Bird Food Facts
An unhealthy or incomplete diet is a common problem with pet birds, and is a relatively common cause of other illness. There is a lack of scientific study on avian nutrition, especially as it relates to the different species. While our avian nutrition is still in early stages, most experts agree that a good diet for parrots begin with a formulated diet with a variety of other foods added as supplements.
For most pet birds, especially parrots and parakeets, a diet based primarily on seeds is deficient in many nutrients, including vitamin A and calcium, and is too high in fat. This is not to say that seed do not have a place in avian diets, but many birds come to prefer them to the exclusion of other healthy choices and can be fussy when it comes to trying a varied diet. Some birds will even pick out a couple of favorites from a seed mix, which further reduces the nutritional balance in the diet. When it comes to parrot nutrition, consider seeds to be somewhat like junk food: birds love them, but they are not the healthiest choice. Form most species of parrot, seeds should only make up about 10 percent of the diet. Some species, like budgies and cockatiels are naturally seed eaters and can tolerate a higher percentage of seed in the diet, but even for these birds, seeds should only make up about 25 percent of the diet.
A number of years ago, realizing that many parrots were suffering from nutritional deficiencies, companies began producing pelleted diets for pet birds. These are made from a variety of foods including grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and are baked into pellet or variety of other extruded shapes. These provide a balanced nutritious diet and prevent birds from picking out their favorite food items and leaving the rest. However, many birds, especially those started on a seed based diet, do not readily take to eating a formulated diet. As well, formulated diets, though well balanced, do not provide the variety and stimulation that many pet birds crave in their diets (after all, eating the same thing day after would be boring for anyone). Therefore, pellets can be considered the "base" of the birds diet, comprising 50-60 percent of what the bird eats.
Some good brands of formulated diets include Harrison's, Zupreem, Kaytee, Pretty Bird, and Roudybush. As these diets grow in acceptance and popularity, manufacturers are producing lines formulated for particular species and also for health management (e.g. lower calorie diets for weight management). As mentioned earlier, these diets come in a variety of shapes from larger chunks down to crumbles, and you may need to experiment to find the type your bird prefers. Some birds, especially those used to a seed based diet, may be difficult to switch to a formulated diet - advice on switching is available in "Switching Pet Birds from Seeds to Pellets". If you are in doubt over which diet would be best for your bird, consult your bird's veterinarian for advice.
Bird Food Facts & Information
Please note that as a shelter/rescue facility, we deal with all manner of parrot species in differing age groups, and with birds with special dietary needs, and unique housing and living arrangements. We cannot set one specific diet or lifestyle for all birds, since they all have dietary needs depending on the circumstances of individual health needs. These decisions are based on health records, age, gender, and species of bird, along with current dietary wishes suggested by the bird's previous owner. The following information constitutes only a generalized and limited set of recommendations, and the reader is encouraged to work with a certified avian veterinarian to determine the best course of action for each individual bird's needs.
Caring for Rescued Birds,
Food Facts, and Other Helpful Information
Additions to the Formulated Diet
As we come to a better understanding of the nutritional needs of birds, the recommended diet for pet parrots includes a variety of nutritious freshly prepared foods in addition to a formulated diets (pellets) and a small percentage of seeds. Remember that most freshly prepared foods will spoil readily, and should be removed from the cage after a couple of hours. If your bird is not readily accepting new foods, try offering them early in the morning or in the evening, times when birds naturally forage for food in the wild.
(Also Note: I don’t microwave! since microwaving can unequally heat foods, which could burn a birds mouth.)
