Table of contents: What do parrot's eat in the wild? | What do parrot's eat? | What fruit and vegetables can a parrot eat? | Wild and foraged foods for your parrot | Parrots and nuts | Commercial seed mixes for parrots | Pellets and your parrot | Supplements and your parrot | Sprouts and beans for your parrot | What do parrots drink? | Home prepared and frozen diets | Exercise and your parrot | Your diet has worked
What do parrots eat in the wild?
One of the reasons for parrots’ intelligence is their need to know where in the rain forest various trees are situated and when their fruit is ripe.
They learn to carry a map in their heads. Wild cockatoos’ habitats range from dry bush land in Australia to humid forests in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Therefore, their diets can vary considerably, consisting of fruit and fruit seeds, nuts, flowers, and corn where they can find it. Wild parrots are opportunists.
When it comes to your parrot's food, ideas can vary. Asking an expert would seem like a good idea however, ask two experts - receive different answers. No proven scientific evidence exists for the best diet.
So, In the absence of accepted scientific proof what can the conscientious caregiver do? Here are some suggestions for your domesticated parrot.
What do parrots eat?
There are three different diet types:
- Fresh food and pellets
- Fresh food and a seed-based diet
- Or an alternation of both with fresh food added daily
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What fruit and vegetables can a parrot eat?
Some suggestions for fruit and vegetables you can feed your parrot are:
|Citrus fruits||Bell peppers|
|Peaches||Corn on the cob|
What other vegetables and salad vegetables can parrots eat?
|Other winter squashes|
Any fruit and vegetable can be tried. Just avoid a lot of mashes or stewed fruit because of fat and sugar.
Giving parrots a small amount of animal protein is generally accepted. Some vets will forbid eggs; others won’t.
I’ve fed chicken bones for calcium to my Greys for almost 20 years. And in persuading my Blue and Gold young Macaw to come to my hand, a chicken bone provided the best lure.
...More about fruit and vegetables for your parrot
Fruit and vegetables are essential (and not cheap!)
The percentage you give to your bird will depend on the species. Debate about whether vegetables are much better than fruits because of fruit’s high sugar content is ongoing.
I ensure that at least 40% of the diet is composed of fresh ingredients. I try for organic where possible
Casper Grey and Artha Grey were hand reared by their breeder, then weaned onto seed mixture with fruits and vegetables
My vet recommended pellets. His opinion was that non-professional caregivers couldn’t easily make up a good diet with every vitamin and mineral added. I could never persuade them to switch to pellets. They’re healthy.
I buy Tidymix. It is costly but so obviously clean. Then I add chopped fruits and vegetables. I sprout legumes and seeds on a three-day rota and everyone gets a portion each day. You can also buy a selection of parrot foods from World Stores.
Fruits and vegetables provide an extensive array of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, they are low in fats. Always wash all the produce you feed your bird thoroughly, and buy organic produce whenever possible.
Wild and foraged foods for your parrot
These are becoming more popular as people learn what wild birds consume. Green fresh garden produce and certain weeds are closer to a wild diet.
Wild foods your parrot can eat:
- Sow thistle
- Hawthorn berries
- Fat hen plant
- Cotoneaster berries and so on.....
In Loro Parc the world’s finest, largest parrot collection, beds are laid down to dandelions. Every part of that coloured weed is beneficial.
And add fresh flowers, too. One of our prettiest parrot sights was Perdy cockatoo working her way through a wreath of orange blossom.
If you gather from an unknown source, give a quick wash in a weak antiseptic solution in case of pollutants. No cost involved and healthy time in the open air.
I also grow sunflowers and sweet corn for the parrots. Lists of poisonous flowers and trees are available on the internet.
What parrots can't eat
What you must avoid is salty, fatty sugary, fried human foods, tea, coffee, alcohol.
That said I know of many pet parrots (mine included) who adore the occasional slice of prawn cracker or piece of toast or other ‘forbidden’ foods.
Moderation is the key word. Since the birds sometimes join us for dinner, we never serve unsuitable food.
Parrots and poisonous plants
Very few plants are poisonous. Two that come to mind are laburnum and yew. I’m not sure if healthy birds with a good environment will even touch poisonous food.
Parrots and nuts
You may decline to feed monkey nuts because of the risk of Aspergillosis. (A lung disease with a poor prognosis that is caught from mould). I buy human grade peanuts and take that risk.
My aviary houses a small collection of parakeets and rescue parrots who live out in an East Anglian winter. I increase sunflower and monkey nuts in cold weather and have never lost a bird in zero temperatures.
Like legumes, nuts are loaded with protein, but they are also high in fat. Feed your bird all kinds of unsalted nuts, but don’t feed more than a few a day depending on activity.
Recommendations would be one or two nuts a day for most species. More of course for Macaws who have a higher fat requirement. Nuts make great treats for training because most parrots love them.
What nuts can parrots eat?
|Almonds||Brazil nuts |
You can also feed your bird peanut butter, as long as you use an unsalted variety. My Artha Grey enjoys peanut butter on toast as a breakfast treat.
