ABC's of Bird Nutrition

ABC'S  of Bird Nutrition

A balanced diet is a necessity to allow the bird to live a full and healthy life. An unbalanced diet is the main cause of disease and early death in pet birds. Malnutrition is a human-made disease. Fortunately, it is also preventable. Owners must be the ones to actively study avian nutrition. It is much easier to start a young bird on a varied diet of healthy foods than it is to convert an older bird to a new diet. A bird on an unhealthy diet needs to be slowly (maybe even over a period of  several months) be converted to a healthier diet.

Seed-eating birds
Although people believe that birds in the wild eat alot of seed, this is far from the truth. So for our pet birds that are on a seed diet this is not a proper diet for them. Even when multiple types of seed are offered, the seed-only diet will not supply the necessary array of vitamins and minerals that is needed for optimal health. Birds love seeds like children (and adults) love candy. AND They'll eat a favorite seed even over other seeds, and even more so over what is healthy for them. The best diet for most seed-eating birds consists of pelleted foods, fruits and vegetables, and an occasional treat.

Formulated diets are readily available from many reputable manufacturers, pet stores, and veterinarians. The food is a blend of grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and various types of proteins, as well as additional vitamins and minerals. The ingredients are mixed and then baked. The food may be in the form of pellets, crumbles, or nuggets. Unlike a seed mixture, the bird cannot select particular components out of a formulated diet, so nutritional imbalances are much less likely to occur. There are commercial foods for different species, so be sure to select one appropriate for your bird. Some have higher fat levels for many of the macaws and Golden conures, whereas others may be lower in fat and higher in protein to provide better nutrition for cockatoos and Amazons.

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding. Remove the pits and apple seeds from the fruit. ALL fruits and vegetables left uneaten by the end of the day should be discarded daily so spoiling is not a problem. If you live in a hot and humid area, leaving these in the cage for just 4 or 5 hours might be the maximum. Remember, is your birds does eat alot of  fruits and vegetables in their diet, the urine portion of the droppings will increase because they are high in water content.

Non-seed eating birds
Diets for non-seed eating birds such as Lories and Lorikeets consist of a commercially prepared formulas. Some of these may be fed dry or moistened; others need to be made into a solution and fed as a nectar. The nectar will need to be replaced several times daily; every 4 hours in hot weather.  There are several now available on the market, and some are a nectar and some are a powder, Nectars will always be more expensive.

The diet should also include many fruits such as: apples, pomegranates, papaya, grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, figs, and kiwi. Pollen, corn-on-the-cob and some flowers such as pansies, nasturtiums, roses, hibiscus, marigolds, and dandelions may be offered, as well.

Foods to Avoid
Some foods are on the do-not-feed list. These include foods that contain high amounts of sugar or fats (junk foods: potato chips, doughnuts, etc.), avocado (guacamole), chocolate, alcohol, or caffeine. Do not give fruit pits. Persimmons are also on the do-not-feed list.

While not a food, grit is something people think all birds need. They don't. If it is overeaten, grit impaction can occur in the digestive system. Finches and canaries may benefit from a couple of grains of grit every couple of months, but most budgies, cockatiels, and other parrots do not need it.  

Feeding times
Natural feeding times in wild birds are about a half hour after sunrise and again at 5-6 PM. Sticking close to these feeding times will be most natural for the companion bird. Larger breeds can have fruits or vegetables left in the cage through the day for snacking and entertainment. Smaller breeds will typically have seed left in the cage throughout the day. The smaller birds need to eat more frequently throughout the day due to their higher metabolic rate and energy need.  

Monitoring intake

You should offer your bird only what he can eat in a day. This will make it easier to monitor his daily intake. Decreased food intake may be the first sign that a bird is ill., so this is an excellent way to really watch your bird.

Dishes should be washed every day in hot soapy water. No food should stay in the cage for longer than 24 hours as the risk of fecal contamination or spoiling is high.  Many people ignore washing water dishes daily.  Unless you are using a water bottle on the bird cage, you MUST wash your water bowl everyday.  Bacteria is actually known to grow within a water dish in only 8 hours.  This is due in part to feces in the water, but also just your birds beak dipping in and out of the water all day.

If a waterbottle is used, the water should be changed daily (but can be left in the cage for numerous days if on vacation) and the tip should be checked daily to be sure it is working. Dehydration is a serious problem that can occur within a day or two if water is unavailable.  This is especially a problem with smaller birds.  Birds have been known to try to put small seeds up the watertube and possible cut off the water supply in doing so.  If using a waterbottle, use a good quality one that is adequate in size for your bird.  Do not try to purchase a cheap one.  Especially this is true with larger birds. DO NOT purchase a plastic water bottle for larger birds.

No matter what bird comes into your home, read and ask questions regarding its specific nutritional needs. Feeding a balanced, varied diet will play a major role in helping your pet bird live a long and healthy life.

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