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Bird Nutrition: Fine Foods for Your Feathered Friend

By PetcoBlogger on Sep. 29, 2017

As a pet parent, we know that you want to keep your bird well-fed with the best diet available. A healthy bird is a happy bird. We have a few tips for how to get even the fussiest of birds to eat a full and varied diet plus some information on the best food and supplements to give your feathered friend.

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Provide a balanced diet

A healthy bird’s diet should consist of 60–70% packaged food and 30–40% fresh vegetables and fruits. A quality diet of pelleted food combined with fresh vegetables, fruits and a small amount of seeds is optimal for your feathered friend. When shopping, be sure to search for bird food by the type of bird you have. This can save you time and help you avoid mistakes.

There are a variety of nutritionally balanced pelleted diets available. Some are colorful and fruit flavored, while others are more natural. Be sure to choose the correct formula and pellet size for your bird. Some birds prefer to soak their pellets, so be sure to change their water often. In addition to providing better nutrition than a seed based diet, pellets also produce a lot less mess as there are no seed hulls littering the bottom of your habitat and the surrounding area.

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be placed in separate dishes from pellets or seeds. Do not leave fruits and vegetables in a bird’s habitat for more than a few hours as they spoil quickly and can cause illness. Learning the types of vegetables and fruits preferred by your bird can be one of the most rewarding parts of feeding time.

The following foods should never be given to your bird as they can be toxic:

  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Raw meats
  • Avocado
  • Rhubarb
  • Caffeine

Here are a few examples of vegetables and fruits that are healthy and safe for your feathered friend:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale
  • Carrots
  • Orange and apple slices
  • Raw broccoli
  • Sprouted peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Celery
  • Corn Strawberries
  • Apricots (no pits)
  • Mangoes
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Papayas
  • Pears
  • Pineapple bits

In small amounts, there are two basic types of seeds that you can feed your bird:

  • Cereal - Millets, canary seed, de-hulled oats. These are low in fat but high in carbohydrates.
  • Oil Seeds - Sunflower, peanuts, hemp, pine nuts. These are high in fat and carbohydrates.

“Your best bet is to opt for specially prepared birdseed mixtures that are tasty and more palatable for your bird and have added nutritional value.”

While seeds are palatable, highly digestible, convenient and inexpensive, the lack of vitamins A, D, B12, calcium and protein mean that they are much better as a snack for your bird than an everyday meal. Seeds lose their nutrients with age and should only be bought in small quantities. Adding a small amount of seeds to your bird’s regular diet will both give your pet variety and help keep them healthy.

Another reason to feed your bird a balanced diet is to prevent them from becoming a fussy eater. If you don’t offer your bird a variety of different foods from the very start there is a chance that they will become a malnourished "seed junkie." You should work with your vet to resolve this—and stick with it. It will take time and patience, along with regular weight and health monitoring to achieve success. The effort will be worth it as your pet will be healthier and happier for it.

The best way to reform your fussy feathered friend is to gradually expand the dietary choices—slowly increasing the amount of new food provided while decreasing the amount of seeds mixed in. If your bird doesn't get full on seeds, your bird should start to taste the new foods in the bowl. When converting to pellets, you might try sprinkling the pellets on top of the seeds. While working through this layer of new food, the fussy eater will eventually take in a pellet and find it to be surprisingly tasty. Another trick is to sprinkle or stuff new foods with a few seeds. For example, sprinkle a few of your bird's favorite seeds over a piece of fresh fruit, or hide them in a spinach leaf or broccoli flower.

To be gentle and kind to your bird, it is best not to make them go "cold turkey". Withdrawing the old food and immediately replacing with the new could make your bird reject the food and not eat for a few days. It is also possible that your bird won't recognize the bowl of pellets as food, if it doesn't resemble the usual meal. Try phasing in the new foods slowly.

Dietary supplements

As a pet parent, you will often take dietary supplements such as daily vitamins, in order to help maintain a balanced and nutrient-rich diet. Of course, the ideal diet requires no supplements, but an ideal diet, for a human or a pet, is rarely achieved and you shouldn’t feel guilty for supplementing your household’s diets where necessary.

Fortunately for pet parents, there has been a fantastic effort by pet food companies to design "complete" foods that meet all pet requirements. Commercial bird food mixes are formulated with a proper balance of nutrients without the risk of overdose or error so if you are giving your bird a balanced diet of pellets, vegetables, fruit and a small amount of seeds, your bird shouldn’t need supplements.

If you are considering providing additional nutrients, bear in mind that personally administering dietary supplements can be tricky. Below are some handy tips to help you out.

Supplementing your bird’s diet:

  • Use a supplement specifically designed for birds or for your bird's particular species.
  • Find a supplement product that your pet finds tasty. You may lose time and money switching from one to another, but finally getting your pet to willingly accept the supplement will make up for it.
  • Add liquid drops to fresh water; unless they make the water taste really bad, your bird will be able to "take vitamins" as it drinks the water. Remember, water and vitamins should be changed at least once a day.
  • Administer solid supplements either by crushing them and sprinkling them over pellets or seeds or by mashing them into your bird's fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Ensure you are giving the correct dosage of supplements to eliminate the risk of overdose.

Be diligent—missing a day of supplements may not immediately harm your bird, but repeated or prolonged lack of vital nutrients will lead to poor health, illness or even death.

Commercial Supplements

Due to the low level of nutrients available in seed-only diets, as well as nutritional requirements for different birds during various stages of their lives, there are many types of supplements for you to choose from for your bird.

If you do decide to supplement, remember to use a supplement specially formulated for bird, for your bird's species and for their particular needs.

Some Examples of Supplements to Choose From:

  • Vitamin & mineral supplements: Round out your bird's diet.
  • Enzymes: Aid digestion and help replace natural enzymes baked out of commercially prepared foods (such as pellets).
  • Special supplements: Provide for one particular aspect of a bird's life, such as:
  • Calcium and phosphorus - For female birds during mating or breeding.
  • Protein - For molting periods.

Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies

It is imperative that you consult a veterinarian before introducing any supplements to your bird. Supplements should only be used in conjunction with a proper diet never as a replacement.

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