Bird Nutrition – What Should I Feed My Pet Birds

Bird Nutrition | Beauty of Birds Psittacines (Parrots) by Jeannine Miesle – Complete analysis of nutritional needs and symptoms of deficiencies (a MUST-read for the dedicated parrot owner) 

Article By Jeannine Miesle, M.A., M. Ed.

Academic researcher in the field of avian medicine. Allied Professional Member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Lafebervet.com, IVIS, and administrator of “The Science of Avian Health” Facebook group.

Feeding Birds For Good Health:

NEVER GIVE GRIT—IT’S ONLY FOR BIRDS WHO EAT THEIR SEEDS WHOLE. Psittacines (birds in the parrot family) shell their seeds and should never have grit.

FEEDING THE SMALLER BIRD

  • To feed smaller birds, such as parakeets and cockatiels, it is good to get a quality basic parakeet mix since it doesn’t contain sunflower or safflower seeds, which are high in fat.
  • Avoid mixes with finch or canary seed; parrots don’t eat those seeds.
  • Some seeds you might add are red and white proso millet, oat groats, buckwheat seed (from Meijers, Whole Foods® or Barry Farms®), flax seed (from grocery or health food stores).
  • Some birds like grains. Whole Foods and other organic food places have them and other things you can try.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get the food at places like Walmart or Target or similar big box stores, or from general pet stores. Their foods sit in warehouses for months and often get contaminated with fungal spores or animal droppings or get rancid. Get it from bird shops which have a good turnover of seeds or through quality bird websites.
  • Small-to-medium sized birds enjoy spray millet. Some birds would live on this, so only proved a small section of per day. They also like the Kaytee® Parakeet Honey Treat sticks. Avi-cakes® and Nutriberries® have excellent nutritional value.
  • Buy small quantities of foods and try them out.
  • Many enjoy birdy breads. Recipes are in the files of “The Science of Avian Health” Facebook group and online.
  • Always provide a cuttle bone and a mineral block, quality vitamins such as Avi-Era® and a mineral supplement such as Missing Link®. Sprinkle on food once or twice a week. Do not put in the water as it will oxidize. Don’t overdo it, though; this can lead to illnesses caused by too much of a good thing.
  • Pellets may be offered, but are not necessary. Manufacturers have bullied veterinarians into forcing their clients to convert to pellets. Do not do this. Birds will stop eating rather than eat something they don’t want. If you do feed pellets, they should only comprise a small part of the bird’s diet. See the nutrition paper in the files of the Facebook group, “The Science of Avian Health” as mentioned above.

FEEDING THE LARGER BIRD

  • Larger birds love whole, unroasted, unsalted nuts. Do not serve peanuts due to the danger of mold spores on the legumes.
  • Offer very few sunflower and safflower seeds; they are high in fat. They may be sprouted or used as a treat.
  • Cooked oats, barley, and steel cut oats are usually a favorite, along with dried berries.
  • Larger birds love many people foods as well. Share you foods with the bird if they are appropriate. They like most vegetables, some fruits, pastas, potatoes, rice, tomato sauce (plain), and some meats. Just be careful with the calories since our birds are mostly sedentary. See the nutrition paper in the files.

FOR ALL BIRDS:

  • Many birds, large and small, enjoy “chop”—a mix of chopped vegetables, fruits, and greens. Make small amounts up fresh daily or every other day.
  • Large and small birds also enjoy scrambled eggs.
  • You need not offer all of these foods every day. Offer a variety and alternate.
  • Offer one new food at a time so you know what has been eaten and what he likes. Present new foods alongside foods he likes.
  • Cereals and breads: A mixture of dry cereals is good for them, and you can provide small amounts each day. Be sure to get only sugar-free cereals. Try different kinds and see what your bird likes. Most birds do not care for cooked cereals. These are some you might use:
  • Wheat, rice and corn Chex, Wheat, corn, and rice flakes, Whole grain breads are good. Avoid soft white breads. Cut in small pieces.

Fruits

Most cockatiels are not overly fond of fruits, but some do like them, so try them. Larger birds love them. DO NOT GIVE THE SEEDS, SKIN, OR PITS OF ANY FRUIT TO THE BIRD. THEY ARE TOXIC. Some to try: apples, oranges, pears, plums, peaches, strawberries, blueberries. Offer them one at a time so you can tell if he eats it or not.

Vegetables:

Peas, corn (fresh or frozen, not canned), broccoli (raw or cooked), cauliflower (raw or cooked), carrots (fresh, raw or cooked), fresh green beans (cooked), baked beans (vegetarian and rinsed). Packages of mixed vegetables, and those made for soups or stews have a larger variety of veggies in them.

Meats:

Many large birds, and even some small birds, will eat a small amount of roast beef, meatloaf, chicken or turkey breast, and ham—even fish. Offer meats baked, broiled, or poached, not fried. Serve all foods in small pieces.

Greens:

Use the dark, leafy lettuce, spinach, kale, celery leaves and carrot top greens (two big favorites), Sprouts—you can sprout your own seeds for this or buy prepared sprouting containers with seeds already in it. (Watch for mold growth and discard when you see it. There are ways to grow them that will avert mold growth. See internet.) The dark greens are high in iron, so feed less frequently.

Carbohydrates:

Birds love their carbs.

  • Spaghetti (with a small amount of margarine or plain tomato sauce—no onion or garlic or spices, please), linguini, any of the pastas, rice, noodles, potato (boiled and mashed with a little margarine and rice milk), baked white or sweet potato (the inside part, not the skin or stringy part, it’s hard to digest), macaroni. 

Oils/Fats:

  • Canola oil is good for cooking instead of margarine, but margarine occasionally is fine

Dairy:

  • No liquid dairy.
  • No milk, yogurt, or soft cheeses.
  • Hard cheeses may be given occasionally in small amounts. Birds cannot digest lactose. Use rice milk or one of the other non-dairy milks instead.

AVOID:

  • Birds love their carbs. Spaghetti (with a small amount of margarine or plain tomato sauce—no onion or garlic or spices, please), linguini, any of the pastas, rice, noodles, potato (boiled and mashed with a little margarine and rice milk), baked white or sweet potato (the inside part, not the skin or stringy part, it’s hard to digest), macaroni. 
    • Canola oil is good for cooking instead of margarine, but margarine occasionally is fine.
    • No liquid dairy.
    • No milk, yogurt, or soft cheeses.
    • Hard cheeses may be given occasionally in small amounts. Birds cannot digest lactose. Use rice milk or one of the other non-dairy milks instead.
    • Chocolate, a poison to birds
    • Avocado
    • All fruit seeds and pits, contain cyanide, apple is the worst.
    • Peel fruits.
    • Alcohol
    • Onions, garlic, anything in the onion family; lead to anemia and death
    • Tomato leaves and seeds. These are in the nightshade family, highly toxic.
    • The meat of the tomato is fine
    • Mushrooms, a fungus, leads to liver failure
    • Salt—small amounts in the food is OK from time to time, but larger amounts lead to kidney failure
    • Caffeine—heads to cardiac malfunction and heart failure, no coffee, tea or energy drinks
    • Dried beans—contains hemagglutinin, a toxic protein on the surface of viruses