There is no doubt that some makes of pelleted diet are more palatable and hence readily accepted by some species than others.
No one is suggesting that this is always an easy task. Birds accustomed to a sunflower or peanut based diet do actually become addicted to it, (conversion from burgers and chips to fresh salad and fruit is not always easy).
There are however some golden rules which may help. (These techniques are equally useful for the conversion of birds onto fresh wet diets).
- The keeper must start with the attitude ‘I am more stubborn than you are and you will eventually eat it’
- The keeper is not permitted to give up for at least 6 weeks.
- Never change the diet of a bird unless you know it is healthy.
- Give your bird its normal food for 10 minutes morning and evening.
- After the 10 minutes feeding time, remove the usual food, and replace it with a small number of pellets in the birds normal food bowl in its usual place. Also offer a bowl of mixed fruit and vegetable.
- Feeding is a social activity for birds, ensure the bird is close to you with its food in front of it when you are eating. The simple act that it sees you eating will create a strong drive for it to also eat at the same time. If it cannot eat what you are eating it will usually eat what is in front of it.
- If the bird is still not eating, place some of the pellets on your own plate and pretend to eat them. Once the bird sees what you are doing, offer a pellet to the bird.
- If after 6 weeks you have no success, try a different pelleted diet.
Can supplements alone solve health problems for a ‘seed junkie’?
Certainly high quality suitable supplements are a great benefit and will achieve a great improvement for seed eating birds. The key as ever is ensuring that the birds do actually consume the desired quantity of vitamins and minerals.
As most pet parrots are now hand reared, most of them will happily accept small quantities of soft food e.g. baby cereal off a teaspoon. They may take a while to get used to this, but in the authors opinion this is an invaluable tool to be maintained right from the time of weaning through out the birds life. Any bird which will accept a teaspoon of baby cereal daily or even once a week, is easily supplemented or medicated as necessary in later life.
One of the most significant problems in the treatment of sick birds is the administration of medication. In water medication is 11 very rarely recommended, whilst the voluntary acceptance of medication from a spoon twice daily, enables a bird to stay at home during therapy, so as to avoid the cost and stress of hospitalisation which would otherwise be necessary for the sick bird.
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Dietary Requirements of Commonly Kept Psittacines and Converting Seed Junkies* Non-Nutritional Foods
African Greys: As amazons taking particular care to keep the diet balanced, avoiding fats. In particular avoid exclusively sunflower seed diets. They need a good calcium source, cuttlebone as routine but supplements are very important. More about African Grey Diet
Amazons eg. Blue fronted: Large seeds, nuts in moderation, small pine nuts for ‘interest’. Mixed pulses, fruit and vegetables. Enjoy soft fruit. More about Amazon Parrot Diet.
Australian Parakeets eg. Budgerigar, Cockatiel: Small seeds, eg. hemp seeds*, canary , millet, some larger seeds for larger species. Fruit, especially apples, pears, orange, grapes**. Groats, wheat, lettuce, carrot, chickweed. Sprouted pulses. More about Parakeet / Cockatiel Diet.
- *Hemp Seeds are often referred to as “super-seeds” as they offer a complete amino acid profile, have an ideal balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids (Ref. GreenAndHealthy.info), and provide an impressive amount of trace minerals – they also have the highest concentration of protein in the plant kingdom.
- **It is recommended not to feed more than one grape to a LARGE parrot a day. Less for smaller birds. Some birds have developed renal failure because of grapes.
Cockatoos: Large seeds (roseate cockatoos are prone to obesity so with these it is often better to use small seeds). Fruit, greens, soaked pulses. Provide wood to ‘strip’. More about Cockatoo Diet.
Conures eg. Sun Conures, Green-cheeked and Maroon-bellied Conures: Mixed seeds; enjoy fruit; like to bathe in large water bowls. More about Conure Diet.
Eclectus: As amazons, but with much more fruit. More about Eclectus Diet.
