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Should You Supplement Your Bird’s Diet?

Nutrition is one of the most controversial areas of owning a pet bird. The belief that seed-only diets are adequate is generally considered obsolete. Unfortunately, a consensus on what comprises an ideal diet has yet to emerge.

Pelleted commercial diets are usually recognized as a good foundation, but a problem arises over the question of supplements. Some authorities believe no supplementation is necessary and a pellet-only diet is satisfactory for most pet birds. Many others feel that a variety of supplements help round out a pelleted base.

What is a “supplement”? While vitamins and minerals are the first items that come to mind, any addition to the pelleted diet – fruit, vegetables, breads, meat – can all be considered supplements.

Why add a supplement? The point is to balance the bird’s diet – not to fortify it. No diet is improved with excess levels of any nutrient. In general, the most useful menu components are pellets and vegetables; the least useful, seeds and fruit. Everything else falls in between.

The Ideal Supplement

The ideal supplement, if any, depends on the base diet as well as the species of bird. While pelleted foods are reasonably well balanced, natural vitamin degradation might warrant the use of additional foods – namely vegetables – for fortification. Powdered or liquid vitamins might seem appropriate, but because pelleted foods are usually so complete, concentrated vitamin supplements may actually lead to vitamin toxicities. So, these concentrates are probably useful only for birds that remain on a mostly seed diet.

Certain species of birds have shown higher-than-average sensitivity to vitamin toxicities. Young blue and gold macaws, for example, are extremely sensitive to high vitamin D levels, and toxicities have occurred in them from diets that were harmless to other species. Toucans and mynahs must actually be fed reduced-iron diets in order to avoid iron-storage disease.

Mineral supplements, especially calcium rich products, may be useful for female birds during egg-laying. African grays in light-deficient environments may also benefit from calcium supplements. Beyond those instances, though, the need for mineral supplements is rare.

Likewise, protein concentrates are rarely necessary. In fact, articular and visceral gout – crystalline deposits in the joints and abdomen – are common problems when diets are supplemented with protein concentrates.