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The best diet for parrots consists mostly of pellets, supplemented with “table food.” These birds need foods from the bread/cereal, vegetable and protein (meat) groups – just as humans do. Dairy products aren’t necessary, although some owners do feed them to their birds in small amounts. Fruit is mostly sugar and supplies few essential nutrients to birds.
The Basic Building Block
Commercial pellets made especially for birds should make up 60 percent to 80 percent of most parrots’ diets. Packages come in sizes that accommodate everything from a macaw to a budgie.
You’ll want to feed more pellets to your bird than seeds because pellets are far more complete nutritionally. Seeds have too much fat and not enough vitamins, minerals and proteins. Birds fed seed diets have a much shorter life span, so seeds should constitute no more than 12 percent of your bird’s diet.
Food from Your Table
The other 20 percent to 40 percent of your bird’s diet should be table food.
- Vegetables such as leafy greens, zucchini, tomato, squash, carrots, broccoli, beets, peas, green beans and peppers (any color, even jalapenos), should make up the largest portion of table food. Thawed frozen vegetables are also convenient and nutritious.
- Bread and cereal groups are important. Your bird can share your breakfast cereal (without the milk) as long as it’s oatmeal and not sugary flakes. Pasta, rice, rye and whole-wheat bread also get a thumbs up.
- Give your bird protein in smaller amounts – maybe once or twice a week. Cooked eggs, boiled chicken, even well cooked chicken bones (never give any animal other than a bird a cooked chicken bone) are suitable. But go easy: Some experts believe too much meat is hard on an avian kidney.
- Dairy products are controversial. Many birds love cheese and dairy products, but they don’t have the enzyme, lactase, necessary to digest milk sugars. If you do give your bird dairy products, do so only rarely and in very small amounts.
- Feed your bird fruits in small amounts since they consist of mostly sugar and water. If it’s the vitamins and minerals in fruit that you are looking for, pellets have more of those nutrients.
- Don’t leave table food in the cage very long since it spoils easily. Remember, if you wouldn’t eat it, neither should your bird.
Seeds and Nuts
Since birds are much more sedentary in captivity than they are in the wild, they don’t need as much fat in their diets. Seeds and nuts are high in fat, so give them to your bird only in moderation.
- Give your bird seeds in small amounts as treats. They should be shiny (not dusty) and free of mold, fungus and insects. The same goes for nuts – give them only as treats.
- Leave nutshells on: Shelling a nut can give your bird a good cerebral workout. However, this is a learned behavior. You may have to introduce a young bird to a nut by cracking it first. Nuts should be fresh and free of mold or fungus.
- Macaws need a higher level of fat than other parrots and may have a few more nuts than the others. Hyacinth macaws need a significantly higher amount of nuts in their diet.
- Budgies, cockatiels and Amazon parrots are prone to obesity, which leads to fatty-liver disease, so fat intake should be monitored carefully.
The Truth About Grit
Parrots don’t need grit and it has been known to cause impaction when too much has been consumed. Parrots don’t eat hard seed hulls that need to be broken down by the digestive system; they hull their seeds with their beaks before eating them.
The Truth About Water
Your bird should have fresh water every day. Don’t add supplements unless your veterinarian tells you to; they can be a medium for bacteria to grow and can cause a bird to turn up his nose at his water bowl, leading to decreased water intake and kidney damage.
Never Feed Your Bird the Following
- Alcohol: As in humans, alcohol causes liver disease and can be toxic to the point of death.
- Avocado, including guacamole, is deadly to some birds.
- Chocolate is toxic to many animals, birds included.
Unique Needs of Some Birds
- Toucans, toucanets and mynahs require low-iron diets.
- Lory and lorikeet diets may vary with species but will include special commercial-nectar diets, insects and an increased amount of fruit and greens.