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Components of a Nutritious Bird Diet

By Vanessa Rolfe, DVM, Dipl.ABVP

Is YOUR bird getting what it needs to live a long, healthy life?

Nutrition is a very important part of how we can shape health in our companion birds and keep them thriving. Many of the health problems that I see in my patients are due to the effects of a suboptimal or imbalanced diet. The traditional approach of feeding a seed-based diet, perhaps supplemented by bits of additional grains and fruit, a tiny bit of vegetation, and vitamins sprayed on the outside of the seed husk (or given by drops in the water) leaves many nutrients missing.

The most convenient direction to a balanced diet in most pet parrots is to base the diet around a high quality, organic formulated diet, generally called ‘pellets’. These bring a balanced level of nutrients to the bird’s table. Pellets that have unknown quality ingredients, artificial preservatives or coloring, or are stale are not the ideal choices. Nutrition is a complex subject and it is not only difficult to judge the merits of a homemade mixture but also to make sure the bird actually consumes all the components.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw eating healthy food.

Fresh high quality vegetation (fresh or lightly cooked) can bring additional nutrients that only fresh vegetation can. Small amounts of certain fruits can be used as treats. Ideally all of these should be organic.

Many birds get in trouble because people feed them too many nutrient-poor foods as ‘treats’. Some of these foods masquerade or are marketed as apparently ‘healthy’ foods: some fruits, many nuts, and seed/carbohydrate- based treats. With these foods, portion sizes are a very important consideration- what is a ‘small’ treat is for us, could be a very large serving for a small bird and those large servings over time could give too many empty calories.

A bird not raised on pellets may have a difficult time learning to eat the pellets – not even recognizing them as a food item. In the wild they might have followed and mimicked their parents’ feeding. The wary instinct of a wild parrots avoiding possible toxic plants in the forest remains, leaving parrots less willing to try unproven foods. Parrots have a minimal sense of smell and utilize more social and sight cues to learn about new foods. Since the bird doesn’t recognize the new item as edible, they can starve because they don’t realize there is food present.

To encourage any dietary transitions there are some techniques to use, as owners need to actively participate in and observe the conversion from seeds to pellets. Usually the methods involve eating the pellets as a demonstration, or mixing the pellets with moist foods so the flavors are shared. Since birds are stubborn and smart, it can take a bit of creativity and patience for the conversion to be successful. To be cautious enlist the help of your avian veterinarian throughout this process.

Please visit our website, for more information about the type of services we provide and our resources page, for more enhanced and expanded nutritional and care recommendations in our Bird Care document.


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