We love our birds, and want to give our pets the best food to keep them as healthy as possible. Here’s the bad news: there is no single diet on the market that you can scoop from a bag and be done. But don’t be discouraged. The good news is that there are great diets available for our birds, and it’s easy to supplement them with a variety of healthy foods that you have right in your own kitchen.
Why don’t we have a single perfect diet? That’s a great question - and the answer comes from our birds themselves. Our pet parrot species originate all over the world, and each adapted to their native habitats. So a wild cockatoo from Australia is eating a completely different variety of plants than an amazon from Brazil. Then, each individual bird’s nutritional needs change over time: a mature adult needs far fewer calories per day than a growing chick, and an egg-laying hen needs far more calcium than when she’s not reproducing. Lastly, think of how smart and social your bird is - they often form strong food preferences in the first months of their lives, and self preservation instincts can prevent them from trying new foods (think about those poisonous berries out in the wild - the birds that survive are the cautious ones who only eat what their flock-mates are eating).
Can’t birds just eat seeds? Nope. Seeds are high in fat and deficient in many vitamins. They’re pretty much the bird equivalent of eating at McDonald’s every day: delicious, but so not healthy.
So, what’s the recipe for success?
Parrots don’t need grit or cuttlebones. While many cockatiels will happily ingest small quantities and be perfectly fine, some individuals will swallow large pieces of cuttlebone or too much grit and obstruct their intestinal tract. Parrots hull their seeds before swallowing, so they don’t need grit to break down seeds like pigeons and doves do. That’s also the reason that fortified seed mixes aren’t as healthy as the marketing would have you believe - the added vitamins get left in the seed cup along with the hull.
Help - my bird only eats seeds! What do I do?
This plan applies to any new food - fresh or pellets - whether we’re starting with an all seed diet or just trying to add some variety to a more healthy diet.
Be patient and DON'T GIVE UP!
Parrots are naturally suspicious creatures, and it usually takes over 20 times of seeing a particular food before they will accept it.
Tips and tricks for seed addicts:
With lots of patience and persistence, your bird can learn to enjoy a variety of foods. Not only is a balanced diet the foundation for a healthy pet, but you'll get to have fun at mealtime with your feathered friend, too.
Photo credit Geek2Nurse, www.flickr.com