The Parrot Food and Care Starter Guide
Maybe you’re thinking about getting a parrot, and want to know everything you need to know about your bird and parrot food. Or perhaps you already have your parrot and you want to know how to take care of them even better. Or maybe you just can’t remember that one thing and need a quick reminder. In any case, this article is for you! Here you will find the basics of everything you need to know about parrot care with an emphasis on parrot nutrition.
Socializing With Your Bird
Parrots bond, in a way that is deeper than most animal bonds. They aren’t human, but they interact in a more human way with their owners. There are two main types of parrot bonds: pair bonds and flock bonds. Pair bonds are usually reserved for mates, but can be projected on to owners, friends, or other pets. Flock bonds are closer to our concept of family. Wherever you fit in your parrot’s bonding, it is important to spend a lot of time with your parrot. They are very social animals, and need interaction to be healthy as much as they need it to be happy.
Good ways to interact with your parrot include sharing parrot appropriate foods, playing, and just having them around to hang out in the same room. For more on parrot socializing and bonding, check out our blog post on parrot and owner bonds!
What Kind of Space Does My Parrot Need?
Typically, you want your parrot’s cage to be one and a half or two times their wingspan at least. This is so your bird can stretch out their wings fully and flap them around for exercise. However, this isn’t the only space your parrot is going to be living and interacting in. It’s not practical for most pet owners to have a large cage your parrot can fly around in, so they will need to come out of their cage to get their exercise and maybe a bit of social interaction. For a chart with rough approximations of cage size to wing span, go here or here. Don’t forget to add little perches and playthings in their living spaces, either! Perches not only allow your parrot a place to sit in their spacious cage, but also allow them to naturally trim their own beaks and claws. Though they’ll still need help trimming, wood perches they can file beaks down on will help keep your birds active and healthy. Parrots are also smart and active by nature – fun toys will help keep them occupied and engaged when you can’t be around to play with.
The Importance of Parrot Food
The phrase “you are what you eat” has great implications when it comes to the health and well-being of your bird. Are you asking yourself, “what food should I feed my parrot”? The answer is parrot food that nourishes your feathered friend’s body and mind, this is how your bird will thrive, there’s no doubt about that. The question is, what is good food for parrots, and what else should we know in order for them to live a long and happy life? This short blog post covers the history of pet bird food, and the difference in options available for our avian companions, so that caretakers can feel good about what to feed birds.
History Behind Parrot Food
Birds have long since fascinated humans. Though this relationship has roots dating back thousands of years, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that wild birdseed manufacturing began. It all started in small agricultural towns with already-established grain retail stores. Sometime after World War II people became more interested in the animals that would frequently visit their lawns and parks. This was when the spike in demand for wild birdseed increased dramatically. For the majority of the years following, seed was the major component of pet parrot diets, if not the full diet. In the past twenty years or so, pellets have been pushed as the better diet, giving veterinarians and pet owners a more nutritious alternative to seed-based diets. However, it’s been long enough that we understand that there are problems with all-pellet diets as well. For one thing, pellets don’t offer the joy of finding and foraging for food in the same way that natural foods can. For another, protein levels in pellets can be too high for some species of parrot, and sometimes pellet only diets cause a lack of certain types of necessary vitamins. To be perfectly frank, as a field, we are still learning about parrot nutrition, is has not been that long that we were all feeding fatty seeds to our parrots. Some people still do. To tell you that there is a 100% formulated diet for your feathery friend would be a stretch. This can sound discouraging, especially given that even still most parrots die from malnutrition and its complications. But don’t despair! One of the wonderful things our avian friends bring to us is a reminder that we are constantly learning. Your avian vet, and the information gathered here should start you in your discovery to help you create the best diet possible for your parrot – and they won’t be shy about letting you know what they need either!
Types of Parrot Food – From Seed, to Pellets, to Natural Foods
Nowadays, bird seed for avian pets is a mix of various nuts, seeds, grains, and fruits, and pellets. The following sections discuss each type of limited seed-based and pellet-only diets, as well as what sort of supplements you can add into your parrot’s diet to make them happier and healthier. The key idea is that variety is the spice of life – the best way to take care of your parrot is to attempt to give them a well-rounded diet, with components from the old diets as well as fresh foods.
Concerns with a Pellet only Diet
If I’m concerned about lack of nutrition, should I feed those “complete nutrition” pelleted diets? The short answer is: NO. Pellets are processed foods. Much like you, I don’t eat or feed my family a daily diet of processed dry, chalky, protein bars. Not only do they taste horrible, but they’re packed full of synthetic minerals and vitamins. I’m sure your family enjoys natural, unprocessed, healthy foods. And so do our birds. Some of the concerns regarding an only pellet diet are related to their protein levels. Studies have shown levels too high for some species, including but not limited to cockatiels and pionus parrots.
