Ninety-five percent of all pet birds are from the parrot family; people easily fall in love with these rewarding pets. They make very intelligent and affectionate companions. Unfortunately, there is much more general knowledge about taking care of cats and dogs than there is for parrots. That is actually puzzling, considering exotic pets like birds, ferrets, and snakes actually have more complicated needs than your average cat or dog.
Many parrots live out their entire lives on birdseed. As we should probably understand from our own nutrition, just because the food we eat does not kill us, does not mean that it’s actually good for us. There are many reasons to put your parrot onto a pellet diet. In fact, the same two reasons that human doctors advocate healthy eating for us applies to parrots – good food helps them live longer with fewer health problems. Seeds are high in fat. In fact, the three most popular seed types are called “oilseeds” because of the extreme amount of fat that they contain. Providing a diet of mixed seeds will not help, because parrots will pick out their favourite seeds (usually the high fat seeds). Also, the nutrition label on the bag is not an accurate assessment of fat, protein, or fibre content because the birds do not eat the seed husk (shell). Therefore, your parrot may not be getting the proper nutrition balance that you thought you were feeding it.
Because parrots dehusk seeds, the nutrition label actually overestimates the amount of fibre it is consuming, and also underestimates the amount of fat and protein. However, even though seeds are high in protein, the high fat content allows parrots to eat a smaller amount of seed. The parrot will then not eat enough seed to get its daily needed protein. Protein is essential for proper feathers and maintenance of internal organs.
The excess fat leads to obesity, while the decreased fibre, protein, and vitamin consumption leads to malnutrition. It is possible to provide a balanced natural diet, consisting of fruit, vegetables, and seeds. Keep in mind the large amount of research you will have to do in order to prepare the correct balanced natural diet. There is also preparation and proper storage involved (fruits and vegetables go bad quickly), along with the mess that your parrot will inevitably make while eating. Feeding a natural diet can be very successful, but it is also somewhat more difficult than feeding a prepared diet. This is why feeding your parrott pellets is an excellent choice.
Vitamins and minerals are essential components in any diet, and the requirements vary between species. For example, birds do not require vitamin C (only humans, primates, and guinea pigs do). One essential mineral is calcium. Theoretically, 50% of pet parrots are female, and female birds are not usually spayed. This means it is possible for your female parrot, just like a chicken, to lay unfertilized eggs. When a female parrot consumes a diet low in calcium, the shells on her eggs do not form properly. She will be unable to lay these eggs due to weak, thin shells, and will become ‘egg-bound’. Egg-binding is when un-laid eggs build up within the parrot’s body. After a while, the parrot becomes unable to defecate. Also, an egg might break within the bird and the shell fragments can cut into her intestines and body wall.
There are other bonuses to feeding your parrot pellets. Medication is easily administered with pellets, without the fear that it will not be consumed when seeds are dehusked or preferentially eaten. Feeding pellets should always be done at an early age, because parrots tend to be set in their ways about their eating habits. Converting an older parrot over to pellets from seeds may be difficult, but if done correctly it is possible to convert your bird over a couple of months.
The advantages of pellets certainly indicate that pellets are the right way to feed a balanced diet to your parrot. The joys of having a parrot should not be complicated by health problems due to diet. There are some things that we can neither predict nor prevent with our pets, but diet is certainly not one of them. Understanding what your parrot needs will help it live a longer, happier life. For further information on parrots, visit the World Parrot Trust online, or contact your local exotics veterinarian.
By Ashley O’Driscoll – Pets.ca writer