The Diet of the African Grey Parrots

The food you feed or don’t feed your pet parrot is as vitally important to their overall health and well being as anything else you can do for your Gray.

It is so important to feed your loved one the proper foods that hold the nutrition as well as trace vitamins and minerals that these beautiful Grey parrots need.

Species-specific Food Requirements for the African Grey:

Start with a quality dry food mix: You could check out your local quality bird store to see if they have good quality, preferably organic and natural mixes with a good variety of seeds, grains, nuts, dried fruits / vegetables / herbs.

I would look for preferably “organic” or at least “all-natural” dry bird mixes. “Fortified diets” are not necessarily good as often inferior, artificial additives are used, which may have no health benefit at all or indeed may even be harmful. It is far better to buy unfortified mixes and add a good quality bird supplement instead.

Dr. Harvey’s Bird Food Mixes or Lafeber are convenient options that lack many of the harmful additives that are commonly found in commercial mixes and have a great variety of quality ingredients (including dried fruits, veggies, herbs / greens and even superfoods, such as bee pollen!) – in short: myriad nourishing ingredients that are not found in other commercially available bird mixes.

However, our biggest grievance with their products is that they use sulphurated dried produce (a process which also requires chemicals), but it is very difficult to find mixes with unsulphurated fruits and veggies.

You could just buy the seeds, nuts and grain mix and buy human-grade unsulphurated dried produce / greens as well as bee pollen and mix them in. Even organic trail mixes (WITHOUT CHOCOLATE!) work great. With a little creativity you can put a mix together that offers superior nutrition without the chemicals typically found in commercial brands.

It is important to make sure that the mix you buy is free of artificial coloring, artificial flavoring or artificial preservatives (natural preservatives such as food grade Vitamin E and citric and ascorbic acids from lemon or other citrus juices are effective natural food preservatives that also provide nutrition to your pet). Good quality mixes can also be bought online (both WITH Seeds and WITHOUT) …

If your local bird / pet store isn’t carrying quality bird mixes and buying online isn’t for you – you could ask them to add specific brands to their product offerings. If you have any suggestions to be added to this page, please let us know (please no commercial interests – only personal recommendations).

Some African Greys are prone to low blood calcium, so try to incorporate plenty of calcium-rich foods. Some suggestions might include:

Even though most dark leafy greens are rich in calcium, broccoli, rapini, turnip greens, collard greens and mustard greens are better sources than spinach, chard and beet greens because of the high oxalic acid content that blocks absorption of the calcium in spinach, chard, and beet greens.

Calcium-rich vegetable / fruits and greens are: bok choy, kale, parsley, mustard greens, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, dandelion greens, apricots, figs, endive, okra, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), pinto beans and kidney beans. Please note that large raw beans – such as Anasazi, Black, Fava, Kidney, Lima, Navy, Pinto, and Soy – can cause toxicities when fed raw, causing digestive upsets for people and potentially for birds.

Some experts recommend that large beans should be cooked to make them safe and digestible. Others counter that soaking beans for 24 hours starts the germinating process and that soaking makes the beans safe and digestible.For those who do not want to take any risks, it’s best to cook large beans thoroughly before feeding to your birds.

These beans are not recommended for general sprouting purposes. Certain uncooked dried beans contain enzyme inhibitors, are indigestible , and may cause visceral gout in birds.

These enzyme inhibitors may prevent or decrease the utilization in the body of substances, such as trypsin and chymotrypsin, to produce nutritional deficiencies. Beans that can interfere with proteolytic enzymes are lima, kidney and soybeans. Cooking these beans for at least 2 hours destroys these enzyme inhibitors.

Other dried beans do not appear to contain these enzyme inhibitors or, if present, are in low concentrations. To be on the safe side, it’s best to cook ALL varieties of beans.

Other food sources of calcium: Baked eggshells, crushed and sprinkled over the food, oatmeal, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, and tahini — “nut butter” made of sesame seeds

African Greys should be given carefully calculated quantities of calcium and vitamin supplements. It is a good idea to have the calcium levels of the African grey checked routinely (annually) by a vet.