Kakariki: Sunflower seed, larger parrot mix (sunflower, safflower, pumpkin seeds etc). Look out for selective feeding.
Lovebirds: Large seeds, small nuts, berries, apple and carrot. Soft fruits and green foods are popular. Sprouting seed is the simplest way to provide your birds with fresh greens. More about Lovebird Diet (same as Cockatiel Diet).
Ring necked Parrots eg. Moustached Parakeets, Slaty-headed Parakeets, Alexandrines: Large seeds, small nuts, berries, apple, carrot. Soft fruits and green foods are popular. Please refer to “sprouting“.
Macaws eg. Scarlet, Blue and Gold: Large seeds, nuts in moderation, small pine nuts for ‘interest’. Enjoy soft fruit. More about Macaw Diet.
Pionus eg. Blue headed, Dusky: As amazons, but with more fruit
Brush tongued Parrots: These have a long extensible tongue which is covered in papillae to collect pollen. They often crush flowers and lick nectar. Provide nectar, pollen, soft food, seeds, berries. Commercial lory diets.
Cockatoos like to strip wood – any fruit branches are suitable provided that they have not been sprayed with garden chemicals. It is sensible to give them a good scrub to avoid introduction of infection from wild birds. Hide dog chews can be drilled and hung from chains etc. There are now excellent quality complete foods, however there is a strong drift away from this idea, suggesting that they are better used as seed substitutes, thus allowing the use of fresh foods and vitamin mineral supplements which certainly seem to improve breeding results. Certainly this encourages more normal behavior patterns.
“Seed Junkies’ are birds which have become fixated on a particular food item, normally sunflower seed. It is important to realize that often these are seen as ‘sick birds’. The diet should be considered after treating any secondary problems, such as vitamin A deficiency manifesting with aspergillosis, or run-down birds developing psittacosis.
Birds are generally very social creatures, so if you want your pet to eat healthy foods – it helps when you eat healthy foods in front of him and allow your bird to eat with you (from your plate). Watching other birds eat healthy also helps.
If your pet is not easily accepting veggies and fruits, you may want to try Sprouts. They are usually readily accepted by even the pickiest of birds; and they offer a very inexpensive and convenient way of providing healthy, fresh greens to your pet. A little goes a long way – one spoon full (tea spoon for small birds / table spoon for larger birds) per bird per day. Any left overs can be kept moist (rinsed a few times a day) to be offered again the next day. So there is no waste and the best nutrition there is.
- 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. Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.
The basic routine used for converting your “seed junkie” is:
Estimate the amount of seed actually eaten in a day and present half of it; monitor the bird’s condition whilst trying the following: ‘weed’ the mixture, changing the balance of seeds away from sunflower seed.
Use a top quality mix. The hulled seed/fruit blends available are ideal. Importantly, they are fresh and palatable and can be top dressed with vitamins using a little peanut oil or orange juice.
Use non-threatening forms of food. Shredded carrot is less suspicious to a bird than a whole one! Try introducing new items in amongst the seed. Sprout seeds and pulses – they taste much better. Introduce a soft-food, baby cereal, fruit pulp, or proprietary egg-food type mixes. Again, this will give a vehicle for vitamins.
Consider interval feeding. Instead of leaving food in the cage all day try introducing meal times; 30 – 60 minutes access three times a day.
Move the cage; place new food items such as corn on the cob close to favorite toys.
‘Monkey see, Monkey do’ Birds will often take and investigate tidbits which they see the owner eating. Being able to see other birds eating a better diet may also help.
Change the photoperiod. The natural photoperiod for many birds is 12 hours light, 12 hours dark. In captivity this is extended in the home by early risers and late night television. Covering the cage from 9pm till 9am can change a birds behavior and sometimes help with establishing new feeding patterns.
Consider hospitalization, or boarding out. A new regime may be more acceptable under new management where everything else is new. Remember – owners have starved birds to death trying to change their diet!