Fresh vegetables are a great addition to your bird's diet. Not all vegetables are equally nutritious though; vegetables like celery and lettuce are high in fiber and water but are otherwise not all that nutritious. Dark yellow and leafy green vegetables are usually excellent choices. You can offer vegetables in a variety of forms to entice the bird to try them - fresh whole or chopped, or cooked and fed slightly warm. Try hanging vegetables from the side of the cage in a clip, or offering them in chunks that larger birds can pick up with their feet to gnaw on. You many need to be creative to get them to try things, and the aim is to get your bird to eat as many different kinds of vegetables as possible. Try a variety of vegetables such as:
Carrots (root and tops)
Sweet potatoes Leafy greens such as collards, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, beet greens and dandelion greens
Sweet red, yellow and green peppers
Broccoli (head and leaves)
Sugar snap or snow peas
Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce (small amounts)
Corn (kernels, or on the cob for larger birds)
REMEMBER: NO AVOCADO!!!
Again, you want to feed a wide variety, not just a favorite few. Many birds love fruit and will overdo it so limit fruits to a fairly small portion of the overall diet. As with vegetable, many of the more deeply colored fruits contain more nutrition, and it is good to try feeding a variety of more tropical type fruits parrots might be exposed to in their native habitats. However, make sure they do not eat pits or apple seeds as these can be toxic. Try fruits such as:
Cantaloupe (without the rind), other melons
Birds can also be fed a variety of nutritious grains, such as cooked brown rice, quinoa, oats, wheat, barley, and pasta. Whole wheat bread and unsweetened whole wheat cereals can also be offered. Cooked legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent addition to their diets. Birds can also be offered small amounts of lean well-cooked meat and poultry and cooked eggs.
We recently read in consumer report magazine that ALL rice contains certain levels of arsenic that could possibly be fatal to humans; listing different types, along with brands. Uncle Ben’s being the highest with levels of arsenic being a white rice and brown rice in general being the highest overall.
Sprouted seeds are an excellent source of nutrition for pet birds and an excellent way to supplement with greens. Freshly sprouted seeds are a nutritional gold mine, as the seed mobilizes its nutritional content into a highly digestible and bioavailable form as it starts to grow. Sprouted seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as enzymes and antioxidants, and some consider them to be nature’s most perfect food. In any case, they are an excellent way to provide a nutritional boost and most birds love them.
What Not to Feed
Chocolate, avocado and rhubarb should not be fed. Of course, do not give any beverages containing caffeine or alcohol. Avoid processed meats or other foods high in nitrates, nitrites, sulfites, or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Onions, sprouted lima, fava and navy beans, fruit pits and apple seeds should also be avoided.
Stay away from junk foods and any foods high in fat, salt, or sugar. Birds are also lactose intolerant, so milk products should be limited to small amounts of hard cheese and yogurt.
Some experts and owners are concerned about feeding peanuts in the shell, because they can be contaminated with Aspergillus fungus, which can cause respiratory illness as well as producing a toxin (aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen). If you feed raw peanuts, get good quality human grade peanuts and do not feed if there is any sign of mold. Shelled, blanched (unsalted, of course) peanut are fine. All food should be inspected and discarded if there is any signs of mold.
On one hand, it isn’t good to neglect the proper diet of a parrot, but it is also equally important not to overfeed, which can have just as devastating effects on the bird’s health. Please check out the website on “Portly Parrots” diet and exercise: http://www.plannedparrothood.com/fatbirds.
We have been taking in birds for quite some time now and one of the saddest conditions is obesity in parrots from an owner overfeeding. Overfeeding can cause internal organ damage, heart trouble, diabetes among other disorders in which we have sadly seen cause traumatic, irreparable effects leading to death. Parrots need a balanced diet of different healthy foods. Some parrots depending upon their dietary health situation when they arrive, need a different diet than the rest. A low calorie diet for example if they are obese or a high calorie diet of proteins if there is a deficiency. Which should always be the advice alone of a qualified veterinarian.
We try our best to meet the dietary needs of the bird that is proper for that bird as an individual. As with humans, depending upon age, past eating habits and other factors; with each bird having a different need depending upon its dietary history.
