Dr. Scott Echols – Healthy Avian Diets
TIPS FOR FEEDING HEALTHY FOODS TO SELECT BIRDS BY DR. SCOTT ECHOLS, DVM, DIPL ABVP (AVIAN PRACTICE)
Note: This chart is intended to serve only as a guide of possible food choices for commonly kept parrots, passerines and select other species. Diet should be adjusted for species variation, health status, climate conditions and physical activity.
< Note from Barb: Several pellets on the market have sugar added. Read the ingredient list on the package. Harrison, Roudybush, Lafeber each make high-quality pellets with no added sugar that are scientifically tested for appropriate and consistent nutrition.)
(Please read Dr. Scott Echols’ health warning and suggestions below in his article “Diet Conversion for Seed Junkie Birds”.) >
Whole Grains – Cooked or Uncooked
- Oat Groats
- Steel Cut Oats
- Flax Seed
- Chia Seed
- Hemp Seed
Fresh Colorful Veggies
- Jalapeño peppers
- Bell peppers
- Banana peppers
- Serrano peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Dark Leafy Greens
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Cactus fruit
- Passion fruit
- Snap peas
- Snow peas
- Lentils – Sprouted, cooked, or sprouted and cooked
- Garbanzo – Sprouted, cooked, or sprouted and cooked
- Mung beans – Sprouted, cooked, or sprouted and cooked
- Pine nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
**Foods NOT Recommended for Birds:
- Flour based foods (bread, tortillas, cookies, crackers, etc) (see below)
- Dried fruits
- Fruit juice (see below)
- Foods sweetened with natural or artificial sweeteners
- Grapes (see below)
- Bananas (see below)
- Citrus fruits (see below)
- Fried foods
- Fatty animal meat
- No raw beans
- Grit is not needed for caged pet birds however can be beneficial for ground feeding birds eating tough fibrous foods (usually not a concern with pets).
- No seeds except for performance (show, flighted), some breeding birds and as minor treats.
- Some items made with low glycemic flour may be acceptable.
Note: While some predictable feeding patterns can be found in certain species, birds can be very individualistic. Depending on health and reproductive status, seasonal variation, boredom and more, birds may change their ‘tastes’ and refuse once popular items and try new foods over time. It is a given that most birds prefer high fat items such as nuts and seeds. These foods should be limited to treats (if used at all) and reserved for some birds in breeding scenarios, cold environments, performance or physically active situations and those that require specific high fat diets.
Foraging is very important to the behavioral and physical health of birds. Whenever possible, incorporate foraging strategies into feeding your bird.
Certain species of birds have higher omega-3 fatty acid requirements (that they would normally get from specific nuts and other foods in the wild) and may benefit from supplementation. Also, species such as lories may be sensitive to iron storage disease and often require low iron diets. Because of these and other idiosyncrasies, consult with an avian veterinarian if you are unsure of your bird’s dietary needs.
Cockatiels, Grass Parakeets, Budgerigars, Parrotlets, Lovebirds, Pyrrhura Conures (Small Parrots)
Use whole uncooked and/or cracked grains (except for large types such as wheatberry). Smaller leafy veggies such as parsley, dill and cilantro tend to be favored over large leaf varieties. Cut open peppers to expose the seeds. Sprouts and broccoli crowns are a plus! Blackberries, raspberries, figs, kiwi and cactus fruit are generally accepted by this group. Give small pellets as 50% or less of the diet.
Doves, Pigeons (Columbiformes)
Try whole uncooked grains (any size). Berries (if small enough) and chopped fruit is generally eaten. Leafy veggies can be offered as a small portion of the diet and should be finely chopped. Give small pellets as 50% or less of the diet.
Feed small uncooked whole grains. Smaller leafy greens/herbs and broccoli crowns attached to the cage using a clothespin are often well accepted. Finely chopped peppers, squash and sweet potato will be eaten by some. Cut fresh fig and some berries are popular with finches. Give small pellets as 50% or less of the diet.
