One of the most important things you can offer your parrot is a good diet.
This includes, of course, quality fresh fruit and veg, amongst other things. A purely seed-only diet is not suitable for any bird, and is, in fact, akin to giving them sweets or chocolate for every meal. You should have a base diet of pellets – or homemade grain bake, if you prefer – and possibly a little boxed seed mix. Whether you feed fresh produce once a day (at breakfast, preferably, since that’s when birds will be hungriest, or at dinner), twice a day, or every other day is really up to you, though you should discuss with your local avian vet for his input. Personally, we feed fresh multiple times a day, as this most closely mimics their natural diet.
Please note that I’m not an avian nutritionalist, and I’ll provide source links below.
I’m strongly of the opinion that ‘good’ food presentation isn’t a must for parrots. Slop it together! The birds don’t mind. If you’re intimidated because – honestly – the thought of putting so much effort into something that you’re merely going to spend the next two hours scraping off the walls and floor, know that the simplest way to offer foods to your pet is raw! It’s a great way to feed. You can put extra effort into a dish, as this can add some visual interest – but know that your parrot really doesn’t need a beautifully prepared meal every day.
Varying ingredients is a good thing, too, not just in the way something is served (diced, chopped, whole, mashed, coarse, fine, etc.), or in what produce specifically you’re serving, but regarding the combinations and methods of preparation. You can combine the flavours of different foods to spice things up. Birds are creatures who need a lot of enrichment in their lives to stay healthy and adjusted. A varied diet comes as part of that. People don’t fancy eating the same meal night after night, and neither do birds. Once something becomes boring to them, they’ll have little interest in it for a long time – as with their toys. So keep meals varied!
Some of the benefits of feeding well are: an improved temper and therefore less biting (malnutrition is no fun for either humans or animals), more beautiful plumage, and improved health overall.
Raw is a great way to start out. Cooking can deprive many foods of their nutrients, so raw ensures that your bird gets the most from its meal… Just make sure you wash and rinse the produce throughly. The emphasis should also be on serving vegetables, as too much fruit can cause diabetes in some birds or even trigger hormonal behaviour. Pellets are another hormonal trigger for some birds, although it really depends on the individual. Note that carrots and sweet potatoes are two ingredients that should be cooked to release nutrients! Broccoli, however, has a very short shelf life, and is best served raw right after purchase.
At first, we had some difficult making the swap to a better diet. Our parrots hated vegetables, and refused anything fresh or healthy for a long time. We used these tips, and soon our parrots were eating fresh foods with glee!
Whilst discussing diet, though, I think it’s important to remember the importance of cutting back on unhealthy human table scraps. Problems can arise from a bad diet, including fatty liver disease, obesity and heart issues, even cancer (and yes, to a bird, seeds and nuts count as junk food, just like crisps or chips). Feeding right merely sets up your bird for good health as it ages. It’ll also save you money in vet bills, as birds who eat well will hopefully have stronger immune systems.
The best rule for feeding your bird is to remember, ‘If it’s okay for me, it’s typically okay for them, but if it’s bad for humans, it’s a thousand times worse for them.’
More ideas of more basic things to offer your bird:
- Eggs – always with the shell. Lots of varieties here!
- Whole-grain organic pasta. You can pair this with just about anything.
- Chickpeas – cooked, these are a great food for overly hormonal birds.
- Quinoa, cooked. A superfood!
- Brown or long-grain rice, cooked.
- Peanut butter (the most processed you can get!) on whole-grain toast.
- Fruits: Pomegranate, cored apples (no seeds), throughly-washed berries, grapes, bananas, plum, mango, melon, lychee, dragonfruit.
- Veg: Broccoli, Romaine lettuce, carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes/yams, pumpkin, turnip, celery, sweet corn, mini corn, peas, sugar snaps, rocket, squash, cucumber. Nearly anything!
- Fish, like salmon. No butter or salt, please.
- Cooked chicken, with the bone, or any meat minus salt and butter.
- Almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, etc. – when offered in very tiny amounts, these are often valued treats.
- Herbal tea: Unsweetened, mild, lukewarm tea can be very beneficial to birds, especially sickly ones. Just make sure it’s not too hot or strong.
Important in the diet:
- Sprouts – click for link. Highly nutritious.
- Chop. Learn more here, and here about how to make it. There are no rules, or set recipes – tailor it to your birds’ tastes without losing the health impact – plus it it can be frozen and stored!
- Calcium and vitamin supplements – if you’re not using a UV lamp or an aviary, your parrot will need some kind of supplements (we use water-soluble), as most pet birds are actually vitamin deprived.
But never feed:
Avocado, chocolate, caffeinated or carbonated products, alcohol, or sugary/salty/fatty foods.
- Dairy products. Birds being lactose-intolerant, there is always the possibility that feeding dairy (cheese, yoghurt, milk, etc.) could cause them serious problems. However, most seem to be able to digest very small portions. It’s up to you whether you take the chance. I generally don’t.
- Onion. Small amounts in cooking for flavour are probably okay, but using this food can cause anaemia and tummy discomfort for parrots. Onion powder is thought to be safe, though.
- Garlic. Like onions, this can also cause anaemia. Very small amounts are probably okay.
- Mushrooms. It’s a fungus, and for that reason alone, some people simply skip it. Mushrooms are basically nutritionally worthless, though.
- Peanut butter and peanuts. The danger isn’t choking on peanut butter, it’s the fungus (Aspergillosis) that can grow on raw peanut shells and the potential, therefore, for aflotoxins. There are also (rare) known cases of peanut allergies in birds.I do feed this food, choosing instead a commercial and not organic brand. The over-processing of the product is thought to be beneficial here.
- Rhubarb. The leaves of this plant contain high levels of oxalic acid. It’s not known for sure whether cooking the plant lowers these levels enough to make them safe for birds, so a lot of people choose to forgo it.
- Kale and spinach. If your bird is female, kale can actually severely hinder the absorption of calcium. This could mean egg-binding and calcium depletion in laying females, or trouble during the moult for any bird. Leafy greens are very nutritious, however, and should be fine if the bird isn’t laying or moulting.
- Raw honey. This has high levels of botulism, and so you should be wary of using it as a sweetener.
- Strawberries and grapes. Yes, these are actually on here! You have to be sure and wash them very carefully, as the mould that can grow on them is deadly to birds.
Where do you stand on serving these ‘iffy’ foods? Any favourite foods you’d like to add to the lists above?
Ready to try a grain bake? It’s the easiest recipe known to man!
www.pricelessparrots.com – a list of safe foods, and some other interesting info.
Avian web – safe foods.