Feeding your parrots and parakeets

Parrots (e.g. macaws, Amazon and African grey parrots) and the smaller parakeets (e.g. lovebirds, cockatiels, budgerigars, conures) are part of the Psittacine bird family.

In the wild these birds forage to find a wide variety of fruit, nuts,  seeds, nectar and sometimes insects.  As a pet, they are dependent on their owners to provide them with an adequate diet to fulfil their nutritional needs which is critical to maintaining adequate health.

Commercial bird food generally consists of a variety of seeds and dried fruit. Although this goes a long way in providing the fats and energy that birds need, it is important to supplement their diets to ensure a nutritional balance.

Fruits and vegetables- These make a great nutritious snack. You can try various fresh food to see what your birds likes. If they don’t respond at first, remember it may take a while for them to get used to something new. You can also try to present it in different ways (chopped mashed, grated etc.) Some of the items that can be offered:

Apple                            Banana                 Berries

Melon                           Orange                 Pineapple

Mango                          Broccoli                Carrots

Celery                           Leafy Greens     Peas

Peppers                       Squash                 Yams

When feeding fresh foods make sure they are only available for a few hours as after a time these food start to sour and attract pests

Also important is providing foods in a way that encourages foraging behaviour. Methods such as placing food items in different areas of the cage, weaving food items through the cage bars, hiding items in PVC  piping can be used so that the bird is stimulated and has to work a bit to get its food.

Vitamin and mineral supplements-  you can  offer your bird a vitamin/mineral supplement, formulated for birds, a few days a week. BEWARE,  it is possible to over-supplement which can lead to problems.

Foods to avoid

Chocolate- contains theobromine and caffeine which can cause hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, potential seizure and death if ingested at a toxic dose.

Avocado- all parts of the avocado contain persin which is a cardio-toxin to birds. Smaller psittacine species (e.g. budgies and lovebirds) are more susceptible. Signs of toxicity may be seen 12 hrs after ingestion and death can occur in one or two days.

Onion and Garlic-  Onions contain sulphur compounds that when chewed can cause anaemia (low red cell count). Onions can also irritate a bird’s mouth, oespohagus and crop. Garlic contains a chemical called allicin which in rare cases can also cause anaemia.

Fruit pits and apple seeds- most fruit is safe for birds, but some pits and seeds (e.g. found in  apples, peaches, plums, apricots)  contain small amounts of the cardio-toxin cyanide.  If feeding these items remove the pits and the seeds  before giving them to your birds.

Foods with high salt,  high fat  and high sugar content  – Table foods (e.g. potato chips, popcorn, crackers) containing potentially toxic amounts of salt can upset the electrolyte balance especially in small birds. This can lead to excessive thirst, dehydration, kidney dysfunction and death. Foods with high concentrations of fat can lead to  fatty deposits in the arteries which can predispose birds to heart disease and stroke. Foods with high levels of sugar can also cause serious health problems in birds.

Xylitol- this artificial sweetener can be found in  items as sugar-free candy, chewing gum and other diet foods.  It has been found to cause severe hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), liver damage and potential death in dogs. Should also be avoided in birds

Not toxic but not generally recommended

Peanuts- moldy peanuts  and/or peanut products can be contaminated with a toxin producing fungus.

Some plants- Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant are part of the nightshade family. These items  can be eaten by birds BUT the plants themselves are toxic if ingested. Leaves of rhubarb plants contain oxalate crystals which cause kidney problems.

Dairy- birds cannot digest lactose. Ingesting foods with high amounts of lactose can cause diarrhoea. Some food items contain very little lactose in them e.g. some cheese and yoghurt. These foods can sometimes be very as an occasional treat in small amounts. Remember this next time you want to feed your bird some macaronie pie!!

Grit- parrots have a muscular stomach  ventriculus) and do not need grit to digest their food.  Some smaller birds e.g.  lovebird, cockatiels may overeat grit when not feeling well, which can lead to intestinal blockage.

Kamara Rhynd DVM MSc (Wild Animal Health)