What food should my parrot eat?

Your parrot’s nutrition is an essential pillar of its health. It’s important to make the right choices regarding what your parrot eats. Below we put together a compilation of safe parrot foods and what to avoid.

Parrot Nutrition

Although the perfect diet is controversial, many parrot enthusiasts and experts agree on one thing; a seed-only diet is a diet that is lacking in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Studies have shown that adding fresh foods and pellets to a parrot’s diet can not only increase their health but may also prolong their lifespan.

Pellets are the ideal diet. They’re specially designed to meet all bird’s nutritional needs. Different formulas are available for different stages of life and for assisting with the treatment of certain diseases.

parrot food

Besides high-quality pellets, make sure to:

  • Provide fresh food every day.
  • Water should be changed twice a day or more.

When deciding to change your parrot’s diet, it is essential to speak with your avian vet about a diet plan. Your avian vet may be able to help you set diet goals for your bird, give you tips and advice on switching over, and help you along the way. The avian vet can tell you if your parrot is underweight, overweight, or ‘just right’ and the a-vet can do blood work to determine if your parrot should be on a special diet. If your bird is sick, it is best to get your bird healthy before trying to make a diet change.

Food Mix

Using a dye-free, natural, and/or organic pellet is best. It’s recommended to use pellets as 25-50% of the diet for small species, while the larger species do well with 50-75% pellets.

For smaller species, the following mix can be an interesting approach: 50% vegetables, 10% fruit, and 40% pellet.

  • Eclectus parrots’ diets should be weighted heavily toward fresh foods. One expert recommends 25% pellet and seed mix and 75%t fresh foods, including grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Macaw diets should be composed of approximately 70% pellets or other basic nutrition, 20% vegetables, and 10% nuts, seeds, and treats. Macaws are also prone to obesity.
  • Quaker parakeets benefit from roughly equal parts pellets, vegetables, and whole-grain mush or other grain based-treats.
  • Cockatiels can be allowed on 2 level tablespoons of seed/day.

Safe bird foods

Other than pellets, your bird can also eat:

Fresh vegetables

parrot chop

Vegetables always should make up the largest portion of the diet. The fiber they provide is important, especially so for some species, for digestion and a strong intestinal tract. 

Carrots (cooked slightly for better assimilation of beta carotene), string beans, corn, squash, peas, broccoli, zucchini, snow peas, sunflower sprouts, pea shoots, sprouted seeds, and beans (excellent for protein) are all favorites.

Pale vegetables, with high water composition (i.e., iceberg or head lettuce and celery) offer very little nutritional value and should not be offered.

Cooked beans, sprouts, or legumes

These have mostly carbs and proteins, respectively, but are also important for fiber and minerals. These are important for a healthy, complete diet but they can be overfed easily.

Remember, beans must be soaked for 12 hours, then boiled for a minimum of 15 minutes, then simmering until fully cooked-tender.

Peppers

Many parrots love peppers and they are high in vitamin C, B vitamins and carotinoids.

Allowed, but must be eaten with moderation:

Fruits

Fruits are high in sugar and should be given to your parrot in moderation. Ideally, one piece a day if possible.

Conure eating banana – Photo by Richard Bitting

  • Bananas
  • Unpitted apples
  • Berries
  • Kiwis
  • Mangoes
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranates
  • Lemons
  • Melons – no rinds

Absolutely positively do not feed your birds strawberries unless they are organic or thoroughly washed with a special fruit or vegetable wash. The cancer-causing pesticides used on them should have been outlawed long ago, but continual lobbying by growers has slowed down the process. Humans should not eat them either.

Seeds

You can give a daily supply of seeds, but never so much that the birds ignore their veggies. Birds should never eat a seed-only diet. See more details on our next paragraphs about it.

Cereal and Grains

Wheat, barley, and oats can be given in a moderate amount to your bird.

Rice, pasta, and wholegrain bread provide carbohydrates and can be given in moderation. Go easy on rice because there are small amounts of arsenic on it and that can affect the birds.

Popcorn

You can give unsalted, unsweetened, and ideally with no added oil popcorn to your bird. Never give microwaved popcorn because it’s high on fat.

Nuts

Treat nuts, seeds, and popcorn like a treat. Nuts are high on fat and are given in small amounts.

Flowers

Like with greens, these are naturally a large part of a parrot’s diet and share most of the same nutrients as veggies. In some species, flowers, pollen and nectar are actually a large part of their diet.
Some edible flowers: nasturtiums, pansies, roses, Allium flowers, radish, mustard and kale.