Elderly Birds and Signs of Aging
Malnutrition is common in pet birds, and signs of it may not appear for years. It is one of the most common reasons pet birds may die prematurely. The following information pertains to common conditions, especially those related to malnutrition in senior birds.
Caring For Your Senior Parrot, Abnormal Weight: Psittacine birds (birds in the parrot family) fed seed-only or primarily seed diets are more likely to become overweight as they grow older. Other factors leading to obesity include slower metabolism in older birds, less activity, and more rarely some metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism. Obesity may result in a distended abdomen, difficulty breathing, decreased ability to tolerate heat, overgrown beaks, and visible fat underneath the skin.
For a few older birds, the opposite may be true, and they may lose weight. This may be due to other problems such as arthritis, which makes them less likely to move to the food dish or be unable to grasp food with their feet. (note: we have taken in several elderly birds like this making it hard for mobility where Dave has had to make special wide perches).
Vitamin A Deficiency: Also known as hypovitaminosis A, Vitamin A deficiency can often occur as a result of psittacine birds eating a seed-only or primarily seed diet. Symptoms can be subtle or severe and include sneezing, nasal discharge, wheezing, crusted and/or plugged nostrils, lethargy, depression, diarrhea, egg binding and dystocia, tail-bobbing, lack of appetite, emaciation (severe weight loss), poor feather color, swollen eyes, ocular discharge, gagging, foul-smelling breath, white patches, or a "slimy" appearance to the mouth.
Calcium Deficiency: Calcium deficiency is more common in African Greys, who have a higher dietary need for Vitamin D. Again, seed-only diets can be the culprit.
Nervous System and Eyes
Some species, such as the African Greys, cockatiels and Amazon parrots appear to be more prone to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can lead to central nervous system (CNS) signs such as seizures.
Cataracts can occur in senior birds, especially parrots. Watch for signs of loss of vision, squinting, or redness of the eye. Unlike humans, in which cataracts often take years to form, cataracts may develop very quickly (within weeks) in some birds and rapidly lead to blindness.
In older birds, the iris of the eye may become lighter in color.
As birds age, they may show behavior changes such as:
Some of these normal age-related changes may be identical to those you would see if your bird was sick. If you notice behavior changes, it is best to have your bird examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause.
Arthritis can be observed in many senior birds. This may be seen as reduced flexibility, reluctance to fly, swollen joints, sitting on the bottom of the cage, or even loss of balance. If you see these signs in your bird, have her checked by your veterinarian. Flexible perches, sitting platforms, and other physical aids may help. In addition, your veterinarian may prescribe medications if the condition is severe.
Especially in older birds who are overweight, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) can occur. Signs of fatty liver include loss of appetite, lethargy, depression, distended abdomen, difficulty breathing, poor feather quality, diarrhea, and abnormal droppings (green in color). Birds may have poor feather quality. If the liver function is greatly decreased, birds may develop central nervous system signs such as seizures, loss of balance, and muscle tremors. This is a very serious disease and can greatly affect how the bird can respond to other health problems. If your bird shows signs of a fatty liver or is overweight, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Skin and Feathers
In some senior birds, the colors of the feathers may change, and become paler. Birds should also be monitored for any feather picking. If an older bird has arthritis, it may affect his ability to preen, so also watch for feathers that remain out of place, are "unzipped", or are not kept clean.
Geriatric birds may develop kidney disease. This can be associated with hypovitaminosis A, or other illnesses. Signs generally include depression and lethargy, fluffing of the feathers, weakness, increased drinking, watery droppings, loss of weight and appetite, and dehydration. Kidney disease may be able to be managed successfully if diagnosed early.
Heart and Respiratory Disease
Older birds, especially those who have lived in environments where there is second hand smoke may develop chronic problems with their air sacs and lungs. Some birds may also develop heart problems, in which case the bird may have 'fainting spells', difficulty breathing, and an enlarged abdomen.
