Don’t Fly Blind When It Comes To Bird Nutrition

Blue parakeet standing on a rock

Picky eaters come in all shapes and sizes, and our avian friends are no exception. Despite birds’ tendency to favor some foods over others, creating a balanced diet is a crucial factor to pet bird ownership.

Dr. Ashley Navarrette, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers guidance on developing a healthy diet for pet birds.

“Like with any pet, diet plays a crucial role in maintaining bird health and preventing disease,” Navarrette said.

When it comes to bird feed, owners typically are presented with two options—pellets and seeds.

While a majority of seed-based diets are supplemented to assure all needed nutrients are provided, many birds will be selective in what they choose to eat from the feed. This can often lead to nutrient deficiencies in pet birds.

On the other hands, the benefit of a pelleted diet, Navarrette said, is that it “allows for multiple ingredients to be combined and formulated to meet the nutrient requirements of specific species of pet birds.”

Because pellets are homogenous, pet birds consume the entire pellet, which allows for a more balanced diet. A pelleted diet also contains protein sources such as egg and legumes, which will supply pet birds with the protein they need.  

“One might compare pet bird pellets to canine and feline kibble that provides total nutrition,” Navarrette said. “I routinely recommend that pellets/formulated diets make up approximately 70-85% of the diet and the rest can be supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and legumes.”

Fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin A—such as bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, mango, and papaya—are great options. Other tasty treats are asparagus, cooked beans, cucumber, fig, kale, and zucchini. 

Birds should never be given avocado, as it is highly toxic to them. Navarrette also suggests limiting greens that contain high water content and little nutritional value, such as iceberg lettuce and celery.

When switching from a seed to pellet diet, bird owners should consult with their avian veterinarians, who can help troubleshoot any transitioning issues.

This change must be done slowly, as it may take weeks, if not months, for birds to become accustomed to a new diet. Smaller species, such as budgerigar, may not initially recognize pellets as food. This conversion may require owners getting creative to entice their pet bird to try out the new diet, Navarrette said.

A proper balanced diet is important to anyone living a healthy life, including our avian friends. Owners should be mindful of what their pet birds are consuming and how they can better adapt such diets to the needs of their animals.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.


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