Eggs & Meat

It’s okay to serve small quantities of hard-boiled or scrambled eggs once a week. Birds can also eat small amounts of very well-cooked chicken.

Please note that these should not be served very often, as they can be linked to the development of cardiovascular disease in parrots. Don’t leave it in the cage for more than an hour.

Crumbs of baked goods/chips

Many parrots cannot excrete large amounts of salt efficiently, so potato chips and french fries are not a good idea. A tiny crumb from muffins, cookies, or other fatty baked goods once in a blue moon might be okay, but don’t get your parrot addicted to these treats. 

Foods to avoid when feeding birds

  • Avocado – Highly toxic!
  • Chocolate – Highly toxic!
  • Onions – Highly toxic!
  • Coffee – Highly toxic!
  • Alcohol – Highly toxic!
  • Acorns
  • Milk products: Cheese, milk, and yogurt
  • Peanut Butter – high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients
  • Sugar – birds have difficulty digesting sucrose (common sugar)
  • Cooking oil
  • Green Cabbage
  • Mushroom
  • Honey
  • Boxed Mixes (Muffin, Bread, or Pancake)
  • Breakfast Cereals (Sweetened, Vitamin Enriched)
  • Sweet pea
  • Sage
  • Uncooked beans
  • Nutmeg
  • Raw Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Garlic
  • Do not feed pits/pips/seeds from Apple, Apricot, Aprium, Cherry
  • Coriander
  • Eggplant
  • Catnip
  • Persimmon
  • Yucca/Cassava & Horseradish
  • Asparagus
  • With moderation: spinach, parsley, rhubarb, cranberries, celery, beetroot, and swiss chard
  • Do not give foods containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol.
  • Lean cooked meats such as chicken can be eaten, but there are studies pointed the connection between meat diets and cholesterol increase.
  • Sorghum (Safe raw, Unsafe soaked, or sprouted)
  • Sulfured Dried Fruits
  • Sweeteners (Natural or Artificial) Tomato or Pepper Leaves or Stems (Fruits are Safe)
  • White Flour Based Foods (Pasta, Couscous, Bread, Tortillas, Crackers, etc.) White Starchy Carbohydrates- Other (White Rice, White Potato)
  • Tea- herbal teas without actual tea leaves in them are fine and often beneficial.
  • Salt pickled/cured foods
  • Rice – recently, much of it is has been shown to be highly contaminated with arsenic
  • Human junk food

Pellets vs Seeds vs Nuts

As mentioned above, birds should not eat a diet only based on seeds. It’s also important to avoid the overconsumption of nuts, as they are rich in fat, and fat in excess is connected to a series of diseases, such as fatty-liver disease.

“Seeds are highly palatable and preferred by birds, but they are quite nutritionally deficient.”

Seeds should never be more than 35% of the diet of the parrot. They are low in vitamins and calcium, high in fat. Treats such as millet sprays and honey sticks are seeds, so avoid any excesses.

Pellets are the ideal diet and should be most of the base of your bird’s diet.

How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?

According to researchers at Stanford University, birds’ food preferences depend on what they ate as hatchlings. If a mature bird wasn’t fed a diet that included protein early in his life, he may be resistant to eating such foods.

If your bird grew up eating only seeds, there is a chance he might develop fatty liver disease. To avoid that, try to convert your bird to a pelleted diet.

Converting seed-eating birds onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, birds may not recognize pellets as food. It might take time, but the benefits pay the hassle. It’s important to not give up because that just hurts your bird even more.

This technique for converting birds to a pelleted diet consists of slowly adding a new pellet diet until the bird gets used to it. Avoid abrupt changes as your bird might stop eating altogether.

Mix 3/4 of the original diet with 1/4 of the Roudybush pellets or crumbles. Feed this mixture for one to two weeks. Increase the proportion of Roudybush to 1/3 and feed for one to two weeks. Continue increasing the proportion of Roudybush. When you reach 3/4 or more of Roudybush, change the cage papers and do not use litter so you can evaluate droppings.

Birds should be weighed at least once a week while converting to a pelleted diet to ensure that they are not losing large amounts of weight.

If you see anorexic droppings (see below), add more of the original diet for a week or two. This method is slower, but safer for those owners who cannot closely monitor their birds.

Converting a parrot to a predominantly pelleted diet can be a stressful time for both you and your bird. Consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with this transition or with the health of your bird. 

What is an anorexic dropping?

If the fecal part of the dropping is small and dark green or black or if the droppings have no fecal portion, it means your bird is not eating. You can go for two full days for small species of birds and three full days for large species of birds. If your bird’s droppings are still anorexic at the end of the switching period, put your bird back on his old diet for 1-2 weeks, and then try the switch again. 

