Jeff Sexton

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Bird Food

Among the many things that we did not have good information about upon getting birds was their food.

Sure, they sent us home from the pet store with a bag of a food mix especially for cockatiels, but really the picture is a lot more complicated. It's one of many things that I've since been troubled by in light of how easy it is to purchase a bird. It's disturbing to think how many birds must shortened lives due to malnutrition.

In fact, birds can (and should) eat a surprising variety of foods. It is easy to find information on foods for birds on line, but it's scary to think that we had them for weeks before I ran into a list that mentioned that nutmeg is toxic to birds. Today, our birds eat a combination of;

  • A specialty food mix 
  • Pellets
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Our food (a real good way to annoy a parrot is to eat in front of them)
Parrots can eat most of what people eat, with the caveat that it isn't necessarily good for them. A little common sense is in order, and after all a lot of what we eat is not good for us either.

No-no foods for parrots are;
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fatty, sugary and very salty foods
  • Nutmeg
  • Avocado
  • Red meat
  • Milk 
  • Very hot, and very cold food
  • Peanuts
  • Rhubarb
  • Fruit seeds, such as apple seeds
Cabbage is on many no-no lists too, but not always, as is iceberg lettuce.  Celery is not on the lists, but has no nutritional value. Best to just avoid these. Also best to avoid peanuts, although they have been feed to birds and are often on "OK to eat" lists. Peanuts can have a fungus called aflatoxin that causes a nasty and typically fatal liver failure. This fungus can occur in other grains that are not stored well, but peanuts and legumes in general are particularly susceptible. The fungus is also harmful to humans, but this is one of many cases where FDA standards for human consumption are not rigorous enough to protect birds. Some bird food sources screen their peanuts to exceed human food grade standards, but I don't see a reason to chance it. There are plenty of other things our birds can eat, so no peanuts. This is another thing I did not know when we got birds, and I did in fact give Harlan a few peanuts early on.

At this point it's worth mentioning a general trend in information about keeping parrots. I get the impression that there has been a good deal of new research and new products just lately. For example, there internet is loaded with advice on getting parrots to switch to pellets, because pellets contain the right mix of vitamins that parrots don't get from seeds. But the mixes we have been getting do contain pellets and a brew of seeds and grains intended to provide the right combination. These mixes do not seem to have been around for very long. I get the feeling that as recently as the early 2000s birds were not being feed well.

Feeding nothing but seeds of course won't do. But I don't like the idea of the all pallet diet either since pellets are just a highly processed version of fresh foods with artificial additives and colors. An over dependence on processed food isn't good for us, why should it be good for parrots? Preparing fresh foods everyday for the birds is a lot of work, but it's good for them. So we offer the widest variety of food we can.

This brings up another food related point we did not know when Ed and Olive came home with us. Young parrots don't know much instinctively. They learn a lot from their parents, including what food is and what is food. If they are only feed one thing, it will be very difficult in later life for them to accept anything other than that one item as food. Thus, offering a wide variety, and changing the combinations, is highly beneficial in the long run. So in addition to the commercial mix, we give them, twice a day, some combination of these foods, so far, depending on what we have on hand;
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Peas (in pods and frozen)
  • Cooked carrots
  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Non-iceberg lettuce
  • Collard greens
  • Chard
  • Sweet and hot peppers (yes, birds like hot chilies and it's a fun way to occasionally jazz up their food) 
  • Apples 
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Cantalope
  • Pear
  • Breads
  • Flax seed
  • Cornflakes
  • Spinach 
  • Fresh cilantro 
  • Seasonings, including cinnamon, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper  
As new fruits and vegetables come into season, we'll be adding more. Treats:
  • Cheese (mild, and in small amounts)
  • Crackers (Ed is crazy for Wheat Thins)
  • Millet seed
  • Cooked pasta
  • Walnuts, and other nuts, walnuts seem to be the most popular with out birds
  • Popcorn (without salt or butter)
  • Commercial bird treats
As a general observation about foods for parrots, it seems to me that if a person ate a parrot's healthy diet, that'd be a pretty good diet. I buy a lot more fresh vegetables for the birds these days, and so I eat them too.

Here are few more things I didn't know at first...

  • Birds are picky eaters. They will pick through a mix and just eat what they like. Chopping up vegetables into a salsa like mix gets them the eat more, but I like to give them bigger pieces. If they are exposed to many different foods, they seem to eat nearly everything just fine.
  • Birds will change their tastes. One day's favorite may get left behind the next, and a food they seem to never eat may suddenly become a favorite.
  • A surefire way to get a parrot to eat a food is to eat it yourself in front of them.

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