**My addendum to this post comes after another DVM posted about his Eclectus patient. While I do find that working with your bird on diet for a good fit is the ideal approach, I will add some caveats:
1) I feed my birds a predominantly pelleted diet supplemented with table food. They are in excellent health, have beautiful plumage, and seem generally to be happy/healthy birds. Since this works for us, I adhere to the 80/20 rule (or 70/30) - 80% pellets/20% regular food. This is what is currently touted by avian veterinarians. It changes...
2) Monitoring your pet for signs of ill health are crucial and can be an indicator that the diet is not appropriate: signs include picking and feather destruction, dark colored, brittle feathers, overgrowth or very rapid growth of the beak and nails, and being overweight. A healthy bird in good weight should have an easily palpable keel (the "chest bone" that runs down the middl). There should not be plump, round muscle on the side. The muscle should drop away smoothly. Weighing your bird at least once weekly can alert you quickly to illness, as birds will frequently start to lose weight before any other signs of illness are evident. Here is a good place to look at some average weights for different species. Birds, as people, will fluctuate a few grams in their weight, but a loss of 5% or more of body weight is concerning and should warrant a trip to the veterinarian.
3) Read up about the species you choose to own! It is important to know the particulars of each species and dietary recommendations. As I said before, they vary enormously between species. Research research research!
4) Feather picking is not always a sign of boredom. It can also be the first indicator of illness/poor diet. If your bird begins to pick, a trip to the avian veterinarian for a full check-up is in order. If nothing turns up, a behavioral cause should be sought.
I had a request (thank you, Elizabeth) for a post on parrot nutrition. As many of my readers have wound up here due to my title, which isn't really that descriptive, I thought I would oblige my parrot fans. After all, 3 of them run my life.
The question of diet in parrots is an enormously tricky one. The problem arises in that each type of bird whether it be macaw, caique, or African grey represents a different species of psittacine. Where all dogs are dogs regardless of breed, all parrots are not the same. Even within species (like between the Cockatoos), diet requirements can vary enormously.
For instance, macaws need higher fat diets than other parrots. In the wild, they subsist on largely nut based diets. This is especially true for the larger macaws such as Hyacinths. On the other hand, cockatiels in the wild are seed and crop eaters (and can be quite destructive to crops). Some types of Amazons subsist almost entirely on fruit diets. Lorikeets are nectar-drinking birds and require a nectar diet.
With all the diversity, it is no wonder that parrot diet is such a hot topic of debate. The endless argument between seeds, pellets, and table food is an old one in psittacine aviculture. Many believe that seeds are evil and should never be fed to captive parrots. They have a high fat content, some say "empty calories," and overeating of seeds can contribute to severe liver disease, hardening of the arteries, and countless other health problems.
On the other hand, there are pellets. A formulated, pelleted diet dyed with colors (or not, depending on the brand) that is supposed to be good for every type of bird on the bag. My personal bag of Zupreem has an African grey, a conure, and a Macaw depicted on the front. Many believe that pellets are absolutely the right answer.
What it boils down to is that it is very unlikely that a strictly pelleted diet is good for any species of bird. The food companies have produced a mass market product that is probably aimed at somewhere in the middle of most pet bird species. The fat content is probably not enough for macaws, whereas it might be too much for a cockatiel or a budgie. On that same note, it is highly unlikely that an all seed diet is good for any bird (although budgies, parrotlets, and cockatiels seem to do fine on it).
The answer I think lies in common sense and balance, just as it does for human diets. Moderation in all things. It is important to consider first the lifestyle difference between a captive parrot (very sedentary) and a wild parrot (spending > 80% of the day flying, scavenging, and foraging for food). Captive parrots have food presented to them in a bowl and have access at all times. Wild parrots spend most of the day finding food.
One suggestion to increase your parrots activity level, increase his interest in his surroundings, and encourage natural behaviors is to hide the food. This involves simply wrapping pellets and other food items (seeds, Nutriberries, etc) in newspaper, paper towels, or other easily shredded material, and hiding it around the bird's cage. This stimulates natural foraging instincts, cuts down significantly on self-mutilation due to boredom, and encourages your parrot to work for his food.
The next suggestion is variety, variety, variety. Instead of feeding just pellets or just seeds, a mixture of both, offered at different times throughout the day can keep your parrot interested and healthy. A small bowl of healthy seed "treats" at night can become something to which they look forward (because they will learn and start to expect it!). Safflower seeds, hulled peanuts, almonds, and cashews can all make up this "treat" bowl.
Finally, add "people" food, lots of it. Stay away from the big no-nos such as avocado, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol (although I will say that with the exception of avocado, my birds have had all of those at one time or another) and choose healthily - dark, leafy greens like kale and broccoli, deep orange and red vegetables, noodles, eggs (cooked only), and the like. It amps up your bird's interest and quality of life if they can eat when you are eating and encourages flock behavior.
What it boils down to is that no one knows the "right" answer to parrot diets, just like no one knows the "right" answer totally to dog, cat, or human diets. Do what works for you and your bird! No 2 birds, even within the same species, are alike. Finding the right balance between pellets, seeds, and table food can be difficult, but it can be done.
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