Proper Temperatures and Climate
We here at Good Fox Birdie Haven take it very seriously in keeping a proper, comfortable room temperature for our avian residents. In the summertime, it can get pretty hot and we will do all we can to protect from extreme heat exhaustion by taking extra measures of precaution of regulating the temperatures by blocking the sun’s direct rays into their living and sleeping environments on extremely hot days. Sometimes by placing blankets over the windows to keep out excess heat to maintain a comfortable body heat. Some of our elderly residents are placed in cooler areas for their protection since they aren’t able to cool themselves as the younger birds. In the wild, birds have access to trees, water streams and other measures to stay cool in hot climates as well as adjusting on their own. However in captivity, without the aid of nature’s help, it is our responsibility to help protect them from extreme temperatures they are not accustomed to . We also have an air conditioner in their room as well as fans and ventilation in their aviary for summer but if temperatures spike to extreme measure (above 90) it can be devastating even deadly with each individual bird case being different (depending on age etc.). In winter, we have a heater to keep the temperature inside the aviary at a safe level. Sunshine is good but too much can be harmful even deadly if the bird isn’t able to fly into a shade when he/she is too hot living in captivity.
Considering how difficult extreme temperatures can be on pet birds, does that mean there’s an ideal temperature range?
“Yes,” said North Carolina avian veterinarian, Gregory Burkett, DVM. “In my experience, most pet birds’ comfort range is between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They can withstand a much broader range, however, of 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Last winter, when his bird store lost power, the facility dropped to 42 degrees Fahrenheit for three days with no damaging effect on any of the birds. “Even babies that were still in brooders seemed happy and were playing and eating,” Dr. Burkett said.
Whether or not your bird is more comfortable with temperatures on the lower or higher end of the range depends on a number of factors:
#1 If your bird has access to moving air, it can usually withstand a little more heat (often as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit) than if the air is stagnant. Two ways you can provide air movement for your indoor bird is to place its cage next to an open window (so that it can feel the breeze) or place a fan close to the cage on a cooler day.
“This allows your bird to get air to cool its respiratory tract so that its core temperature doesn’t rise,” explained Larry Nemetz, DVM, an exotics-only veterinarian in California. If your birds are in outdoor flights, they may be able to handle heat up to the mid 90s, especially if there’s good ventilation, and if the birds can fly to get the air moving, he added.
#2 Another factor is the bird’s weight. Very skinny birds have less “meat” on their bones to help them keep warm and may not be able to handle as chilly temperatures as a bird that’s a little plumper. Overweight birds, on the other hand, are prone to overheating and do not function as well in very hot weather compared to lower weight birds.
“The fatter the bird, the less ability it has to cope with heat and the lower the temperatures necessary to cause heat stress,” said avian veterinarian Gregory Harrison, DVM. “Birds cool themselves down by breathing and expanding their air sacs and fluffing their feathers out and increasing the conduction of heat through skin and out through the feathers. Obese birds can’t do this as well. The fat layer on their body acts as insulation and compresses the air sacs so they can’t get any air in and out.”
If an obese, indoor parrot was suddenly put outside in 85 degrees Fahrenheit weather, that bird would probably suffer heat stress, Dr. Harrison said. However a lean parrot could probably stand 90 or 95 degrees Fahrenheit without any problems.
#3 A third factor is what environmental temperature the bird is used to. Birds can tolerate extreme cold or hot weather if they are allowed to gradually adjust, or acclimate, to it. “People who have outdoor jobs don’t feel the heat or cold as harshly as those who are almost always indoors with furnaces or air conditioners. Our birds can also adapt, and there are aviculturists with outdoor aviaries who report that their birds do just fine even when there is snow on the ground,” noted Missouri veterinarian, Julie Burge, DVM.
