Guidelines For Your Bird’s Diet
Research and experience show that birds stay healthier and may live longer on formulated diets than on seed-based diets. Formulated diets, also known as pellets, are manufactured to meet the specific nutritional needs of companion birds.
Ideally, most companion bird diets should be composed of a minimum of 75% formulated food with the remainder in produce and other table food. For birds that refuse produce and table food, small amounts of seed may be fed along with the formulated diet. (Small birds such as cockatiels, budgies, parrotlets, canaries and finches do well on a base diet of 50% pellets and 50% other foods including seed, produce and small amounts of table food.)
Many brands and flavors of formulated food are available. Harrison’s Bird Diet (HBD) is an excellent bird food that is sold only through avian veterinarians and online. You will receive a free sample of Harrison’s during your bird’s first visit to Bay Area Bird Hospital. It is certified organic, and also has good taste appeal to most birds. For birds that dislike HBD or require variety, pet stores stock many other brands of formulated food. In general, plainer looking diets have fewer additives and are preferred over highly colored and scented varieties. Some brands are listed here according to the size of the bird.
Large birds (Macaws, Cockatoos, African Greys, Amazons, Eclectus, Pionus and some Conures)
Harrison’s Bird Foods Adult
Zupreem – Natural or Nutblend
Scenic (corn, cheese, apple and chili flavor)
Small birds (Cockatiels, Budgies and Lovebirds, Conures, Doves, Grey-cheeks, Pigeons, Parrotlets and Quakers)
Harrison’s Bird Foods – Adult Lifetime Fine or Superfine
Zupreem – Natural
Kaytee Exact Original Flavor
Scenic “Hot ‘n Healthy”
Very small softbills (Canaries, Finches, Budgies, Cockatiels, Doves, Grey-cheeks, Lovebirds, Pigeons and Parrotlets)
Harrison’s Bird Foods – Adult Lifetime Mash
Lafeber’s – Finch Granules
Low Iron Diets
Certain breeds such as toucans, mynahs, lories and Peking robins are prone to iron storage disease, which is usually fatal. These birds require specially formulated foods with low iron content. Harrison’s Bird Foods are recommended although other low iron brands may also be available through pet stores. Produce and table food with high iron content should also be minimized or avoided, such as grapes, raisins, dark leafy greens, red meat and poultry. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, can increase the uptake of Iron from the stomach or intestines and should be minimized.
Produce and Table Food
Most produce and table foods that are good for people are nutritional for birds as well. All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before feeding and should be removed after 4 to 8 hours to avoid spoilage. Some examples of beneficial foods are listed below.
Dark leafy greens (favorites include dandelion greens, green beans spinach, kale, bok choy and parsley)
Carrots and carrot tops
Cooked sweet potatoes
Frozen mixed vegetables (thawed)
Protein (small amounts)
Cooked meat, fish, chicken
Cheese and yogurt (lowfat or nonfat)
Cooked egg (white and yolk)
Nuts (only for the larger birds as nuts are also high in fats)
All fruits are acceptable in small amounts, including citrus, but orange fruits such as papaya, mango, and cantaloupe are highest in vitamin A.
Foods to Avoid
Avocado and chocolate are poisonous to birds and are fatal if fed in sufficient amounts.
Foods high in salt and preservatives are undesirable since birds are very sodium sensitive. These include salty snacks such as chips, crackers, pretzels and preserved meats.
Light green vegetables such as celery or lettuce are high in water content and low in nutrients, so they should be minimized or eliminated from the diet. “Crunchy water” is a great description for these items. For birds that refuse vegetables other than lettuce, romaine is the best variety.
Seed is excessively high in fat and low in many vital nutrients. Recent nutritional studies have shown that our domesticated seeds no longer resemble seeds from the wild – they are too high in energy and omega-6 fatty acids while proteins, vitamins and minerals are low.
It is also the most common source of bacterial infection in birds, since rodents contaminate it during storage on farms. Freezing, refrigerating and microwaving seed will not eliminate the bacteria. For these reasons, it can be advantageous to eliminate seed from the diet entirely. However, very small amounts may be used as treats for birds that have not experienced bacterial problems or for those whose owners feel seed is a “quality of life” issue.
Birds that consume at least 50% of their intake in formulated food do not require vitamin and mineral supplements and further supplementation can actually be toxic. Supplements include vitamin and mineral powders and drops, grit, gravel, cuttlebone, and mineral blocks.
Cage birds do not need grit – it can be contaminated with toxic metals or may cause a blockage. We do not recommend feeding grit.
Conversion to Formulated Food
Some birds convert to formulated food quickly and willingly while others may take weeks or months. Owner persistence is the key to successful dietary conversion.
During the first few days of the diet change many birds express their anger by screaming or throwing food. These behaviors usually stop as they adjust to the conversion process. The initial aversion many birds have to formulated food gradually turns to acceptance and then to enjoyment. Initially, the formulated food should be offered in a separate dish and left in the cage at all times.
Usual food items (such as seed and table foods) should be restricted to one hour twice daily, preferably morning and night. This is sufficient to maintain the bird’s normal body weight so the owner need not worry. Most birds will start to nibble the formulated food within a few days to a few weeks and the usual foods are gradually withdrawn until they compose 25% or less of the diet.
Another method can be tried in birds that refuse to consume formulated food after several weeks. The formulated food is softened in water and small amounts of the usual foods (such as seed) are mixed in. The bird must dig through the mixture to obtain the seed and usually develops a taste for the formulated food in the process. The amount of seed is gradually reduced or eliminated.
Birds can be hospitalized for dietary conversion when owners are unable or unwilling to undertake the process at home. In a strange environment, the conversion process is usually fast, taking only 7 to 14 days. If you are interested in this option, please contact the front desk to schedule your bird for boarding. Please be sure your bird has had a recent veterinary exam before changing the diet, in order to screen for any underlying health problems and to obtain a current weight.