Budgies - Feeding

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

Our knowledge of avian nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due to heightened awareness of nutrition's importance and increased research into birds’ different needs. Like all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Different species of birds often require different types of food.

Should I be concerned about what my budgie eats?

Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their budgie when they are not. Many bird food packages may state “Complete Avian Nutrition,” but they may be misleading, as no regulatory body certifies avian dietary products. Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems in birds. Budgies are vulnerable to obesity, iodine deficiencies, and other nutrition-related problems. A well-balanced and varied diet must be maintained for these birds to stay healthy.

"Budgies are vulnerable to obesity, iodine deficiencies, and other nutrition-related problems."

You should continually strive to improve your bird's diet by educating yourself about veterinary-recommended diets for birds. Your bird is not smart enough to pick out a healthy diet. Like humans, birds will gravitate to what tastes good, which is often a diet high in fat and can lead to several nutritional imbalances.

What do wild budgies eat?

Budgerigars (parakeets) originally came from the grasslands in Australia. Wild budgies eat various seeds (as they come into season), fruits, berries, and vegetation. They feed on or near the ground. What they eat varies with food availability during different seasons.

What should I feed my budgie?

Commercial seed mixes generally contain two to eight different types of seeds. However, they tend to be high in fat and carbohydrates, low in protein, and lacking essential vitamins and minerals. Ultimately, feeding only seed could lead to ill health in your budgie and potentially shorten her life.

Budgies often selectively eat only one or two of their favorite seed types. Millet seeds or millet spray/branches are often chosen preferentially, and these seeds are deficient in many nutrients. Honey sticks are often favorites, but again, these are simply seeds stuck together with sugar and honey and are similarly nutrient-deficient and overloaded with carbohydrates. Molting foods, song foods, and conditioning foods are simply different combinations of more seeds that are nutritionally incomplete. Healthy molts, vibrant song, and strong condition are achieved in birds fed a balanced diet year-round.

"Because seeds lack vitamins, minerals, and protein, they should only be a very small part of a budgie’s diet and should never be the entire diet."

Because seeds lack vitamins, minerals, and protein, they should only be a very small part of a budgie’s diet and should never be the entire diet. Millet spray/branches should only be offered in small quantities once or twice a month. Honey sticks are not recommended at all by most avian veterinarians. If you gradually offer your bird fewer seeds, replacing them with healthier options, such as fortified pellets and a limited amount of fresh table food, your bird will eventually start eating more nutritious foods.

Pelleted Diets
A nutritionally suitable diet for budgies is pelleted food formulated for small birds. Several commercial brands of pellets are available in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Pellets have been developed to meet most of your bird's nutritional needs. Hand-raised babies should be weaned to a pelleted diet once they eat on their own. It may be challenging to convert mature budgies to pelleted diets. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for managing certain diseases. It is recommended that all seed-eating birds should be slowly weaned off seeds onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should represent approximately 60-80% of your bird's diet.

"Pellets should represent approximately 60-80% of your bird's diet."

Tips for transitioning your budgie to pellets:

  • Pellets may be offered straight, not mixed with seed. Pellets may be offered first thing in the morning, before other food, when the bird is hungriest.
  • Since budgies eat off the ground in the wild, you may mimic this behavior by spreading the pellets over a flat surface and encouraging the bird to walk through them. You can also flick each pellet between your thumb and pointer finger and tap on the tabletop as if your fingers were a beak investigating the pellets.
  • You can grind the pellets into a fine powder and sprinkle it on a small bit of moist food (e.g., vegetables, fruit, cooked egg, pasta) that your bird likes to eat. If the bird eats the pellet-coated food, you can gradually grind the pellets into larger chunks and mix them with smaller amounts of moist food over time so that, ultimately, you are offering nearly all pellets with minimal amounts of moist food mixed in.
  • Modifying a bird's diet may take days, weeks, or months. If your bird is slow to take to pellets, you may offer a small amount of seed or fruits and vegetables later in the day.
  • Seeds may be withdrawn entirely when you are sure your budgie is eating the pellets and some fruits and vegetables.
  • Alternatively, you can mix pellets with seeds and gradually decrease the volume of seeds offered each day while increasing the volume of pellets in the food dish each day.

This can be stressful for you and your budgie, but with patience, you can transition your bird from an unhealthy seed diet to a balanced pellet-based diet.

Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables, and greens should account for 20-25% of the daily diet at most. Pale vegetables with a high water composition (e.g., iceberg lettuce and celery) offer little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic and should never be offered to a bird.

Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals and should be cut into small 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 food item, reduce its volume, or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the consumption of other foods. Fruits and vegetables should be left in the cage for no more than a couple of hours, particularly in warm climates, or they may spoil.

See the list of appropriate fruits and vegetables to feed your budgie at the end of this handout.

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 and water bottles must be cleaned daily with soap and water, then thoroughly rinsed with fresh water.

What about human food?

As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious foods that you and your family eat, your bird can eat, but in very small quantities (a thumbnail size amount for a budgie is equivalent to a dinner plate size portion for a person and is appropriate). Processed foods and foods cooked with butter or oil must be avoided. Follow the general guidelines discussed above regarding fruits and vegetables. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation, as birds are lactose-intolerant. Very salty foods (chips, pretzels, popcorn), chocolate, products containing caffeine (coffee, tea, soda), and alcoholic beverages should never be fed to your budgie.

"...a thumbnail size amount for a budgie is equivalent to a dinner plate size portion for a person..."

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 specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific 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 particular needs. Generally, a bird eating 75-80% of its diet from pelleted food does not need supplemental vitamins. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at certain times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Various vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as omega fatty acid supplements, are available for birds and should only be given under the guidance of a veterinarian knowledgeable about birds.

Birds on all-seed diets may be given powdered supplements until they are transitioned to a pelleted diet. Placing these powders on seeds is of little value since budgies remove the outer hulls from seeds before ingesting them. Small amounts of powdered vitamin supplements may be administered on moist food but are generally not necessary once the bird has been transitioned to pellets.

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

Budgies do not need gravel or grit because they remove the seed’s outer hull before ingesting the kernel. Previously, it was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard to aid digestion. Now, we know that only birds like pigeons and doves that consume seeds whole without removing the outer hull, need gravel to help them digest. Some budgies will overconsume grit if offered, resulting in gastrointestinal tract obstruction that may become life-threatening. Thus, grit and gravel should not be offered to budgies.

"Some budgies will overconsume grit if offered, resulting in gastrointestinal tract obstruction..."

List of suitable fruits and vegetables for budgies:

apple dates peppers apricots dandelion leaves pineapple asparagus dates plum banana endive pomegranate cooked beans (various) fig potato beet grapes pumpkin blueberry grapefruit rapini broccoli kale raspberry Brussel's sprouts kiwi rice (brown) cabbage melons romaine lettuce cantaloupe mango spinach carrot nectarines sprouted seeds carrot tops orange squash cherries without pit papaya strawberry Bok choy parsnip sweet potato coconut peaches tomato corn pear zucchini cucumber peas  

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