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Feeding Your Bird A Healthy Diet

by Bob Doneley BVSc FANZCVS (Avian Medicine) CMAV


 

Advances in recent years have shown us that feeding an all seed diet is not merely a bad diet, but actively contributes to the death of thousands of pet birds every year.

 

Did you know:   

  • That sunflower seed contains 49% fat three times as much fat as the average chocolate bar? Many other seeds contain similar levels.
  • That birds love to eat fatty foods just like many people?   
  • That birds on seed diets suffer the same health problems as people who eat high fat diets obesity, heart disease, fatty liver, diabetes, bad skin?   
  • That birds on a pelleted diet live longer, have fewer health problems, and look better than birds on a seed diet?   

 

W    Why Feed a Pelleted Diet? 


There are a lot of myths about feeding birds, stemming from the earliest days of keeping them as pets. Some of these myths include:

 

1.    A seed diet is all a bird needs.


For many generations bird owners have been feeding all seed diets to their birds. It is now accepted that this is a normal diet. Unfortunately, no one thought to ask the birds! Seed diets are too high high in fat, too high in fibre, too low in protein and too low in vitamins and minerals. Feeding your bird an all seed diet is similar to feeding your children on a diet exclusively of bread & margarine with no other toppings! Your bird can survive but it will not be healthy.

 

2.   That's all my bird will eat!


Because many bird breeders wean young birds onto a seed diet, that is all a bird has learnt to recognise as food. Combine that with the delicious taste of a high fat meal, many birds will ignore healthy foods and just eat seed. Now doesn't that sound like some children you know? Just because a bird will only eat seed does not mean the seed is good for it.

 

3.  Vegetables will cause diarrhoea.


Many people have been told not to give their birds vegetables, as it will cause diarrhoea. In reality, the "diarrhoea" is actually normal droppings we have just gotten so used to seeing dried little droppings because of the seed that we don't know normal when we see it! Besides if I fed you on bread & water for 6 months, and then gave you a plate of vegetables and salads you  might get a bit of diarrhoea too. Does that mean the salad was bad for you?


4.   
Pelleted diets are boring.


Some people claim that pellets are boring. Compared to endlessly cracking seed? Things are pretty grim when the only enjoyment a bird gets is eating. Besides, pellets aren't meant to be fed alone vegetables and salads should be included as well. This breaks up any potential boredom.

 

5.  Pelleted diets cost too much.


Yes, compared to seed, pellets are more expensive. But when you take out of the seed mix all the seed the birds won't or shouldn't eat, and all of the husk there's not much left. There is no waste with pellets, so the cost is actually quite attractive.

    

Converting a Bird to Pellets

 

Because many birds have only ever eaten seed, they often don't immediately recognise pellets as food. They need to learn gradually, so it is not a sudden shock to their system when they change diets.

 

Starving a bird to convert to pellets is NOT recommended.  The rapid metabolism of birds demands regular intake of food.  More than 36 hours without food can kill a small bird!

 

There are several ways to convert a bird:

 

a.        Calculate how much seed your bird consumes in a day. (Measure how much seed you give the bird, and then measure how much is left after 24 hours. Do this for a few days to get an idea on daily seed consumption.) Once you know how seed your bird eats, only provide this amount. Mix the seed & pellets in equal proportions, then gradually (over a few weeks or months) reduce the amount of seed and increase pellets. When the bird starts to eat the pellets, stop the seed.

 

b.       Mix the pellets, some small vegetables and a pinch of seed in the one dish. Every few days forget the seed.

 

c.        Offer the seed twice daily. Remove after 30 minutes and replace with pellets.

 

d.       If your bird is very tame, offering the pellets as a treat or pretending to eat them and then offering them often works.

 

e.        Several birds together will often start eating pellets quicker than a bird on its own. This is because competition for food drives the birds to try new things faster. Once one bird starts, the others quickly follow.

 

f.         Crush the pellets and sprinkle over the seed.

 

g.       Slightly moisten the food, and then mix in the pellets. They will stick together so that the bird starts to get a taste for them.

 

h.       Some birds will start to eat pellets if they are sprinkled over a flat surface, such as a table top. Some people find that sprinkling them on to a mirror attracts the bird's attention more, and the bird will pick at the pellets and acquire a taste for them.

 

You can see from the above that there are a range of options you can try to convert your bird to pellets. What works for one bird will not necessarily work for the next. There are several types of pellets on the market you may need to try a few to find which your bird prefers. Reputable brands include Roudybush, Vetafarm, Dr. Mac's Organic foods and Tropican.

 

Pellets are available from most avian vets, other veterinarians and leading pet shops. If they are not available in your area, ask your vet or pet shop to order them in for you.

    

What other foods can I give my bird?

 

Diets that are 100% pellets can be unhealthy to some birds, especially cockatiels. While pellets should make up about 60% of your bird's diet, the remaining 40% should be made up of vegetables, and perhaps some fruit.

 

Vegetables that can be fed include silverbeet, brocoli, cabbage, lettuce, celery, peas, beans, capsicum, parsley, carrot, sweet corn, cauliflower, sweet potato, pumpkin, and even brussel sprouts! Mixed frozen vegetables are often a simple, convenient yet healthy way to provide vegetables in your bird's diet.

 

Garden plants that can be fed include milk thistle, dandelion, flowering gums and gum nuts, banksia flower, cotoneaster berries, and seeding grasses.

 

Fruit is not necessary in the diet of most Australian parrots. The exception is rainforest birds such as King Parrots and Eclectus Parrots. Many South American parrots (macaws, conures, Quakers, etc), African parrots (eg lovebirds) and Asiatic parrots (ringnecks, Alexandrines) will benefit from some fruit eg apples, oranges, grapes, and stone fruit.

 

People food such as pasta, toast, meat and even chicken bones can be given as occasional treats. Dairy products should be avoided, as birds lack the ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk). Nuts should only be given as a special treat think of them like chocolate bars for your children.

 

Avocado should not be fed, as there are reports of toxicity in some bird species. Birds are naturally curious, so you must ensure they do not have access to such plants.

 

Although the concept of feeding pet birds a pelleted diet may sound a little strange, we are already doing it with other animals look at dog food, cat food, guinea pig pellets, and even formulated diets for poultry. By feeding your bird a good quality diet, you can expect to see it live a longer and healthier life.

 

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