Diet and Nutrition
In the 25 years or so that I have raised and trained parrots, I have seen many ideas, and fads, about parrot nutrition and diet come and go. Anyone that has raised children 10 or more years ago knows that the "ideal" ways to start a new baby has changed a number of time over the years, ie., from feeding cereals within the first couple of weeks after birth to feeding only fluids and milk for the first year; or gain 60 lbs. if you want a healthy baby to don't gain more than 20 lbs. for the entire pregnancy. Similar extremes can be found in the history of parrot nutrition. If you have been researching information on the internet, you have probably read so many different opinions presented as fact that you may be very confused as to would be best diet to keep your parrot healthy.
The internet has a wealth of information, but it is up to you to filter the good information from the bad. Some of the web sites that you may have visited may have been written by "experts" that base their experience on the ownership of one or two parrots. Other sites may have been written by breeders that have years of experience with a number of species, but haven't changed their ideas or ways of doing things in the last 20 years. As parrots have become more popular as pets, research has made great advances in the knowledge of avian medicine and nutrition. I believe that it is important to be aware of new ideas, and to accept only those that make good sense. Since novices, as well as experts, can set up a web site, the new parrot owner, may find it very difficult to know what, or who, to believe.
Going back 25 years ago, there were no pelleted or prepared parrot diets. Most of the "pet" parrots sold in pet stores were wild imported birds that had to be tamed either by the owners of the store or by a new owner that bought them. At that time, a parrot was considered to be an exotic animal, and most often could not be handled. For the average family, parakeets and cockatiels were usually chosen for family pets. They were fed a seed diet bought as parakeet food or cockatiel food. At that time, the average life expectancy of a parakeet was 4-5 years, and for a cockatiel, 8-10 years. This was accepted, and no one questioned that they might live longer with a different or better diet. After all, they were feeding them "bird food".
As people became more interested in parrots, it was only natural that they should buy parrot food to feed them, again, a seed diet. Because of this trend, importers had the 45 day quarantine period to teach parrots to eat seed that had never seen before. I knew an importer that would tube feed all of the birds until they learned to eat the seed that the buyers would feed them. Some importers would merely adjust their pricing to allow for the expected losses to starvation. They were concerned primarily in keeping costs down and in the keeping the birds alive until they could be sold. How long they lived after that was of no consequence to them.
It didn't take long for people to realize that a seed diet was not enough to keep their birds healthy and parrots originating from different regions had different dietary requirements. Parrots from the countries surrounding Australia, such as cockatoos, were primarily grain and corn eaters, and required a low fat diet. Parrots from these areas were dying from fatty livers and tumors. A seed diet was just too high in fat. African greys, a species that metabolizes calcium differently than most parrots, had problems with calcium deficiencies. So what would be a good diet for parrots instead of seed? No one really knew. Concerned pet owners and breeders started to feed parrots some of everything they could think of in hopes that the parrots would know what was good for them. So, in addition to the seed mixes, the diets included a variety of fruits and vegetables, cooked bean mixes, dog food, monkey chow, vitamin and calcium supplements, and anything else that happened to be available. These are all very good and nutritious foods, but, unfortunately, parrots, like children, eat what they like and everything else ends up on the bottom of the cage. As a result, the birds were still not consuming a balanced diet even though a variety of foods were offered to them.
A Better Way
Avian veterinarians and nutritionists soon realized that there must be a better way. Balanced and nutritious diets had been formulated for other domestic animals. Why not develop a diet for parrots? Having not much more that a basic knowledge of the dietary requirements of parrots, researchers developed the pelleted parrot food.
The researchers were on the right track, but still did not consider the possible differences in requirements for parrots that originated from different countries. At first the pelleted bird foods were not widely accepted by either the parrots or the parrot owners. Parrots had grown to like the fatty seeds and peanuts that had widely been accepted as "parrot food". Many pet owners and breeders didn't believe that the pellets could be a full balanced diet, and, besides, it was just too easy for an "exotic" pet. Those that did completely accepted the new diets soon found that they had become a testing ground for new manufacturers that were eager to be the first to harness a new market. The pelleted parrot diets were definitely not a total solution to a well balance diet for all parrots. Because of this, some of the long-time parrot owners and breeders of today may still be hesitant to trust the health of their birds to a formulated diet. Although the pelleted foods contain most of the basic requirements and the parrots cannot pick and chose what they like best, they still lack variety and may not have the optimum balance of nutrients in the proportions best for each species. Also the heat required for the extrusion process in the production of the pellets destroyed many of the vitamins. So nutrients had to be added after the process. Even though the pelleted diets may not be the total solution, they contain more nutrients and a better balance than a seed diet.
A Logical View
Since the internet has become so very popular as a source of information, the contradictory views can be very confusing to a new or perspective parrot owner. Even an experienced owner can begin to doubt their beliefs when there are enough web sites that "parrot" the same information. I have been referred to various web sites by some of the people that have adopted my babies that related dietary trends common to the seemingly current beliefs in avian nutrition. In the last couple of years, I have also had a number of emails and phone calls in which there were questions or statements regarding dietary requirements of parrots. In the following, I have listed some of these and give you my answer to them.
- "In the wild, grain is a natural food for parrots" - I may be wrong, but I don't know of any grain that grows in the rainforest. Aside from the cockatoos that eat the grains and corn grown by farmers, I am not aware of any grain that is available to the African or South American parrots unless they happen to live near farmers.