NOTE: Care must be taken with vitamin supplements not to provide too much calcium.

It has been shown that calcium levels in the diet of over 1% decrease the utilization of proteins, fats, vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc and manganese.

At a level of 2.5% in the diet nephrosis, hypercalcemia, hypophosphotemia, visceral and renal gout, and decreased food intake have been observed.

Relevant Article: Natural Calcium for Birds – Sources and Absorbability

They need their veggies and greens!

Convenient Sources of Fruits / Veggies:

Baby Food: Human baby food with fruits and vegetables (i.e. Gerbers)

Dry Fruits / Veggies: When fresh fruits and vegetables are not available, dehydrated fruits and vegetables work wonderfully. Many birds love their crunchiness, or they toss them into their water dish (creating a “soup” of some sorts) and then eat them once they are rehydrated.

Be prepared to change the water more often throughout the day. Dried fruits and vegetables have the advantage that they don’t go off. You could literally leave them in their cages for days (unless they get wet, of course). This surely comes in handy when traveling.

Dried fruits and veggies also help convert “seed junkies” to a healthier diet.

When you are at home, you can moisten the dried fruits and veggies with warm water to rehydrate them. Birds tend to LOVE warm fruits and veggies, maybe because it gives them flashbacks to the times when they were chicks and were fed warm regurgitated food by their bird parents.

It is important to keep in mind that some companies add artificial coloring to their dried fruits and veggies to make them visually appealing.

Only purchase naturally dried fruits without any sulfur dioxide, as this preservative is known to increase hyperactivity, aggressiveness, feather shredding or picking due to allergies.

Sprouts! My African Grey, lovebird and cockatiel LOVE their sprouts. Sprouted or germinated seeds are usually more easily accepted by “seed addicts” than fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sprouted seeds are healthier as the sprouting changes and enhances the nutritional quality and value of seeds and grains. Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process – thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds.

Sprouted seeds will help balance your bird’s diet by adding a nutritious supply of high in vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.

Soaked and germinated “oil” seeds, like niger and rape seeds, are rich in protein and carbohydrates; while “starch” seeds, such as canary and millets, are rich in carbohydrates, but lower in protein.

It is an invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds.

Medicinal Herbs (many of which grow as “weeds” in our gardens …)

Flax Seed: To restore the balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids in your African Grey’s diet, you may want to include Flaxseeds every day.

Eating whole flaxseed rather than flaxseed oils because you get the whole package: the protein, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals along with the omega-3. Flaxseeds are also the best source of the phytochemical lignan. Lignan is documented to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties. I sprinkle Flaxseed on my birds fresh food daily.

Sunflower Seed: African Greys may become obese, which is detrimental to their health. Sunflower seeds are very high in fat and it is recommended to keep the quantity of sunflower seed down to a minimum.

Birds generally favor sun flower seed over other nutritious food, which can lead to malnutrition. Reducing or eliminating sunflower seed from your pet’s diet is recommended.

Summary: In the wild, African Greys eat fruits, leaves, insects, bark and flowers. In captivity, they should eat a varied diet of fruits, vegetables supplemented with some seeds and nuts.

Rice, cooked beans, corn, tortillas, pasta, potatoes, bread and cooked chicken are healthy foods for Greys. They also need extra calcium supplementation, so add bones, oyster shell, and cuttle bones to the diet.

Now, the difficult task of getting him to eat his new diet. It is not appropriate to starve birds into eating what you desire. Instead, you need to appeal to their playfullness and curiosity.

Texture and presentation are often more important than taste. Try cutting carrots and brocolli stems into silver dollar sized slices, then stringing together and hanging the string in the bird’s cage.

Try stuffing rice and cooked beans into rolled cardboard and taping them to the cage. More on “foraging” opportunities, please go to this website.  

Food Items Not to Feed to Birds, or only in Moderation

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