African Grey Parrots - Feeding

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM, DABVP; Rick Axelson, DVM

Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due to both a heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and the continuous 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 have specific nutritional requirements, necessitating different foods being offered. For example, the African grey parrot is more prone to calcium deficiency if fed a predominantly seed-based diet in comparison to other large psittacines.

Should I be concerned about my African grey’s diet?

Commonly, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their African grey when, in fact, they are not. Not all pet stores, breeders, or online educational materials will have the most up-to-date guidelines for your African grey parrot’s dietary needs. A qualified avian veterinarian can provide you with the best dietary recommendations for your pet ‘Grey’.

Just like us, birds can survive on poor quality food, but their overall health may be compromised. A bird's health depends a great deal on how well it is fed and what foods it consumes. The goal should be to help our birds thrive and flourish, not just survive. It is important to note that, while it is important to offer your African grey parrot a well-balanced diet, it is even more important that he/she EATS A WELL-BALANCED DIET!

What do African greys eat in the wild?

In the wild, African grey parrots eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and vegetation. They especially treasure the fruits of the African oil palm, a tree native to their environment.

What should I feed my African grey parrot?

African greys are vulnerable to both calcium and/or vitamin A deficiencies, as well as obesity. Feeding a well-balanced diet and making sure your parrot consumes the proper proportions of foods offered will help prevent the development of these conditions.

"African greys are vulnerable to both calcium and/or vitamin A deficiencies, as well as 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, birds will often pick through a large bowl of commercial seed mix and selectively eat one or two "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 20-40% of a balanced diet. In addition, only a couple of ‘tree type nuts’, such as almonds, walnuts, or Brazil nuts, should be offered daily. If you gradually offer fewer seeds while replacing them with more nutritious choices, your bird will start eating other foods.

Pelleted Diets
Commercially available pelleted diets have been developed to meet most 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. To suit the preferences of different birds, pellets come in different flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes.

Pellets are the ideal food and should represent approximately 75-80% of your bird's diet. The remainder of the diet should be comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, and a small amount of seed if any.

"Pellets are the ideal food and should represent approximately 75-80% of your bird's diet."

Hand-raised babies should be started directly on a pelleted diet so they become adjusted to a properly formulated diet at an early age. Transitioning a seed-eating bird to a pelleted diet can take weeks to months to accomplish and can be difficult. Initially, they likely do not identify pellets as food. Never switch a bird’s diet ‘cold-turkey’. Birds should be slowly weaned off seeds over a period of two to six weeks, with the pellets constantly available in the main food bowl. A method to transition is to offer 90% of the current seed with 10% new pellets and, with each day, reduce the seeds and increase the pellets by another 10% each. If your bird is not reliably consuming the pellets nearing the end of this transition, restart the process in about one month with a different pellet.

NEVER withdraw seeds entirely without first being certain your bird is trying the pellets, as well as eating some fruits and vegetables. Monitoring your bird’s weight on a digital scale that measures in gram increments is a way to be sure your bird is maintaining its weight during the transition. Consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with this transition or with the health of your bird. Remember that you train your bird. Do not let your bird train you.

Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables, legumes, and greens should account for approximately 20-25% of your bird’s daily diet. Pale vegetables with a high water composition, such as iceberg lettuce and 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 a bird’s immune system, kidneys, skin, and feathers, and are ideal choices. Fruits contain a high amount of water and sugars and should be 10% or less of your bird’s daily diet.

Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals and bacteria before offering 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 temporarily stop feeding it to promote the consumption of other foods. Offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily and, even if your bird rejects the item once or twice, do not give up. It may take several exposures to a novel food before your bird accepts it.

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.

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 above and use your common sense. Some birds occasionally enjoy a small amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg, or cheese. As birds are lactose intolerant, they should be offered dairy products only on occasion and in very small amounts. High-fat junk food (e.g., French fries, pizza, fatty meats), excessively salty items (e.g., chips, pretzels), chocolate, caffeinated products, and alcoholic beverages should be avoided. Do not feed foods that are fried, canned, or cooked with butter or oil.

Will my bird’s nutritional needs change throughout its life?

Extremely young birds or birds who are stressed, injured, laying eggs, or raising young may have special nutritional requirements. There are certain pelleted diets 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?

Generally, a bird consuming 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). Daily consumption of vegetables will also minimize the need for additional supplementation in the diet.

Birds who 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 in the water dish or bottle. They may be offered directly onto moist vegetables, 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.

Supplements should only be offered for specific health conditions or if your bird is on an all-seed diet, as recommended by your veterinarian. They should be eliminated once a bird is transitioned onto a nutritionally complete pellet.

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

 African greys parrots 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 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.

"African grey parrots do not need gravel or grit."

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 20-40% of the diet. Fruits should be no more than 10% of the daily diet.

Never switch a bird’s diet ‘cold-turkey’.

Clean all food and water dishes daily with soap and hot water. Dry them thoroughly before reusing 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:

apricot bok choy peas
asparagus cocount red, green, and hot peppers
banana corn pineapple
cooked beans (various types) cucumber plum
chickpeas  dandelion leaves pomegranate
peach dates potato
lentils endive pumpkin
carrot fig rapini
carrot tops grapes raspberry
parsnip grapefruit brown rice
soy kale romaine lettuce
beet kiwi spinach
blueberry melons sprouted seeds
broccoli mango squash
Brussels sprouts nectarines strawberry
cabbage orange sweet potato
cantaloupe papaya tomato

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