Feeding Senegal Parrots

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM


General Information

Knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving, both from heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and from increased research into birds’ different needs. 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 Senegal parrot eats?

Proper nutrition is commonly neglected and critically important with pet birds. Discuss your parrot's nutritional needs with your veterinarian. Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their parrot when, in fact, they are not. Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems in birds. Birds’ health depends on how well they are fed, so it is essential that bird owners are educated about what to feed their birds. Bird owners should stay in contact with their avian veterinarians to stay current on their birds’ nutritional needs. 

What do wild Senegal parrots eat?

Senegal parrots eat a variety of seeds, grains, fruits, and leaf buds. They are particularly fond of figs and the seeds of certain local trees. They also like to raid farmers' crops, particularly millet, maize, and harvested peanuts that are set out to dry.

What should I feed my Senegal parrot?

Like other birds, Senegal parrots need to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. 

Wild Senegal parrots eat a great variety of seed types, as different plants come into season. Commercially available seed and nut mixes may contain 2-5 different kinds of seeds. However, the seeds tend to be high-fat and nutrient deficient and are not the same kinds of seeds that wild birds eat. Many times, these seed and nut mixes are fed as the only source of food, leading to ill health and potentially, shortened lifespan. When offered a mixture of seeds, Senegal parrots tend to selectively eat only 1 or 2 of their favorite types of seeds and nuts. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are often chosen preferentially, however, these items are particularly high in fat and deficient in calcium, vitamin A, and other nutrients. This often leads to malnutrition.

"Seeds are highly palatable and preferred by birds, but they are quite nutritionally deficient."

Seeds should only be a very small part of a balanced diet and should never be the entire diet. In addition, only a couple of nuts should be offered daily, as their high fat content can contribute to high blood cholesterol and the deposition of cholesterol in arteries (known as atherosclerosis) which can predispose birds to strokes and heart attacks. If you gradually offer fewer seeds in favor of more nutritionally balanced items, your bird will start eating other foods.

 Pelleted Diets

Several types of commercially formulated pelleted diets in various colors, shapes, and sizes have been developed to meet all birds’ nutritional needs. Pellets are the ideal diet for most birds. Seed-eating birds should be slowly weaned off seeds and moved onto a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent a minimum of 70% of the bird's diet. Mature parrots raised on seed diets may be particularly difficult to convert to a pelleted diet. Hand-raised babies are generally the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. 

Fruits and Vegetables 

Fruits, vegetables, and greens should account for approximately 20% of the daily diet. Pale vegetables, with high water composition (i.e., iceberg or head lettuce and celery) offer very little nutritional value and should not be offered. Avocado is potentially toxic and should never be offered to a bird. Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals before feeding. They should be cut into very small pieces appropriate to the size of your bird. It is not necessary to take the skin off. Fruits and vegetables should be offered in a separate dish. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce the volume of this food or stop feeding it temporarily to encourage the bird to eat other foods.

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

How do I convert my bird to a pelleted diet?

Converting seed-eating birds onto a formulated diet is not always easy. Initially, birds may not recognize pellets as food. Birds may be offered pellets in a bowl separate from any other food and ideally first thing in the morning, when they are hungriest. If they do not eat them right away, birds may be slowly weaned off seeds over a period of a few weeks, while pellets are constantly available in a separate dish. Pellets and seed should not be mixed together, as birds will simply pick out the seeds that they like best. Pelleted food may be crushed up into a powder and sprinkled over moist table food to get a bird to taste the pellets. Gradually, pellets may be crushed less fine and mixed with smaller amounts of table food until table food is no longer needed to get the bird to eat pellets. It may take days, weeks, or months to modify a bird's diet. Birds should be weighed at least once a week while converting to a pelleted diet to ensure that they are not losing large amounts of weight. Converting a parrot to a predominantly pelleted diet can be a stressful time for both you and your bird. Consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with this transition or with the health of your bird.

What about people food?

As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can also eat, but in very small quantities. Follow the general guidelines discussed above. Occasionally, some birds enjoy a very tiny amount of lean cooked meat, fish or egg. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation, as birds are lactose intolerant. Junk foodchocolate, salty foods (chips, pretzels, popcorn), as well as products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages may be toxic to birds and should not be offered.

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 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 its particular needs. In general, birds that are eating pellets as the basis of their diets do not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Calcium supplements are available if your parrot is determined to be deficient.

Does my bird need gravel or grit?

Previously, it was believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard to aid indigestion. This is true for birds that ingest seeds whole, shell and all. However, many birds, including Senegal parrots, remove the shell before ingesting the seed kernel. Birds that eat this way do not need grit in their diet. In fact, some birds will have health problems if grit is offered and over-eaten.

 What pointers should I remember about feeding my Senegal parrot?

  • Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird, especially if birds are housed together.
  • Offer fresh water every day.
  • Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Clean all food and water dishes daily.
  • If a bird rejects a food one day, it may accept it another day. Keep trying!

Some suggested fresh food items include: 

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