Feed Me Feed Me Feed Me

Richard HorvitzAug 3, '18

Everybody has their opinion on bird diets and nutrition, so it stands to reason that I have an opinion as well.  Although I am a Certified Avian Specialist, not a vet, I would like to warn that I am not a nutritionist, nor have I done any double-blind scientific analytical research on the subject of bird nutrition.  What I can offer is over nine years experience observing how birds have handled different foods over time, and by asking our customers a lot of questions about their birds. From this foundation,  I have formed an “educated” opinion as to the “do’s” and “don’ts” of avian (psitticine) diets. 

There is a Monty Python skit that best illustrates how bird choose to eat:  there is a large gentleman sitting at a table, and a waiter comes over and asks what he would like to eat, to which he responds, in a deep, British voice, “The lot.”  That sums up what birds want to eat – everything on the menu!  However,  we are entrusted with giving them only what is healthy for them, and it is my hope that after reading this brief article you will be better able to do just that. 

The Don’t’s 

One of the worst diets one can feed would consist soley of oilseeds such as sunflower and safflower.  Not only does a diet high in fat lead to a reduction in water intake and small, compact stool, but it also leads to liver disease,  feather discoloration, and aggessive behavior.  The above diet is even worse if salted nuts and seeds are used.  I have seen quite a few birds in the wild, and I have yet to see dried sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts as I walk in the rain forest.  In the wild, birds eat soil, bugs, leaves, berries, flowers, nuts, eggs, and vegetable matter.  

Also, there has been a lot of debate and question about birds and dairy products with lactose.  Although lactose, the sugar in milk that is normally used in human bodies as a source of “brain food,”  birds lack the enzyme neccesary to digest lactose.  Therefore, you should not feed excess amounts of milk, cheese, or ice cream to your  bird since they derive absolutely no nutrition from ingesting lactose. (Dr. Adrian Gallagher, “Avian Nutrition,” Parrot Society of Australia).  In other words, your bird is filling up with food that can not be used as fuel, which will result in a fat, malnutritioned bird.  

Furthermore, although moist foods are enjoyed by most parrots, they can not be left out more than one to two hours since they harbor large amounts of bacteria.  Eggs, fruits, Veggies, soaked or sprouted seeds, tablefood, and special cooked diets for parrots all should be removed within two hours of being offered. 

And, regardless of what certain vets will tell you, if you are feeding your bird a good pelleted or extruded diet, I think it is cruel to ONLY offer the pellets to the bird, and nothing else.  They are foragers in the wild, let them have some fun and variety!  Offer another, smaller bowl of grains, dried fruits, nuts, cooked and dried beans, pumpkin seeds, dried corn, or many othe non-oily seeds as a healthy respite from the monotony of just pellets evry day.  Also, they love cooked pasta, chicken, chicken bones, cooked eggs, and many other healthy tablefoods, so go ahead, share!  I guarantee you will have a happier, healthier bird. 

And yea, I know your bird just LOVES coffe, but don’t give them any – it actually removes nutrients from their body (as well as being toxic). 

The Do’s 

Since the exact diet eaten in the wild can not be duplicated, major food companies have been making and doing research on what is is that birds require in terms of protien, fat, and vitamins.  One thing is clear with both birds and humans –amino acids are required to be in proper balance to maximize the enrgy derived from the protiens eaten And, the larger number of different grains, legumes, nuts, and other protien sources the better the balance of amino will be.” (Mark Hagen, research paper, 1998).  This makes sense – moderation is the key, stay away from an all oilseed diet, and serve many beans, grains, and nuts.  Sounds pretty healthy, right?  

Well, no less than six different companies make their own pellets (alittle steam and a lot of pressure, making dense, fragile pieces) or extrusions (cooked and vitamins added later, a bit softer and do not”explode when parrots bite into them) that have a combination of protien, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins mainly consisting of A, D3, and E.  I do not want to go into how all the vitamins do what to which organ, but I will list a few facts about each of these major vitamins. 

Vitamin A:  Many young birds have vitamin A deficiency, and interestingly enough, seeds are extremely low in vitamin A.  All formulated diets have vitamin A. 

Vitamin D3: This is 30-40 times more potent than D2.  However, sunlight is needed to convert the vitamin D3 into a form that is usable-normally 1 to 2 hours of natural, unshielded (I.e., no glass or plexiglass) sun per day is sufficient (watch for signs of overheating) or 3 to 4 hours of artifical light at least 5000K containing both UVA and UVB rays (otherwise known as full spectrum florescent lights). Signs of vitamin D deficiency are 1. soft shelled eggs 2. egg binding 3. tremors 4. paralysis 5. leg weakness/bent bones in young birds.  Give them the sunlight! 

Vitamin E: A great anti-oxidant that prevents the fats stored in the body from becoming rancid, and aids in bird reproduction.  Almonds and whole grains are great sources of vitamin E.  Deficiencies result in: 1. Splayed legs 2. uncoordination 3. infertilty. 

I hope this very basic nutrition summary helps you raise a healthier bird. 

Regarding my next column, I was entertaining the idea of answering questions you may have about your bird.  If I get enough question, my next article will address questions that have overall relevance to most bird owners.  Please email me at ebird@bellsouth.net and put “bird planet article” in the subject line.  Maybe you will see your question (and answer) in next month’s issue. 

See ya! 

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