colorful parrot

Keeping pets healthy means ensuring they are get all the vitamins and nutrients their bodies need to thrive—even if those bodies are covered with feathers instead of fur. 

“Many people think that if you give captive bird lots of seeds to eat and water to drink that will result in a satisfactory diet for a bird, but nothing could be further from the truth,” explains William Niven, president of Morning Bird. 

In the wild, most birds’ diets are quite varied, including seeds, fruits, vegetables and insects. Without this diversity, birds in captivity often have diets that are deficient in calories, minerals, fats, amino acids or other essential nutrients. Luckily, pet owners can avoid these deficiencies and balance out their pets’ diets with the help of nutritional supplements.

“While bird seed and food has come a long way in recent years in providing dietary variety and nutrition, no one single source of food can provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals birds need to stay healthy and happy,” says Marjorie Murray, pet brand manager for W.F. Young. Inc. and The Missing Link. “Supplements are simple, easy-to-feed dietary additions that can help fill nutritional gaps in captive bird’s diets.” 


Not a flight of fancy

While birds might have once been considered a niche pet, their rise in popularity is nothing to turn your beak at. According to the American Pet Product Association’s 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 5.7 million U.S. households own at least one bird, with 20.3 million birds owned total. 

And just like owners of traditional pets, like cats and dogs, bird owners are increasingly concerned about making the best purchasing decisions for their pets.

“They are looking for products that go beyond that to also support the bird’s overall health and wellness, including their energy level, immune system and digestion,” says Murray. “At the same time, they are looking for convenience and want the most cost-effective options. Rather than investing in expensive specialty foods, customers are understanding that they can support their birds’ health with supplementation.”

The demographics of bird owners are also changing, with Gen Y taking over as the fastest growing percentage of bird owners, says Thomas Bowers, director of operations for Hemp Well. 

“Younger pet parents invest more into organic and natural diets than their parents and grandparents ever did,” he adds. 

Another reason for retailers to pay attention to the category: birds live a long time, which means more years of repeat purchases. 

“Most breeds of birds, when healthy and well cared for in captivity, can have lengthy life spans, from approximately 12 years for parakeets and cockatiels to 50+ years for some breeds of parrots,” says Murray. ”Supplementation is a daily, ongoing need, so maintaining inventory and meeting those needs is a necessary investment.”  


Becoming an avian expert

To take advantage of this rapidly growing and evolving segment of pet parents, retailers should position themselves as resource of knowledge and advice for customers – particularly with a crop of customers brand new to bird ownership on the horizon. 

“The importance of retailers educating themselves on avian nutritional supplements cannot be overstated,” says Niven. “It is critical that pet retailers educate themselves on avian nutrition in order to help their customers secure the best products possible to address the nutritional needs of their pet birds.”

When educating customers or making recommendations, it’s important to keep in mind that dietary needs will vary from species to species or even between individual birds. Certain bird breeds, for instance, may require variations in their diets based on health issues in need of support or specific veterinary advice. 

“For example, good nutritional support during the molting process is especially important, so new feathers coming in will be strong and healthy,” explains Murray. “A supplement that delivers a healthy balance of omega fatty acids, protein and phytonutrients will help support feather growth and thicker plumage.” 

Other birds may struggle with stress, anxiety or loneliness, which require a completely different kind of dietary supplement. 

“When pet parents return to work fully our dogs will miss us, but our birds will have nobody to talk to,” says Niven. “Calming products [like CBD and hemp] will lead the pack for birds, just like other animal types.”  


Supplementing Sales

While education is a powerful sales tool, it’s not the only one retailers can use to find success in the bird supplement category. 

“Retailers can also get creative with their digital presence, posting avian information on their social media accounts, or working with manufacturers on geotargeting or digital coupon downloads from QR codes within the store,” suggests Murray. 

Retailers can also partner with manufacturers to create special promotions, such as offering a discount for a bag of bird food or seed with the purchase of a nutritional supplement. They can also create a membership or subscription program to encourage customer loyalty for years to come – which could be a smart investment considering the sunny outlook experts predict for the category.

“[The bird supplement category] will grow, naturally,” predicts Bowers. “Increased bid ownership along with a new generation of health-conscious bird parents will grow the number of brands in the category. Corporate buyers of bird products will become more informed and able to select better products for their customers.”