A Bird Buffet
In order to maintain optimal health, pet birds need a variety of foods in their diets-from pellets to fruits and veggies to high-quality proteins.
Birds require a variety of food for optimal health, and while pellets were once thought of as a complete diet for avian pets, that has changed. Pellets made for specific bird groups or even one species may be beneficial, as they will cover a lot of nutritional needs, but birds must eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and even seeds.
In general, pellets should make up approximately 60 percent of a bird’s diet; vegetables and grains should make up approximately 25 percent; fruits can make up about 10 percent or so; and the rest should include nuts, seeds and so on—depending on the species.
Feeding birds is complicated by the fact that there are many species, and each has its own dietary requirements. Bird diet manufacturers keep these nutritional requirements in mind when formulating species-specific pellets. In fact, if pellets make up roughly half or a bit more of a bird’s diet, then that bird should not be given any extra vitamins or minerals. Getting too much of certain nutrients can be even more dangerous than not getting enough. However, it is safe to offer some sort of calcium supplement, such as a cuttlebone or calcium block, to all caged birds, as they will chew on it when needed.
Birds such as finches, budgerigars (parakeets) and cockatiels, which eat a lot of seeds in the wild, can be fed a fresh seed mix as part of their main diet, but they also need pellets and fresh foods. Sprouted seeds are particularly healthful for pet birds, since they release a lot of great nutrients. All pet birds can benefit from getting fresh greens, including mustard, collard, beet, carrot and dandelion greens, as long as they are clean and pesticide free.
Vegetables can also be part of a pet bird’s diet. Pet birds are attracted to bright colors, especially red, orange and yellow, because that is what they would look for in the wild when searching for ripe fruits and vegetables. So red, orange and yellow bell peppers, as well as hot peppers, are a favorite of larger parrots. Other veggies that bird owners can feed their pets include carrot, sweet potato, squash, corn, beans, peas and broccoli. Feeding these vegetables raw is usually fine, although the nutrients in some are better utilized after being lightly cooked.
Fruit can be healthy for birds, but it is high in sugar, so it should be fed in limited amounts. Almost any fruit will do—except avocado, which is poisonous for birds. Don’t feed any pits or seeds to birds either—some are safe but others are not. The best fruits to offer birds are berries. Berries have a lot of great nutrients, and birds love to eat them. Note that fruit should never make up more than 10 percent of a bird’s diet—unless it’s a nectar eater, like a lory or lorikeet.
Grains like brown rice, wheat, barley, oats, dark breads and pastas can be very nutritious for pet birds. These can be cooked with flavorings such as hot pepper powder, which birds love to eat. A number of companies make some wonderful grain mixes, mashes and breads that are great for pet birds and come in a large variety of flavors.
Some large parrots, including the macaws, need to have some fat in their diet, with a mix of nuts being a great way to fill the need. In-shell nuts offer the additional benefit of giving birds an activity, as birds have to crack the shells to get to the nuts.
Protein is also an important component of a bird’s diet, and it can come from a number of sources, including grains, nuts and seeds, as well as vegetables—especially cooked beans. Meats can be a good protein source and may be given in very small quantities to birds on occasion. Pet owners can feed their birds scrambled eggs—with the shells cooked in them for added calcium—and lean, plain, well-cooked chicken. Some companies make egg food that can be a great source of protein and good for breeding birds, in particular. Insects like crickets and mealworms can work for some bird species, as well.
Certain foods can be deadly to birds, including alcohol, chocolate and avocado. Foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt should not be given to birds, and it is also best to avoid dairy.
Birds are notoriously picky eaters. They will rarely try a food that they haven’t seen or smelled before. That is why it is important to keep trying the same foods over and over again—put the foods in clips and foraging toys, eat it in front of the birds like you love it, cover their normal diet with new food so they will have to move it, warm up those foods you can as they will smell more, and do anything else that can entice birds to eat something new. Watching other birds eat the food can be a real help as well.
It may take a week or two or more for a bird to try new foods, but just keep offering them and in appropriately sized pieces for the bird. It’s well worth the time and effort to get birds to eat a variety of nutritional food items, so they live longer and healthier lives.