‘Large’ Conures (Sun, Nanday, Patagonian, etc)
Try both uncooked and cooked (especially spelt, oat groats, wheatberry, barley) grains. Lightly cook or steam yams and broccoli. Feed raw cut peppers. Berries and cut fruit are accepted by some. Try chopping, or cut into thin strips, leafy veggies. Give small to medium pellets as 50-70% of the diet.
Amazons, African Greys, Pionus, Macaws, Cockatoos
Cooked (especially spelt, oat groats, wheatberry, barley) grains are preferred. Offer raw or lightly cooked/steamed yams, pumpkin and broccoli. Offer chopped or whole peppers, squash, zucchini, etc. Offer whole or chopped fruits. Cooked beans and sprouts can be added to a mix. Some macaws and cockatoos have unique dietary requirements that go beyond the scope of this short paper. Give medium to large pellets as 50-70% of the diet.
Grapes and bananas are very high in sugar. Farmed citrus fruits are also high in sugar and ingredients that may increase the risk of iron storage disease for susceptible species. Flour based foods are generally high glycemic (meaning they rapidly turn to sugar in the blood shortly after ingestion). For the same reasons (high sugar content), I don’t recommend feeding fruit juice to pets (or really even people).
Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
DIET CONVERSION FOR SEED JUNKIE BIRDS BY DR. SCOTT ECHOLS, DVM, DIPL ABVP (AVIAN PRACTICE)
Note: If too abrupt, diet conversions may lead to emaciation in death in some birds. To best assess the progress of a bird during a diet change, weigh the bird regularly and monitor for normal production of droppings. If your bird is sick, consult with an avian veterinarian prior to changing your pet’s diet.
Slowly Diminish the Old Diet- Commonly used with large parrots and those used to eating out of a bowl.
Method: Place 50% of the old diet and 50% of the new diet in the same bowl. It is important to only offer a day’s worth of food in the bowl or in total if multiple bowls are used. Otherwise, your bird may simply eat the old food and avoid or throw out the new items. Every few days to a week, proportionally reduce the amount of old food and increase the new items. Within a few weeks to months, the new food should represent 100% of the bird’s diet.
Hunt and Peck – This works best with small parrots and Columbiformes that are hand tame including budgerigars, grass parakeets, cockatiels, parrotlets, doves and more. This also works with some larger parrot species.
Method: Place the new food items (preferably small dry foods [pellets, whole grains, etc] that you can easily pick up and separate) on a hard flat surface (light color works best so the food is easily visible). Place your bird on the flat surface with the food. With your bird watching, pick up and drop the new food items one at a time. The idea is that you get your bird interested enough to start investigating, tasting and ultimately eating the new food.
Bounce, Hunt and Peck – This is very similar to ‘Hunt and Peck’ in that smaller parrot species and Columbiformes tend to convert well using this approach.
Method: Place the new food items (preferably small dry foods [pellets, whole grains, etc] that easily separate) on a thick paper towel or cardboard (light color works best so the food is easily visible). Place the food and towel/cardboard on a hard surface. With your bird watching, tap on the towel/cardboard such that the food items jump around. The ‘peck’ drive found in many ground feeding birds stimulates them to try the new food.
See What I am Eating – This works well with social larger parrots that like to be involved in your daily life.
Method: Have healthy foods in a bowl (that you are eating from) in front of your bird. Then periodically offer foods from the bowl to your bird. If your bird accepts the foods, start putting the new items in the food bowl on top of the old diet (instead of handing it directly to your bird). Next, place the new foods in the bird’s bowl before you eat from your own bowl. Once you are comfortable that your bird is regularly eating the new items, reduce or eliminate the old food.
‘Forage and Find’- This works great if your bird is already foraging. Otherwise, you may have to teach your bird to forage first.
Method: Use simple foraging toys to hide new food items in place of the old diet. Birds comfortable with foraging often try the new hidden food as they find it. Using this method, you can also see what foods your bird does and does not like when you hide individual food items in separate foraging toys.
Support the research of Dr. Scott Echols with donations to The Grey Parrot Anatomy Project
(Write “Lafeber match” in Tribute section to double your donation.)