Proper and adequate avian nutrition combined with good husbandry is probably the single most important factor in insuring that your pet bird lives a long and healthy life. The good husbandry aspect is very straight forward; supply your companion with a roomy, clean environment with full spectrum lighting, plenty of toys, quality time with you, regular veterinary care and most important of all plenty of mental and physical stimulation. The proper and adequate nutrition aspect is more complicated and complex.
Research and experience show that birds stay healthier and live longer on formulated diets rather than seed-based diets no matter how nutritionally complete a seed based diet claims to be! A seed-only diet is inappropriate for psittacine birds. Seed is high in fat and low in most nutrients necessary for good health. Parrots that eat seed only will suffer from nutritional deficiencies even though they may look healthy, and may even be overweight. Fortified seed has most of the fortifications in the hulls. Often bird owners think that they are providing a complete diet by purchasing fortified seed mixes. Unfortunately, the vitamins and minerals are coated on the seed hulls, which are discarded when the bird eats the seed.
Formulated diets, also known as pellets, are manufactured to meet the specific nutritional needs of companion birds. Ideally, the diet of companion birds should be composed of a minimum of 50-60% pellets, with the remainder in healthy table foods and produce. Recent studies have found some pellet brands to contain too much zinc & vitamin D3, which can contribute to zinc poisoning and kidney failure in pet birds. When purchasing a pellet brand stay away from the colored ones, choose a brand with no artificial coloring.
Most produce and table foods that are good for people are nutritional for birds as well. All fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before feeding! Some of the most beneficial foods are dark, leafy green vegetables like kale, broccoli, dandelion greens, swiss chard, mustard greens, etc., as well as carrots, cooked sweet potatoes and squash. Lettuce and celery are not recommended since they contain mostly water and sodium and no nutrients. If you must feed your bird lettuce, romaine would be the most beneficial one.
Note: Spinach is very high in calcium BUT it is also very high in oxalic acid which which binds to calcium. In other words spinach is not a good source of calcium for your bird. In addition given over an extended period of time it can cause gout. Some greens that are safer are collard greens, mustard, dandelion, alfalfa greens, water cress and escarole. It's all in the amount and frequency that you feed greens. If you give your bird a variety of greens in small quantities a couple of times a week it doesn't really matter which greens you give him! Just don't overdo it!
Although all fruits are acceptable, they should only be offered in small amounts due to their high water content. Orange fruits such as papaya, mango and cantaloupe are highest in vitamin A and would be most beneficial.
Healthy table foods, such as well cooked meat, fish and chicken, tofu, cheese and yogurt (non fat and low fat), cooked egg, corn, peas, beans, pasta, rice (brown is best), and low sugar and low sodium cereals etc., can also be offered in small amounts.
You should never feed your bird avocado or chocolate. They are poisonous to birds and fatal if fed in sufficient amounts. Food high in salt and fat such as chips, pretzels, crackers and preserved meat should also be avoided since birds are very sodium sensitive.
Grit, gravel and oyster shell should never be fed to companion birds. They naturally contain lead and could give your bird lead poisoning, which is fatal if not caught in time. Birds that consume at least 50-60% of their intake in formulated food do not require vitamin and mineral supplements and further supplementation can actually be toxic. Supplements include powders, drops, cuttlebone and mineral blocks.
Some birds convert to formulated diets quickly and willingly, while others may take weeks or months. Owner persistence is the key to successful dietary conversion. Initially the formulated food should be offered in a separate dish and left in the cage at all times along with fresh vegetables. Usual food items (such as seed and table food) should be restricted to one hour twice daily, preferably morning and evening. It is extremely important that you don't forget to feed your bird his normal seed and table food twice daily until he eats sufficient amounts of vegetables and pellets. Many birds will not initially recognize pellets as food and can starve themselves to death. Most birds will start to nibble on the formulated food within a few days to a few weeks and the usual foods are gradually withdrawn until they compose 25% or less of the diet.
Please be sure your bird has had a recent veterinary exam before changing the diet to screen for any underlying health problems and obtain a current weight. If you are looking for an avian vet near you please check out the Association of Avian Veterinarian's website.
We hope this overview of feeding your pet bird will not only stimulate you to review your bird's needs, but also to look at your pet's diet in general. If you know of a friend whose bird is not enjoying the benefits of a completely balanced diet, take a few moments to educate him or her and help benefit the lives of both bird and its owner.