What to feed your feathered friend seems like a simple topic but the reality is that there are over 300 species of parrots (Psittaciformes) and over 5000 different Passeriformes (the family that canaries and finches belong to). Our diet recommendations change in response to improved understanding of what these guys need.
In The Wild
Many parrots eat seeds in the wild. They may also consume fruits, nuts, larvae, shoots, dead animals, barks, leaves and grubs. Nectivores/omnivores such as lories and lorikeets eat nectar and pollen in addition to fruits, larvae and seeds. But not all species eat all those foods. Hyacinth Macaws eat palm nuts which are about 50% fat – that would make a cockatiel quite obese!
So At Home…
So why not feed your bird on an all seed diet – that’s what they’d eat in the wild, right? In part they would. There are 2 very significant differences between the wild and our homes.
The first is availability. In the wild, birds spend several hours each day looking for food. Different food items are available in differing amounts throughout the year. Birds have adapted to survive on these variations. At home, we give them a plentiful (usually too plentiful) supply of all sorts of seeds. Your bird is no dummy! He or she will sort through the offering to eat whatever they’d prefer. You might be feeding an all sunflower seed or all safflower seed diet without realizing it.
The other important difference is that seeds in the wild are variable in protein and energy content. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids (these do not store well) and have moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Domesticated seeds (what you get from the stores) are high in energy from starches and omega-6 fatty acids. They are low in proteins, vitamins and minerals. They basically have candy-like nutrient levels.
Nutrient imbalances can affect any and every organ system in the body. Signs that you may see include changes in the feathers such as incomplete or frequent molts, retained feather shealths, abnormal coloration and irritability due to feather discomfort. Skin may be dry or flaky and itchy. Beaks and nails may split, be too long or have exaggerated curvature. There are other reasons your bird may show these signs, but if he or she eats an all seed diet they probably won’t resolve until the diet is improved.
To Sum Up
Getting your bird onto a pellet-based diet is the single most important change you can make to improve their long term health. We also recommend teaching them to eat dark leafy greans – take a look at our diet handout online here.
***Because your bird may have other health problems, we do not recommend working to convert the diet until after a veterinarian has examined your bird***