Amazon Parrots - Feeding

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

Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and the valuable research that has been conducted revealing different species of pet birds’ nutritional requirements. Like all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Different species of birds often require different food items in their diet.

Should I be concerned about what my Amazon parrot eats?

Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. You should discuss your bird's nutrition with an avian veterinarian. Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their Amazon when, in fact, they are not. Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems in birds.

Bird owners should continually strive to improve their bird’s diets. This means educating themselves about the latest recommendations in proper nutrition – something a veterinarian well-versed in bird care can help with. Like us, birds can survive on poor quality food, albeit not a long, healthy life. The goal should be to help our birds thrive and flourish, not just survive. Like us, a bird's health depends significantly on how well it is fed and what dietary items it consumes.

"The goal should be to help our birds thrive and flourish, not just survive."

What do Amazon parrots eat in the wild?

Amazon 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 Amazon parrot?

Amazons are vulnerable to both calcium and vitamin A deficiencies, and on a predominantly seed-based diet, they are also prone to obesity. Feeding a well-balanced diet in the proper proportions will help prevent the development of these conditions.

Although wild Amazon parrots have access to seeds all year round, the types of seeds they feed on change throughout the year as different plant sources come into season. The commercial seed mixes offered to many captive parrots tend to be high in fat and deficient in nutrients, especially vitamin A. If these mixes are fed as the only food source, Amazon parrots could become ill and ultimately die prematurely. To make matters worse, birds 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. If present, they preferentially choose peanuts and sunflower seeds, as these items are exceptionally high in fat but are deficient in calcium, vitamin A, and other nutrients. Their selective appetite can further predispose them to malnutrition and obesity.

"The commercial seed mixes offered to many captive parrots tend to be high in fat and deficient in nutrients, especially vitamin A."

Seeds should only be a small part of a balanced diet and should never be the entire diet. In addition, only a couple of tree-based nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, or walnuts) should be offered daily. If you gradually offer fewer seeds, replacing them with more nutritious choices, your bird should start eating other foods.

Pelleted Diets
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 managing specific diseases. There are many good brands of pelleted foods in the marketplace, and to suit the preferences of other birds, pellets come in different flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. Hand-raised babies should be weaned directly onto a pelleted diet. Pellets are an excellent food source and should represent approximately 60-70% of the bird’s daily diet. The remainder of the diet should include fresh fruit and vegetables with minimal seeds if any.

While transitioning a bird from a seed to a pelleted diet can take weeks to months to accomplish and can sometimes be difficult, owners should slowly wean to pelleted formulations. Speaking to a veterinarian well-versed in bird behavior and nutrition can be very helpful in transitioning a stubborn bird from seeds to pellets.

"Pellets are an excellent food source and should represent approximately 60-70% of the bird’s daily diet."

Transitioning seed-eating birds onto formulated diets is not always easy. Initially, they do not even identify pellets as food. Birds should be slowly weaned off seeds over 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. The most crucial factor is only to fill ¼ of the food dish. 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 the bird is trying the pellets plus still eating some fruits and vegetables. If your bird is eating pellets, your bird should still be having normal bowel movements. Monitoring the bird’s weight on a digital scale that weighs in one-gram increments is also a way for owners to be sure that birds maintain 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 and overall health.

Remember that you train the bird; do not let it train you. Consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with this transition or the bird’s health.

Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables, and greens should account for approximately 30-40% of the daily intake. Pale vegetables with a high water composition (e.g., 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, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes, contain vitamin A – a nutrient essential to birds’ immune systems, kidneys, skin, and feathers – and are ideal choices for birds. Fruits should not exceed 10% of your Amazon’s daily intake.

"Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals before feeding them."

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.

Fresh, clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.

Can I share my own food with my Amazon parrot?

As a rule, your bird can eat in very small quantities of any wholesome, nutritious food you and your family eat. Follow the general guidelines discussed 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 occasionally in tiny amounts.

None of the following should ever be offered: processed foods (e.g., French fries, pizza, fatty meats), salty foods (e.g., chips, pretzels, crackers), chocolate, caffeinated products, and alcoholic beverages.

Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?

Extremely young birds and those stressed, injured, laying eggs, or raising young may have certain special nutritional requirements. There are pelleted foods specially formulated for birds with unique dietary 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 60-70% of its diet from pelleted food with additional nutritious fruits and vegetables 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 can degrade or promote bacteria or yeast growth. They may be provided directly on moist food; however, birds must consume the entire moist food item to benefit from these supplements. 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 onto a nutritionally complete pellet.

"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."

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

Parrots, such as Amazons, do not need gravel or grit. Grit helps birds that consume whole seeds (hull and kernel) grind and digest 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.

Many birds offered grit will over-consume it and develop potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal obstructions. Grit is often found glued on sandpaper perches to keep nails worn down. Sandpaper perches are not recommended as birds may also pick grit off these perches, leading to intestinal impactions.

What pointers should I remember about feeding my Amazon?

  • Continuously monitor the amount of food eaten by each bird daily
  • Offer fresh water every day.
  • Strive to make pelleted food the basis of the diet (60-70%).
  • Offer fresh fruits and vegetables daily, limiting their consumption to no more than 40% of the diet.
  • A well-balanced diet must be maintained at all times.
  • A bird saying no to a food item one day does not mean no forever - keep trying!
  • Clean all food and water dishes daily in hot soapy water and let them dry thoroughly before using them.

Some suggested food items to offer include:

apple cherries (not the pit) pear papaya apricots Bok choy peas cantaloupe asparagus coconut peppers (red,green, hot) cabbage banana corn pineapple orange cooked beans (various) cucumber plum sweet potato chick peas dandelion leaves pomegranate strawberry peaches blueberry potato nectarines lentils endive pumpkin Brussels sprouts carrots (and tops) fig rapini broccoli parsnip grapes raspberry mango zucchini grapefruit brown rice squash tomato kale romaine lettuce sprouted seeds beet kiwi spinach melons

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