastic alternative for parrots and finches, especially for species that do not feed on seeds much or at all in the wild. Pellet diets include most of the required nutrients and have added vitamins and minerals. These diets can be manufactured to be suitable for a group of birds, like Amazons, or can be tailored for the dietary needs of a specific species. For example, there are specific formulations for African greys, which need more calcium, and Eclectus parrots, which must have more vitamin A in their diet. If a bird’s diet is made up of at least 60 percent pellets, they should not be given any extra vitamin and mineral supplements—too much of these can make a bird quite ill.
Pellets should never make up more than 70 percent of a bird’s diet. Even though this type of food includes lots of the necessary nutrients, it does not have everything. Caged birds that are only on a pellet diet can become just as sick as those consuming only seeds. Both need to have other food items added to the mix. These should include lots of brightly colored vegetables, high-quality grains and some highly nutritious fruit, such as berries, although fruit should only make up around five percent of the diet. Bird owners can even include some nuts, especially for species like the large macaws, being sure to mostly avoid high-fat ones like peanuts. Commercial grain and veggie mixes and healthy treats in fantastic flavors can also add variety to a bird’s diet.
Rounding Out the Menu
Some protein can be beneficial and even a necessity for some species of birds and those that are breeding or molting. These proteins can come from some veggies, cooked eggs or commercial egg foods. It is best to avoid anything greasy, salty or sugary for birds, as well as dairy, processed foods, such as white flour, or anything with artificial preservatives or colors. Chocolate and avocado are poisonous to birds and should never be fed to them.
Besides multi-vitamin and mineral supplements, a number of other nutritional additives, such as calcium, are available that can help when a bird is stressed, sick, in need of extra support for their immune system or when they are molting or breeding. Birds need a lot of calcium and other minerals in their daily diet for breeding, egg production and beak growth, so they should always have cuttlebones and/or mineral blocks in their cage.
Other food supplements that can provide an extra nutrition boost for pet birds include kelp, bee pollen and spirulina, a type of algae. All three of these have many vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that can help keep a bird healthy.
Although supplements can be extremely helpful, they won’t keep a pet bird completely healthy in the long term if the bird will not eat a variety of food items. It can be very hard to get parrots, which are notoriously picky, to try new food types. Like many kids, parrots want food they are used to seeing and eating. Therefore, owners should give the new food over and over again until the bird gets used to seeing it, for weeks if necessary. Placing unfamiliar items on top of favored food is one good way to get a bird to try something new and ensure it is actually eating a full and complete diet.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.