Commercial seed mixes for parrots
Seed mixes aren’t a complete diet for parrots, even though they look and smell more appetising than brown nuggets. Bear in mind that the cheaper mixes are dusty and too bulked up with sunflower seeds.
Sunflower seeds (their fat content is high) are NOT disastrous for parrots unless they are fed exclusively. I’ve had the sad experience of two rescue birds dying at 17 and 25, both African Greys. The autopsies showed arteries clogged by an exclusive diet of sunflower. In moderation - say a dozen a day - they won’t do any harm.
Some seed mixes now contain a proportion of pellets. Some varieties of seed mixes like pellet manufacturers now offer mixes for specific breeds.
Smaller birds like canaries, finches and budgerigars will naturally consume small seeds or pellets whichever you choose.
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Pellets and your parrot
They have been around for 30 years and the present ones are greatly improved on the earlier ones.
Most manufacturers now produce pellets for different species. Many pellet diets have been developed by avian experts. It seems a sensible choice for those of us who are busy out at work.
A word of caution here - you get what you pay for. Cheaper brands contain too much fillers, colourings and chemicals that aren’t the best.
I’ve tried different brands but never managed to get my fussy birds to accept them willingly.
Even Harrisons Organic with its superb reputation is tossed to the floor by my Greys. Baby birds who are weaned onto pellets appear to accept them more easily.
Changing your parrot from seeds to pellets
If you and your vet decide pellets are the way forward, birds can be taught to transition from seeds to pellets over a few weeks. Lafaber which are most costly seem to be the most liked natural foods.
Supplements and your parrot
Supplements of vitamins, probiotics, calcium and other minerals are a consideration. However if feeding a good proportion of pellets you shouldn’t need them.
With non-pelleted diets, opinions are divided. Many breeders add calcium especially for laying hens. My vet believes a healthy diet containing plenty of green stuff obviates the need for supplements.
Sprouts and beans for your parrot
Germinating and sprouting seeds and selected beans like chick peas and mung beans release valuable nutrients.
Sprouting seeds can be fed on their own or as a part of diets like Shauna’s mash or the circus diet. Sprouting turns a dry seed into a high quality growing vegetable containing fat as energy source. All seeds benefit from sprouting.
The quality of the seeds you use can be determined by the percentage that sprouts. Expect at least 90% to sprout within 3–5 days. Once you get into the habit of sprouting, it’s not that much of a chore. There are commercial sprout mixes. Tidymix do a good one as do Haiths.
Two top breeders in Suffolk Michael Hurley and Barrett Watson use sprouts - beans and legumes as a major diet component and their breeding results are superb.
What do parrots drink?
Wild birds drink water from a variety of sources.
In captivity we need to change water at least once, sometimes twice a day. Some carers use spring water; others swear by addition of a few drips of cider vinegar. That’s my choice also.
Home prepared and frozen diets
The Circus Diet and your parrot
They are an interesting development. Steve Hartman’s Circus Diet is well worth looking at and perhaps trying.
As a breeder in USA of over 4000 birds in 20 years, Hartman has shared his expertise on his website The Parrot University
Steve believes in pea-sized pieces making it impossible for a bird to avoid any food so their brain is quickly programmed to eat every item. Steve writes: “Once a birds’ subconscious and conscious brain is programmed to eat a large variety of foods, it’s much easier to change their diet.”
Portion sizes for your parrot
Steve Hartman recommends the following daily portion sizes
|Medium_||32 grams||7 grams|
|Large||90 grams||20 grams|
Portion size is crucial for captive birds. Never offer more than 10% more food than the bird will eat. Remove the uneaten portion the next morning before offering more food.
Portion size will vary for each species, each individual, seasonal moulting, and breeding cycles. If there’s a lot of food left in the bowl, you’re probably offering too much.
Shauna’s mash and your parrot
Shauna’s mash is another development that is gaining in popularity in USA and becoming known about in UK.
Shauna developed a version of her mash from the work of earlier people. Mash is fiddly to make but once made, you can freeze one month’s portions and add your fresh food daily.
You can find out how to prepare different versions of this mash from one of the Finest Feathers website.
Exercise and your parrot
Wild birds need a high energy diet because they fly long distances. Our birds don’t.
An American vet claims that 80% of his cases are poor nutrition. Obese parrots like obese people have been eating too many calories.
Captive birds who get little exercise might need the same volume of food as free flying birds but with the fat content restricted.
As with all animals, the more physical activity the more fuel is needed. Also temperature is a factor. I live in East Anglia and the parakeets are outdoors 24/7. I increase the fat content of their diet when the barometer drops. I top up with added sunflowers and monkey nuts in shell and weekly cooked chicken bones. I have never lost a bird to cold.
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Your diet has worked
Simple daily observation: a bird who has eaten well has bright eyes, shiny feathers and an active posture.
A scale is a useful investment for weekly weighing. My Greys have kept the same weight for over ten years give or take a few grams. You can tell a bird is overweight by seeing if there is fat on either side of the breastbone.
Dear reader... Advice provided within this article are the opinions of Dot Schwarz. They do not reflect the opinions of ExoticDirect and you follow the advice at your own risk. Advice provided in this article is not a substitute for veterinary advice.