Prepare Parrot Chops for a healthier diet

One issue with getting birds to eat a healthier diet is that many birds enjoy a variety over something that appears plain and dull.

Making up a batch of parrot chops can intrigue those birds who love the variety!

See more on the image below and on our post 7 tasty homemade parrot foods your bird will love

parrot chop builder

What to do if my bird doesn’t want to eat certain foods?

No to a food item one day does not mean no forever. You need to keep trying a bit day by day. Some ideas below:

Moved by hunger

At night, remove any and all foods from the cages when your bird goes to bed. First thing in the morning offer the birds new food in their current dishes. Leave the new food for 2-3 hours before removing and replacing it with their old food. Repeat every day until you see your bird eating the food.

Master of stealth

If you’re trying to introduce a new food item, include it in the bowl and mix it with fined chopped veggies, like the chop mix recipe mentioned above.

Hang the food on the cage

Another way to introduce your parrot to new foods is the following. If you own a curious parrot who will check out anything in their cage, you can try taking leafy greens or strips of carrots and weaving them in-between the cage bars, hanging the food from the top of the cage like a toy, or even putting pieces of fruits and vegetables onto a kabob. The curious bird may decide to take a nibble, and if it tastes good, eat some of the bounties!

Make your bird jealous

Birds are often flock creatures, and most being curious may be willing to try whatever you are eating. This can be as simple as eating food in front of them and sharing it, to making yummy delicious sounds as you eat, acting like you are going to share, hog the food, make the bird jealous, then finally sharing for the bird gets extremely curious as to what it is you are eating that is so good that you cannot share the food.

Change the temperature and shape

If your birds refuses to eat something, try to offer cooked versions in different shapes.

Try sprouting mix

If your bird is reluctant to try these things, try sprouting their seed mix. It will be familiar to them and seeds are much healthier when sprouting (lower in fat, higher in amino acids for instance).

How to tell if my bird has malnutrition?

Is your bird eating normally? If not, they may be deficient in essential nutrients.

  • What conditions are the bird’s feathers in? Insufficient diets can cause the feathers to look ragged and dull.
  • Are there any changes in the beak? Deficiencies can cause the beak to become soft, flaky, and prone to injury.
  • Avoid pale green vegetables that have high water content and little nutritional value (e.g. celery and iceberg lettuce).
  • Orange and yellow-colored vegetables are high in beta-carotene (a precursor for vitamin A) and well needed on a birds’ diet.

How to tell if my bird is sick?

Below we put together some signs of illness:

  1. Change in attitude – decreased activity, decreased talking and singing, increased sleeping, no response to stimuli.
  2. Discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth
  3. Decreased or excessive food or water consumption
  4. Change in appearance or posture – ruffled feathers, weakness, inability to stand, staying on the bottom of the cage, sitting low on the perch, drooping wings, convulsions
  5. Injury, bleeding, enlargement, or swelling of the body
  6. Change in character or respiration. Any noticeable breathing movement (e.g. tail bobbing) while resting, heavy breathing after exertion, change in the quality of voice, respiratory sounds such as sneezing, wheezing or clicking
  7. Change in weight or general body condition
  8. Vomiting or regurgitation
  9. Change in character of the droppings

Will my bird have any different nutritional needs throughout its life?

Birds that are extremely young stressed, injured, laying eggs, or raising young may have certain special requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations. 

parrot baby food

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

Some time ago, it was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard to aid in digestion. This is true for birds that ingest seeds whole, shell, and all. However, many birds, including parrots, remove the shell before ingesting the seed kernel. Birds that eat this way do not need grit in their diet. In fact, some birds will have health problems if grit is offered and over-eaten.

Other bird food tips

  • Don’t serve your bird hot food. Err on the side of safety and let it cool off thoroughly. Bird’s beaks are very delicate and can be easily burned.
  • Do not leave perishable foods too long within your bird’s reach.
  • Old seeds lose a high percentage of vitamins C and E.
  • Never give food from your mouth to your parrot and don’t bite off a piece for them. There’s too much bacteria in your mouth and you can make your bird sick. 
  • Make sure that you have a gram scale to weigh your bird daily.
  • Always check bowls of food containing seeds. Sometimes they may appear full because of empty husks.
  • Do not leave perishable foods too long within your bird’s reach.
  • Frozen vegetables are okay if you have nothing else in the cupboards, but it does lose nutrient value, so try to substitute with fresh food.
  • Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird, especially if birds are housed together. 

Sources

Parrot Parrot – https://www.parrotparrot.com/parrot-health/basic-care/

Life from Scratch