Basic Nutrition for Psittacines (Parrot Family)

posted: 05/15/12
More InformationBasic Nutrition for Psittacines, Grit, Switching from a Seed-based to a Pelleted Diet, Vitamin A Deficiency, Feeding & Nutrition Main

A balanced diet is a necessity to allow a 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.

Dietary differences among birds

To provide a proper diet, we must realize that the species of birds we have as companion pets do not all have the same dietary needs. Just as our North American wild birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds do not eat the same foods, neither do our companion birds. In general, psittacines can be classified according to their normal diets. Most are florivores, meaning the main portion of their diet is obtained from plants. Among florivores, there are granivores (grain and seed eaters), and frugivores (fruit eaters). Some birds are omnivores, whose diet can consist of both plant and animal components. There is a special class of florivores called nectarivores, who eat mostly nectar.

Dietary Classification Primary Diet Examples

Florivore: Seeds, fruits, nuts, bark, roots, berries. Birds: Military macaw, Blue and gold macaw, Red-faced parrot

Granivor: Grains, seeds. Birds: Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Hyacinth macaw

Frugivore: Mostly fruit and flowers; some nuts and seeds. Birds: Blue-throated macaw, Green-winged macaw

Omnivore: Seeds, fruits, insects, invertebrates. Birds: Sulpher-crested cockatoo, Red-tailed Amazon

Nectarivore: Nectar, pollen; some insects and seeds. Birds: Lorikeet, Lory

You can see that even among related birds, such as macaws, diets differ. Additionally, among each classification there are differences. For instance, even though both are considered granivores, in the wild, Hyacinth macaws eat mostly palm nuts, while budgies eat mostly seeds.

Seed-eating birds

Even for seed-eating birds, seeds alone are not a proper diet. There are several reasons for this:

- The seeds we offer our companion birds are not the same seeds they would find in their native habitats. We tend to offer seeds that are lower in protein and other nutrients, such as vitamins.

- The amount of energy used by wild birds in foraging for food is far greater than that used by our companion birds. Since our pet birds use less energy, they need to eat less or they will become overweight. Eating less, however, could result in vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies.

- When offered seeds, our companion birds tend to pick out their favorites, and leave the rest. Limiting the diet to only several types of seeds can often lead to certain nutrient deficiencies.

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. They will eat a favorite seed 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 foods: Formulated diets are readily available from many reputable manufacturers, pet stores, and veterinarians, and include Harrison's, Zupreem, Kaytee, Pretty Bird, and Roudybush. 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.

In most cases, formulated food should be 50% of the diet, the rest of the diet consisting of fruits and vegetables. For the small psittacines (budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds), 25% of the diet can continue to be a high quality seed mix, 25-50% pelleted food, and 25-50% fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Vegetables should comprise 40% of the diet, and fruits, 10%. The following lists good choices of fruits and vegetables for psittacines.

















Star fruit









Carrots (root and tops)

Cooked sweet potatoes



Mustard & dandelion greens

Swiss Chard



Cooked red potatoes

Green beans

Tomato Sweet red & green, and other types of peppers Cauliflower Broccoli (head and leaves) Beet & turnip greens Eggplant Kohlrabi Sugar snap or snow peas Squash (peeled & steamed) Red beets (peeled) Romaine or green/red leaf lettuce Collard greens Corn Cucumber Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding. Remove the pits and apple seeds from the fruit. Any fruits and vegetables left uneaten should be discarded daily so spoiling is not a problem. Because fruits and vegetables are high in water content, the urine portion of the droppings will increase. Adding variety and appeal: Birds decide what to eat by sight, texture, and taste. Offer a wide variety of vegetables and fruit to provide a balanced diet. Keep them in as natural a state as possible and be creative when preparing meals. Hang food from the cage top or sides, weave food into the bars of the cage, or stuff food in the spaces of toys. As an example, for larger birds, feed corn on the cob rather than feeding kernels of corn in a dish. This will help entertain the bird as well as provide physical and mental stimulation. Switching your bird from a seed-based diet: 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 must slowly (over several months) be converted to a healthier diet. Non-seed eating birds Diets for non-seed eating psittacines such as Lories and Lorikeets consist of a commercially prepared formula. 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. The diet should also include some 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. Supplements For most adult birds, supplements are not necessary, and should only be provided if recommended by your veterinarian. Commercial formulated diets contain the minerals and vitamins your bird needs. Using vitamin supplements could result in vitamin toxicoses. Foods to avoid Some foods are on the do-not-feed list. These include: High-fat junk food (potato chips, doughnuts, etc.) Avocado (guacamole) Chocolate Alcohol or caffeine Fruit pits Persimmons Table salt Onions Apple seeds Mushrooms Grit While not a food, grit is something people think all birds need. They do not. 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. They need to eat more frequently throughout the day due to their higher metabolic rate and energy needs. 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. Hygiene Dishes should be washed daily in hot soapy water. No food should remain in the cage for longer than 24 hours as the risk of fecal contamination or spoiling is high. Water Fresh, clean water should always be available. If a water bottle is used, the water should be changed daily 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. Conclusion 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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