These new finding begs the question, is an only-pellet diet optimal for your feathered companion? Pellets packed with synthetic vitamins, which can be good additives, but interesting to eat. “Many avian veterinarians believe that parrot owners should be encouraged to feed a 100% manufactured diet to their birds because the majority of owners are not capable of providing a good diet otherwise. I never fail to feed saddened when I encounter this ideology, for it essentially removes the benefit and privilege of choice from the parrot owner. In other words, the owner is encourage to feed a pellet diet, not because of strong conviction that the diet is optimal, but because of the perception that is the lesser of two evils.” Pamela Clark, CPBC, CVT This lesser of two evils view from manufacturers comes from an understandable view of the average consumer and hectic schedules. Especially as nearly 60% of domestically kept birds show signs of malnutrition when dead Pamela Clark points out that pellet only diets remove choice from the owner. but it also removes choice from the parrot. Parrots do better when they are able to root around, scavenge, and bite at their food. Eating for parrots can be as much about the intellectual stimulation as the nutrition, and that’s much easier to achieve with natural foods. Pellets can only be eaten one way, and can contribute to your parrot being bored.
Concerns with An All Seed DietHave you ever heard the term “seed junkie”? A junkie is someone who devours junk, junk food in this case happens to be seeds. As a bird parent, by now, you know that mass-produced bird seed has too much fat and not enough minerals, vitamins and proteins. Our feathered friends are not as active, soaring through the skies as free birds, so they’re caloric burn rate is not the same as a wild parrot. Parrots that are fed a seed-only diet are in fact malnourished. Regrettably, malnourishment is a leading cause of premature death in pet birds.
So when should you feed your bird seeds? Seeds should constitute no more than about 10 percent of your parrot’s diet. When serving seeds, parrots will usually eat it first, ignoring everything else that’s been offered. In other words, when serving seeds make sure it is blended with other nutritional goodies. Natural Foods When you look for the best parrot food, natural foods are always going to be a better option. By combining the right ingredients, you can provide your bird with healthy and delicious food. Birds such as: the cockatoo, macaw, cockatiel, african grey, amazon parrot, parakeet, and conure are all naturally prone to foraging. Parrot food that encourages these instincts is beneficial to their mental health. While a quick google search will oftentimes show a list of foods that parrots can eat, it is important to remember that what they can is not the same as what they should. Make sure you source your grains, fruits and vegetables from all natural and organic providers when possible. It’s important to note that the types of foods initially offered to your parrot can impact its appetite over time.
When a parrot is used to eating fatty and unhealthy foods, it becomes difficult to make the switch to eating healthy. How food is offered will many times dictate whether or not it is ultimately accepted. Knowing how to introduce new foods to your parrot is very important. Below are lists of fruits and veggies parrots can eat, which are suggested – but remember to consult information about your parrot and your avian veterinarian before trying new foods with your parrot.
List Parrot Safe Fruits
- Passion fruit
- Fresh pineapple
- Juniper berries
- Kiwi fruit
- Rowan berries
- Mandarin oranges
- Hawthorn berries
- Wild elderberries
- Paw paw
List of Vegetables Recommended for Parrots
- Bell peppers
- Collard greens
- Hot peppers
- Mustard greens
- Winter squashes
- Dandelion greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Turnip leaves
- Swiss chard
- Sweet corn
- Brussel sprouts
- Snow peas
- Bok choy
As a reminder, these are general lists of fruits and vegetables that are ok for your parrot to eat, but not necessarily what they should be eating. Remember to chop up or steam fruits and veggies to make things a little easier!
Proteins for Parrots
Parrots are omnivores, and can and should have sources of protein, especially during times when they need extra nutrition. It’s possible that your parrot needs more protein during breeding, molting, and growing during adolescence.
Common sources of protein are beans and bean sprouts, and cooked eggs, or cooked chicken. In terms of portions, this should be used in “treat” sizes – even when your bird is in need of more protein, it will not need meal size portions of scrambled eggs or chicken. Especially if they are breeding, consult your avian veterinarian on how much protein you should be feeding your bird.
