Feeding caged birds properly can be difficult, due to the fact that there are many different groups and species—each with specific nutritional requirements. Through the years, however, manufacturers have done a lot of research and changed their diets as needed to come up with formulas that are both complete and palatable. These companies have also developed group- and species-specific diets with more natural ingredients. They are even introducing healthier treats that adds variety to birds’ diets.
“Bird nutrition has always been a controversial issue among aviculturists, but over the past 40 years, great advances in avian nutrition has occurred,” says Ron Reid, zoologist/nutritionist manager for Vitakraft Sunseed in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Seed diets that were inadequate, especially for many species of pet parrot, gave way to pellets that “were fortified with vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which greatly improved the nutrition of the bird’s diet,” Reid adds. The problem, however, was getting store employees and bird owners who had fed seeds for years to change over to the better diet of pellets.
Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem, based in Shawnee, Kan., recently ran a study in which bird owners were asked about their pet’s diet. “The percentage of pellets was up 11 percent over the same study done two years ago,” Shepard says. This is a good sign that owners are starting to understand how important it is for their birds to eat more pellets in their diet.
Many manufacturers are focusing on developing species-specific diets. For example, Kaylor of Colorado offers unique food blends for many bird groups including macaws, lovebirds and conures. The company also prioritizes using a wide variety of all-natural ingredients.
The greatest challenge with feeding birds in the parrot group is getting them to eat food items that are new to them, so anything that can help get them to eat a larger variety of products is extremely important.
Although pellets certainly help give birds a boost in their nutritional needs, even pelleted diets made for specific bird groups should never be fed exclusively to any species. “In all cases, the importance of supplements such as fresh vegetables, fruits and fortified treats to all birds diets is now recognized,” says Reid.
Tom Roudybush, president of Roudybush, Inc., and an avian nutritionist, has worked on advancing bird diets for many years. Roudybush has been “working on a series of treats that have the nutrient composition of a maintenance diet”—meaning that they can actually be fed as a bird’s main food.
Treats are usually high in either fat or sugar and are not good for the bird’s long-term health, Roudybush says, but the company’s new treats are “so well balanced and healthy that they will not upset the nutrient balance of a bird’s [regular] diet,” when fed as a supplement.
Two new treats are available from Roudybush: Rice Treats, which are available in two pellet sizes, and the Gourmet Soak & Feed line of treats, which bird owners soak in warm water or their bird’s favorite juice before serving. Warm food is more aromatic, which may make it more appealing to even picky parrots.
The advantages of serving treats are not limited to nutrition. “Feeding the bird a treat is a good way for people to interact with their birds,” says Roudybush. It is also a great way to get the birds to eat a larger variety of food items while keeping them mentally stimulated with attention from their owner.
Additionally, treats can help prevent boredom, even when the owner is away. Shepard says, “Bird owners continue to look for treats that provide behavioral enrichment opportunities such as foraging [by using] different colors, shapes and textures,” and thus helps to keep parrots more active and less likely to develop bad behaviors.
The pet industry owes a lot to bird food manufacturers, which through many years of research, have strived to make caged-bird diets more nutritionally complete. Now it is up to retailers that sell birds and bird products to be sure that owners understand the importance of feeding a well-rounded diet to their pets, which means that employees should learn as much as possible about avian diets, healthy treats, and the trends that will allow a pet bird to live a long and healthy life.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.
Taming the Wild Bird Department
Prince Corporation has always worked hard to help independent retailers be successful. Many independent retailers have been feeling price pressures, resulting in reduced margins, and they have also lost sales to the many non-traditional stores now carrying and promoting wild bird foods and products.
While feeding wild birds has long been a favorite pastime for pet owners, pet stores are facing unprecedented competition in the wild bird category today. Large building centers, discount stores, hardware stores, and even convenience and grocery stores are all fighting for business from wild bird enthusiasts, making it harder than ever for pet stores to get their fair share of the market.
The key to staying competitive, says Becky Krause, wild bird division manager for Prince Corporation, is in making sure that it is easy for shoppers to navigate this sometimes confusing category. “Consumer research has indicated that when a consumer cannot find what they are looking for or need within a short amount of time, or if they are confused, they either make no purchase or make a least-cost purchase, both of which do not benefit the retailer,” she says.
To avoid such confusion, and the missed sales opportunities that may result, Krause says that a well-organized wild bird department with signage is essential. “Developing specific categories within the wild bird departments has helped hundreds of retailers increase their sales using bright, colorful signage clearly indicating what products are available in that section,” she explains. “Each department features rail runners giving helpful hints and a soft sell of the products featured in that area and shelf talkers that educated the consumer on the type of feeder, seed and habitat needed to attract the species. They are exciting departments with useful information that helps prolong the shopping experience and increase the average consumer’s spending.”