One such aviculturist is Katy McElroy. She has been breeding cockatoos in her indoor/outdoor aviary in northern Ohio for more than two decades. In the winter, the indoor “building” part of the aviary is heated to just 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is connected to a larger, unheated outdoor flight. During the daytime, the birds can choose to spend their time in the indoor or outdoor sections of the aviary.
“Most of the birds will spend a few hours outdoors on sunny days all winter long,” McElroy related. “The Australian cockatoos enjoy playing in the snow and will venture outdoors even when the temperature dips to single digits.”
Most parrots, even those from the tropics, can handle short periods (two or three days) of extreme cold — if they have been allowed to become gradually acclimated to it, McElroy said. However, if your parrot has spent its entire life in your 70-degrees Fahrenheit home and you suddenly put it in an outdoor flight in 20 degrees Fahrenheit weather, that bird would probably get hypothermia. Your bird would also be in trouble if you out of the blue one day put it outdoors on a 95 degrees Fahrenheit day. Sudden temperature changes can be very stressful to pet birds.
The bottomline, Dr. Nemetz said, is you should not allow your bird’s environmental temperature to change more than 10 to 15 degrees within a 24-hour period. “Birds can handle almost any temperature, but they need time to adjust,” he stressed. This means if you’re going to let your birds play in the snow this winter, you need to gradually get them used to cooler and cooler temperatures. You might start putting your bird outside for a few hours each day in the Fall as temperatures get cooler and cooler. By mid-December, your bird will probably have built up enough of a down coat that it can play with you in the season’s first snow.
Helping Your Aging Bird
Your senior bird relies on you to provide for his special needs. His quality and length of life, in a large part, depend on you. You can help make the "golden years" of your bird the very best if you:
Provide healthy and balanced Nutrition
Provide a quality environment (ease of access to food and water, temperature, proper perches, etc.)
Perform regular personal examinations of your bird and her droppings
Schedule veterinary exams at a minimum of every year and have laboratory tests, a body weight check, etc. performed as recommended by your veterinarian
Familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms of diseases commonly seen in older birds and have your bird examined by your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs
Like a small child that we adore, we all want to smother our feathered “kids” with toys as I did with my Congo African Grey who calls himself “Bird Head” when I first got him. Bird Head is my son that I love dearly. I have had him since he was only a year old. He is now going on 11 years. I thought I was the perfect bird mom with his many toys that I had all strung up in his cage. Until one horrific day, in which I was so glad to have been there, I heard him screaming like someone was killing him from the other room. I ran with my heart beating a 100 miles an hour into his room where he was hanging upside down, inside his cage. Where he had gotten his bird foot wrapped around a rope toy. This scared me so bad. After I nervously got him loose, I threw all stringy toys out all together. This is not the only incident that I have seen like this happen. Another time was where an amazon had been relinquished to us and the owner had placed so many toys it could barely move. Dave and I heard the screaming and ran to his rescue. His foot had gotten caught in a rope toy as well. We also removed the clutter from his cage. Shortly after, he was adopted out. Luckily, there was no harm done. We place toys inside as well as on the outside on what we feel is based on our good judgment, based on personal experience, veterinarian advice and research on the safety of placing bird toys. Here is some research from the internet about bird toys.
All about Toys
All birds need toys. Toys play a vital role in not only the mental development of the bird, but they provide for emotional development as well. Toys relieve boredom as well as frustration.
In the wild birds are usually seeing foraging, flying as they look for food or they may be interacting with the flock. But in a captive situation there is usually not much to occupy them. Toys will help with this problem.
Toys come in a wide variety and range in size from small to very large. Parrotlets, budgies, linnies and Bourke's need small toys while birds like cockatoos and macaws may need large toys.
There are thousands of toy types to choose from. Some of them are very simple in design while others very complex. There are toys that have colorful beads or chunks of wood, and other are like bungee cords.