- "Macadamia nuts are a natural food, and required, for Hyacinths" - Macadamia nuts grow in Hawaii, and Hyacinths originate in South America. Who is importing the Macadamia nuts for the wild Hyacinths? A number of years ago, fresh coconut was the "exotic" food of choice for Hyacinths. Hyacinths require a diet higher in fat than most parrots. The form that it comes in is not important.
- "Feed parrots a varied diet and they will eat what they need." - Nothing could be further than the truth. Parrots, like children, will eat what they like. In the wild, young parrots live with their parents and a flock, and are taught what they should eat. In captivity, we must teach them to eat what is good for them just as we do our children.
- "Parrots should be fed foods that are "natural" for them" - There is no way that we could, or would even want to, feed the same foods that parrots eat in the wild. In most cases, they eat whatever is available to them depending on the season. Macaw will eat toxic material from mountain sides to get a mineral required in their diet and to kill parasites. Then, they eat a clay to counteract the toxicity. Other dietary ingredients in the wild might include, insects, berries, meat on abandoned carcasses, etc. The domestic parrots are just that - domestic. They are no longer are limited to the foods that would be available to them in the wild. We are no more likely to feed our parrots "natural" foods than we are to throw a dead rabbit into our dog's food bowl or to catch mice to feed our house cats.
Pros and Cons of a Pelleted Diet that You Might Read or Hear
|Provides a balanced diet||An exotic pet should need an exotic diet - Pellet diets aren't "natural".|
|Eliminates the opportunity to pick and choose||Parrots know what they need|
|No spoilage, no bacterial growth|
|Convenient and easy||The extreme heat used to formulate and extrude a pelleted diet destroys most of the vitamin content of the original ingredients making it necessary to add supplemental and manufactured vitamins.|
I have presented to you a lot of ideas to consider in deciding what diet you would like to feed your pet parrot. I, personally, tend to avoid any extreme ideas. While I don't feel that anyone really knows the ideal and perfect diet for all parrots, I like to have a base that I feel includes many of the needed nutrients, and add other foods for variety. I feel that parrots are different than most pets because of their high level of intelligence. Any diet, no matter how nutritious, can be boring if it is the same day after day. In the past, I have used use a good brand pelleted diet supplemented with thawed mixed vegetables, and have since added more variety. Fresh vegetables not only spoil more quickly, but lose nutitional value during the time spent in shipping, warehouse storage, and store display. Frozen vegetables are cleaned for human consumption, and flash frozen to maintain nutritional value. Macaws get a variety of nuts to satisfy the chewing instinct and to help prevent boredom. The nuts also add to the fat content in the diet and are a good source of protein and other nutrients. A breeder formula pelleted diet is used for the macaws and maintenance, lower fat, formula is used for cockatoos and amazons. A lesser amount of nuts is offered to the cockatoos and amazons to keep the fat content down.
The pet birds are also offered table foods that are left over from meals. The general rule is that anything good for us is good for them. Avocado should be avoided as the peel can be toxic for parrots. Other foods to be avoided are those with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Any fruits, vegetables, fish, cooked eggs (no more than once a week), and non-fatty meats, such as chicken and turkey, can be offered. Many parrots even enjoy a chicken bone to chew on. If you have your parrot on a pelleted parrot food, his total diet should include at least 50% in other foods that can be varied every day. The other foods offered can include, nuts for the larger parrots, vegetables, nutritional greens, fruits and berries, and cooked foods.
As with all animal foods, pelleted parrot foods may differ in quality. It is important to use a pelleted food that has been well researched and proven to be reliable and consistent. If you decide to change your parrot's diet, make sure that the transition is gradual so that he doesn't stop eating. Reduce the food he is used to as you increase the amount of new food. Monitor his weight and the amount that he is eating until the change is complete.
In my search for something better, to add fresher nutrients and something that my birds would like enough to eat it, I have discovered a couple of parrot foods that are easy and convenient, and offer a wonderful variety - Beak Appetit (must be cooked), and Goldenfeast blends (can be offered dry, cooked or soaked). Whether working full time, caring for a human family, or even breeding parrots, most of us don't have the time to consistently offer our avian family members a balanced diet in a form that we can be sure they will eat. Nor do we always have the time to consistently put together the ingredients, as good as our intentions may be. I have recently tried Beak Appetit and Goldenfeast as additions to the diet of all of my parrots. They are not only convenient, but my parrots love them. Even species that would normally reject anything new immediately ate these foods before even their favorites. I still believe that a variety of foods such as pellets, a little seed and table foods should be offered, but these food blends provide a convenient alternative when we don't have time for special food preparation. In addition to feeding cooked foods to pet birds and breeders, it is also an excellent weaning food that breeders would find extraordinary. Because these food blends are soft and taste good, babies wean faster. To maintain a variety of foods necessary for a balanced diet, I cook together 4-5 of these blends and vary the blends used each day. I also add a little cod liver oil to the mix for the Omega 3 and vitamin A, and once or twice a week add cooked, chopped chicken breasts to the mix. The key to a balanced diet is variety, and these foods make it easy for anyone to offer a good variety to their parrots in a form that makes it difficult for them to pick and choose.
I am so excited about these foods that I have decided to offer them for sale on this site. For those of you living in countries that good parrot diets are not available, these diets can be shipped by USPS postal rates. For more information about Beak Appetit and Goldenfeast Foods, click here.