Fats and Carbohydrates for Parrots
Everything in moderation, but generally speaking fats and simple sugars can be harmful for your bird. Complex carbohydrates, like the ones naturally found in fruits and vegetables, are typically healthy for your bird. Indigestible carbs, like fibers and oats, can be helpful especially for your parrot’s digestion. Again, moderation, so even healthy carbs, fibers, and fats shouldn’t be given too liberally. Simple sugars are those that are commonly found in processed human foods, which are easily digested and quickly absorbed. This can create high blood sugar, similar to when humans eat a lot of sugary food and then experience a “crash” when blood sugar goes back to normal. This can happen with your parrot too, and it could make them sick, anxious, or promote unhealthy weight gain. Don’t swear off all carbohydrates though – your parrot very much needs the ones naturally found in their food, and the indigestible fibers like grains and such can be useful to aid digestion. Like fats, sugars are necessary in any diet. However, some fatty foods like nuts are beneficial during times when your parrot needs extra nutrients, like when they are molting, and some fatty foods can be a good treat. This is something you should NOT do with simple sugar foods. Treats like processed breads and cakes can be much more harmful to parrots than they are to us. Watch what your parrot is eating, and give foods and treats in moderation, but be mindful of the effects these treats can have on your parrot.
Vitamin Supplements made for Parrots
Many parrots are deficient in calcium and vitamin A. These can be supplemented in a natural food diet. For example, mangos, grapefruits, carrot shavings, and sweet potatoes contain vitamin A, and seeds, beans, and lentils contain calcium. Especially if your parrot has a minimal deficiency, or absorbs nutrients easily, like an eclectus, adding nutrients in via natural diet could be the best option. However, each bird, like each person, has different nutritional needs. Your avian veterinarian can advise you on what your bird specifically needs. It could be that your parrot requires concentrated vitamins in a pellet form every once in a while, to keep them nice and healthy.
How Much Should I Feed My Parrot?
Due to the way parrots eat, you can't really put down a specific amount of seed, pellets, and fresh fruits and vegetables the same way that you can prescribe a “correct” amount of food for cats and dogs. Parrots throw much of their food away because they have high standards – and rightly so! Usually parrots are fed ad libitum or what we call free choice, where we give parrots food and they choose how much of it they eat. Research into your parrot’s species and their dietary requirements, as well as your veterinarian’s understanding of your specific bird’s needs, will give you a more accurate estimate as to how much of what foods your parrot needs.
Pointers to Remember When Feeding Your Parrot
- Feed your parrot fresh mixes twice a day for their best health!
- Be sure to dice up bigger fruits and vegetables into manageable pieces.
- See if you can make eating food fun -- parrots are foragers, and enjoy the process of eating their food.
- Variety is the spice of life; be sure to change up your parrots diet every now and then. You don’t eat the same things all the time, your parrot doesn’t want to either! Changing the mix, or adding seasonal foods, can help your parrot be happy, healthy, and engaged.
- Treats are ok every once in a while!
- VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t leave food in the cage to go bad as this can be lethal for parrots – Parrots could overeat if food is left for them to snack on.
What Should Parrots NOT Eat?
Foods that are known to be harmful for birds and animals should be kept away from your parrot, even in small amounts. Foods that contain caffeine, like chocolate or coffee, is not bird friendly. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any food that contains something called solanine. Toxic solanine is found naturally in foods like potatoes, garlic, eggplant and tomato leaves. Avocados and asparagus should also be avoided. Foods don’t have to be poisonous to parrots to be harmful, however. Foods that contain high levels of fat, sugar, and salt can cause health and behavioral problems for your parrot. Here’s a list of what you should avoid. You may have read that it is important for parrots to participate in family meals -- and they should! -- but human celebratory foods like cake or chips can make your parrot sick. Keep foods like cookies, candies, chips, cupcakes, and other buttery, sweet, salty foods away from your parrot.
Bringing it All Together
Creating healthy meals to add on top of a pellet diet is something that various loving parrot parents do. Where or how to start can be difficult. What to cook and how to create a balance blend that’s optimal for your bird’s health can be a challenge. Even though parrot diets are complex, Bird Street Bistro has great mixes to help – with all-natural blends by only using freeze dried and air dried natural fruits and vegetables and healthy grains – no added fillers, preservatives or sulfites. Various members of the Bird Street Bistro flock will attest to the simplicity and the nutritional boosts their birds receive. Freeze dried and air dried fruits and veggies can also help with preparing meals ahead of time, and if you want to add fresh fruit and veg, it’s easy to add a little supplement the day of! The more time you spend with your parrot, the easier it is going to be to understand their diet, their likes and dislikes. Socializing will also help them feel like a part of the family, and increase their health and happiness. Allowing them flying space and toys will ensure that they are getting enough exercise, for both their active bodies and brains! You can learn more tips from our blog posts, and even get species specific information from our parrot handbooks. Our family of parrot lovers is here to help yours be happier and heathier – so let’s get started!
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