Which toy is right for your bird? This isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. Each bird is an individual and they like different toys. For example, my macaw, Tiny loves rope type of toys, especially ones that he could pull strands out of. My friend’s macaw on the other hand enjoys toys that have plenty of wood blocks that he could chew. Yet another friend of mine who owns a macaw told me that her bird loves acrylic toys, especially those that are puzzle-like in nature.
Parrots see in colors which is one of the reasons that they enjoy colorful toys. To keep their interest toys should be rotated and new ones added. But how many toys should a bird have? There really isn’t any set number, but I suggest at least 3-4 as a very minimum. Can a bird have too many toys? Yes they could. If your bird has to weave in and out to get around in his cage or you can’t find him because of the jungle of toys, then it would probably be a safe bet to say he has too many toys.
Remember that different toys serve different purposes. Birds that chew need toys they can destroy. These are usually made of wood. Birds that tend to feather pluck need toys they can pluck or preen instead. These are usually made of rope. Those birds that are acrobatic love bungee cord type of toys, or swings and ladders. Smaller birds love colorful beads and bells on toys and swings. Birds that play on their backs love the foot held toys. There are even toys that have almonds or other nuts inside of them and the bird has to either chew them to get the treat or even figure out how to get the treat out of the puzzle like toy.
My Amazon, Charlie’s favorite toy is his coconut on a chain with a bell. At night every time he goes to sleep, he pulls this toy over to him, he cuddles close to it before finally falling asleep.
When you are shopping for a toy for your bird make sure that the toy is well designed and won’t fall apart the minute the bird starts to play with it. Check toys for rough spots because these could injure your bird. If you are buying a rope toy check to see if there are any frayed strands of rope that your bird could become entangled in. Leather toys also need to be checked to make sure no mold or mildew is on them. Once you buy these toys for your bird you will need to check them often.
Rope toys will fray over time. It is vital to check these and cut off any of the frayed strands because not only can the bird become entangled in them, but it is not unusual for them to wrap tightly around a toe, wing, foot, or even tongue.
My caique, Rascal loves rope toys as well as bungee type of toys. I always checked these toys, and checked them often, removing any little frayed ends. Unfortunately when I was in Chicago for my mother’s funeral my kids and husband didn’t check as thoroughly as I do. After being gone for ten days I came home exhausted after the long flight. I was home no longer than 15 minutes when I heard Rascal screaming in panic. I ran into the room to see him tangled up in his rope toy. He was so entangled that it took 20 minutes for me to carefully remove these strands. Checking his feet, I saw one of his little toes so tightly wrapped that it was cutting off the circulation. Luckily I was able to remove this little piece but it took awhile. Poor little Rascal. In his initial struggle he dislocated his toe. I had to take him into the vet the next day. I was lucky that he was fine, but his poor little toe forever will have this funny little mark on it.
Rascal’s story is unfortunately very common. Rope toys are wonderful. Birds that are feather pluckers may stop pulling their own feathers out when given rope toys. Birds that are prone to feather plucking may not even start because of rope toys. But they need to be checked and they need to be checked often. Remove any frayed ends and they will be safe for your bird.
Because certain bacteria can be harmful to your bird, rope toys can also be put in the washing machine and washed. I use a mild detergent, hot water and a put it in for a second rinse. I do not add fabric softener and I never add anything with Febreeze on it because this is toxic to birds.
Leather toys can also present some hazards. Leather toys are tough and will last for a long time, which is a plus when you have a bird that likes to chew. However there are some negatives as well. Birds can also become wrapped in them and injure themselves. Leather toys are hard to clean and because of this they can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Acrylic toys are wonderful. They are durable, they can be washed, they are colorful and many are puzzle like in nature so they stimulate the parrots’ intellect. They have moving parts, some are filled with nuts or pieces of wood, or they may make interesting noises.
More Information About Birds/Parrots:
Magazine Article Feature: Humane Society article by Dr. Charles Bergman, 'No Fly Zone' (AllAnimals, pp. 16-23; from humanesociety.org, March/April 2013).