Most people who haven’t kept parrots before probably think that feeding them is a snap—you just buy them some birdseed and maybe add a little fruit or a cracker and you’re done. However, parrots need much more than seed to survive, let alone thrive and live long, healthy lives.
The truth is that parrots in nature eat a complex mix of all the foods their habitats have to offer: leaves, bark, vines, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, shoots, insects, and worms. The parrots who live in our homes have the same dietary needs. Let’s look at the various components individually; later, we’ll put this information together to form a first-rate parrot diet.
Although a bird does not live by seed alone, it does have its place in a parrot’s diet. In fact, birdseed in moderation is an important part of a healthy diet.
There are many types of seed from which to choose. It is easiest to buy a premixed variety of seeds, although some owners make their own mixes. The first thing to be sure of is that you are buying a seed mix that is the right size for your bird. Next, make sure that the seed is fresh—it should not have bugs, rodent droppings, or webs (these are created by moth larvae) in it. Smell it and reject seed that smells rancid. Lastly, try to find a mix that has very little or no sunflower seeds in it. There is some evidence linking sunflower seeds to obesity and behavioral problems in parrots.
Seeds provide more nutrition and may be more interesting to your parrot when they are sprouted. You can easily find directions for sprouting seeds on the Internet or from the staff at a health food store.
Pellets are a prepared diet mixed from many different ingredients and theoretically provide complete nutrition. They are analogous to cat and dog kibble. However, most avian veterinarians agree that these are not nutritionally complete, although they make a valuable addition to a bird’s overall diet.
A wide range of pellets is available on the market, with differing ingredients, shapes, colors, and flavors. Ask your local avian veterinarian, bird breeder, avian society, or zoo for its recommendations. Read the ingredients and avoid those that have lots of preservatives or that seem to have fewer nutritious ingredients than other brands.
Grains, legumes, and nuts
These items are mainstays of parrot nutrition. They pack proteins, minerals, vitamins, and fiber (and fats, in the case of nuts) into neat little packages. The grains you feed to your parrot should be whole-grain products to provide maximum nutrition. These can be cooked grains such as barley, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and wild rice. You can also provide whole grains in other forms such as breads, pastas, cereals, muffins, oatmeal, cream of wheat, and crackers. Always use low-salt varieties.
Legumes include all forms of beans—black beans, green beans, navy beans, kidney beans, etc.—along with lentils, peas, and chickpeas. Tofu is also a bean product that your parrot may enjoy. You can serve him beans raw or cooked, except for kidney beans, which must be cooked.
Like legumes, nuts are loaded with protein, but they are also high in fat. Feed your bird all kinds of unsalted nuts, but do not overfeed them or he may become a porker! They make great treats for training because most parrots love them. Nuts that your parrot may enjoy include:
- brazil nuts
- hazelnuts (filberts)
- peanuts (shelled—shells may contain fungi)
You can also feed your bird nut butters, as long as you use an unsalted variety.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide an extensive array of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, they are low in fats. Always wash all the produce you feed your bird thoroughly, and buy organic fruits and veggies whenever possible. Although iceberg lettuce is fine to feed as a treat, it is low in nutrients, so it should not be a staple item in your bird’s diet. Other, healthier choices include:
- bell peppers
- butternut and other winter squashes
- collard greens
- corn on the cob
- dandelion greens
- hot peppers (most parrots enjoy these)
- mustard greens
- sweet potatoes
Basically, any item in the produce department is fine for your parrot. The one exception is avocados, which are toxic to parrots. Feed fresh vegetables whenever possible, although frozen veggies are okay in a pinch.
Feeding your parrot
Now that you know all about the components of a parrot’s diet, you need to put this information together into a meal plan. This section contains a general plan suitable for most parrots, but know that different species have different nutritional needs. Research the appropriate diet for the species of parrot you have to be sure that you are feeding him correctly. No matter what species of parrot you have, feed him the widest variety of foods you can. This will help ensure proper nutrition and keep him from getting bored.
For most parrots, birdseed should make up no more than a quarter of the total diet. This percentage can be a bit higher for budgies and cockatiels, who eat a large portion of seed in nature. Another quarter should be pellets. The rest of the diet should be a mix of grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, with a small amount of nuts. Include healthy “people food” in your bird’s diet as well, which will give him more variety and prevent boredom. Additionally, you can eat with your bird, an activity both of you will enjoy. Do not feed him salty, fatty, caffeinated, or sugary foods.
Offer your bird fresh items, cooked foods, and seeds in the morning and evening. Remove these items in an hour so that they don’t spoil. Provide his daily ration of pellets in the morning after you remove his other food; this will give him something to snack on during the day. Feed him enough food so that he eats most of it in one sitting. Obesity is a common problem in pet parrots, so be on the lookout for this issue.
Your bird must have clean water available at all times. Because parrots are generally messy eaters—and many like to make their own soup—you will probably need to change the water twice a day or more frequently.