Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due both to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and to increased research into the needs of different bird species. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.
Should I be concerned about what my African grey eats?
Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. You should discuss your bird's nutrition with your veterinarian! Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their African grey when, in fact, they are not.
"Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems."
Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems. Bird owners should continually strive to improve their bird's diets. This means constantly educating themselves about the latest recommendations in proper nutrition—something a veterinarian well-versed in bird care can help with. Just like us, birds can survive on poor quality food; the goal, however, should be to help our birds thrive and flourish, not just survive. Like us, a bird's health depends a great deal on how well it is fed.
What does my African grey parrot naturally eat?
African grey parrots eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries and vegetation in the wild. They will clamber from branch to branch while feeding instead of flying. They especially treasure the fruits of the African oil palm, tree native to their environment.
What should I feed my African grey parrot?
African greys are vulnerable to both calcium and vitamin A deficiencies and to obesity. Feeding a well- balanced diet will help prevent the development of these conditions.
"African Greys are vulnerable to calcium and
vitamin A deficiencies and to obesity"
Although wild African grey parrots have access to seeds all year round, the types of seeds they feed on change throughout the year, as different plants come into season. The commercial seed mixes offered to many captive parrots tend to be high in fat and deficient in many nutrients. If these mixes are fed as the only source of food, African grey parrots could become ill and ultimately die prematurely. To make matters worse, often, birds will pick through a large bowl of commercial seed mix and selectively eat 1 or 2 "favorite" types of seeds, limiting their nutrient intake even further. They often preferentially choose peanuts and sunflower seeds that are particularly high in fat and deficient in calcium, vitamin A, and other nutrients. Their selective appetite can further predispose them to malnutrition.
"Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced
diet and should never be the entire diet."
Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet and should never be the entire diet. In addition, only a couple of nuts should be offered daily. If you gradually offer fewer seeds, replacing them with more nutritious choices, your bird will start eating other foods.
Commercially available pelleted diets have been developed to meet all of a bird's nutritional needs. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. There are many good brands of pelleted foods in the marketplace, and to suit the preferences of different birds, pellets come in different flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. Hand-raised babies should be started directly on a pelleted diet.
"Pellets are the ideal food and should ideally
represent approx. 75-80% of the bird's diet."
Pellets are the ideal food and should ideally represent approximately 75-80% of the bird's diet. The remainder of the diet should be comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables with very limited seed, if any. While transitioning a seed-eating bird to a pelleted diet can take weeks to months to accomplish and can sometimes be difficult, owners should slowly wean seed-eating birds onto a pelleted formulation. Speaking to a veterinarian well-versed in bird behavior and nutrition can be very helpful in converting a stubborn bird from seeds to pellets.
How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?
Converting seed-eating birds onto formulated diets is not always easy. Initially, they likely don’t identify pellets as food. Birds should be slowly weaned off seeds over a period of 4-8 weeks while the pellets are constantly available in a separate dish. Mixing pellets with seed is generally not an effective way to transition birds to pellets, as they will preferentially pick the seeds out, leaving the pellets behind. It may take days, weeks, or months to modify a bird's diet.
NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain the bird is trying the pellets, as well as eating some fruits and vegetables. Monitoring the bird’s weight on a digital scale that weighs in 1-gram increments is also a way for owners to be sure that birds are maintaining their weight during the transition. Birds are stubborn, but they can be trained. While transitioning a seed-junkie to a pelleted diet can be stressful for both you and your bird, with proper guidance from a knowledgeable veterinarian, you will ultimately be able to improve your bird’s nutrition.
"Remember that you train the bird; do not let it train you."
- Consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with this transition or with the health of your bird.
- Remember that you train the bird; do not let it train you.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables and greens should account for approximately 20 - 25% of your bird’s daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. Iceberg or head lettuce, celery), offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic and should never be fed to birds. Orange, red and yellow vegetables, such as squash, peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes, contain vitamin A—a nutrient essential to birds’ immune system, kidneys, skin, and feathers—and are ideal choices to offer birds.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals before feeding them. Cut them into manageable pieces appropriate to the size of the bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Offer fruits and vegetables in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one particular food item, reduce its volume or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the consumption of other foods.
Treat your bird like a small child; offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily, and even if it rejects the item once or twice, don’t give up. It may take several exposure to a novel food before a bird accepts it. A well-balanced diet must be maintained at all times to promote birds’ health and longevity.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you may consider the use of filtered or bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.
What about people food?
As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can eat in very small quantities. Follow the general guidelines discussed above, and use your common sense. Some birds enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg, or cheese occasionally. As birds are lactose intolerant, they should be offered dairy products only on occasion and in very small amounts. High fat junk food (French fries, pizza, fatty meats), excessively salty items (chips, pretzels), chocolate, caffeinated products and alcoholic beverages should be avoided.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs, or raising young may have certain special nutritional requirements. There are pelleted foods specifically formulated available for birds with these types of unique nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations.
Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino acids?
Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. Generally, a bird eating 75-80% of its diet in the form of pelleted food does not need supplements. Pellets are meant to be nutritionally complete. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg-laying birds may require calcium supplementation).
Birds that are not yet eating pelleted diets may be supplemented until their nutrition can be improved. Powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. These supplements should not be offered in water, as many of them can degrade in water or promote bacteria or yeast growth there. They may be offered directly onto moist food; however, in order to benefit from these supplements, birds must consume the entire moist food item. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately roll off the dried item or come off the seed as the bird removes the seed’s hull before consuming it. Ideally, supplements should only be offered for specific health conditions, under the guidance of a veterinarian, or when a bird is on an all-seed diet. They should be eliminated once a bird is transitioned on to a nutritionally complete pellet.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
Parrots, such as African greys, do not need gravel or grit. Grit helps birds that consume whole seeds (hull and kernel) grind and digest the seeds in their gizzards (part of the stomach). While birds such as pigeons and doves consume seeds intact, parrots remove the seed hull before ingesting the seed. Thus, they do not require grit or gravel. In fact, many birds offered grit will over-consume it and develop potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal obstructions. Grit is often found glued on sandpaper perches to try to help keep nails worn down. Birds may pick grit off these perches, as well, leading to intestinal impactions. For this reason, even sandpaper perches should be avoided.
What pointers should I remember about feeding my African grey?
Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
Offer fresh water every day.
Make pelleted food the basis of the diet (75-80%).
Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day, limiting their consumption to no more than 25% of the diet.
Clean all food and water dishes daily with hot soapy water, and let them dry thoroughly before using them.
A bird saying no to a food item one day does not mean no forever - KEEP TRYING!
Some suggested food items to offer include: