Why We Feed the Feed We Feed

Why We Feed the Feed We Feed
Original article by Rodney Money; Updated by Tamara Money in 2013.

I know that when it comes to feeding our birds the best diet possible, it is a great debate. Some people say pellets (“We can do better than what they do in the wild.”) while others say a more natural diet (“They should eat like they do in the wild.”); or even a combination of the two. The problem is that nobody truly knows. I know we think we know, but if we did, would we be debating sprouts vs. seeds vs. pellets, Roudybush vs. Harrison, or do we need bee pollen and palm oil for supplements? There is not a person who has written the law stating: parrots need 2 broccoli, 1 yam, a table spoon of seed, 14 Pretty Bird pellets, and 3 grapes to be completely healthy. This is just not going to happen. But, the search for the "perfect" avian diet is a fun and rewarding battle; we are so much better off now than we were even in the 90's. My knowledge comes from 20 years of studying parrots, trying every diet possible that has come through the ages, and talking with great avian vets such as Dr. Burkett.

I am not saying my diet is the best for parrots; especially since I believe different parrots need different diets, (ex. Hyacinths, Lories, Black Palms, Eclectus, Keas, etc.) But I base my diet on comparing how my birds look compare to other birds in their same species; it works for me. I am not talking about showing birds; I am just talking about how one bird looks like when compared to another of the same genus or species. I believe that if your bird's feathers are tight, beautiful, and shine from within, (even powder like birds like cockatoos, cockatiels, or Mealy Amazons can "shine") their eyes are bright and clear, and their droppings are normal, then you have a diet that works for you. Here is what I feed my birds every day.

Nutri-Berries and Avicakes: They both provide balanced omega 3 & 6 fatty acids which help the immune system respond to disease and to precancerous conditions. Plus, they provide excellent foraging enrichment. When I got into parrots, most of the large birds in pet stores were wild-caught birds in poor health and ratty feathers. I saw a picture of a 30 year cockatiel and a Blue-fronted Amazon that were fed Nutri-Berries their entire life. Both birds made my jaw drop. I decided to try Nutri-Berries with my wild-caught, mature Orange-winged Amazon. The results were amazing, and I never turned back. With weaning my babies, it is hard to beat Avicakes. It is chewy, has both seeds and pellets, and it taste great. Our babies wean faster because of Avicakes. Many people believe that Nutri-Berries and Avicakes are simply treats, but they are wrong. I have personally called the Lafeber Company, and I have complete trust in their product. I often mix in other "flavors" of Nutri-berries and Avi-Cakes like El Paso Nutri-berries, Fruit Avi-Cakes, and Pellet Berries.

Roudybush and Harrison's pellets: Why? Simply because Dr. Burkett says so. I know it doesn't taste as good as Nutri-Berries (my birds have told me so), but my birds still eat it and benefit from the nutrition that it provides. I refuse to use colored pellets. I feel that my energetic lovebirds do not need any more sugar or artificial "stuff." Pellet Berries can be a great substitute for a pellet but I still recommend adding in some plain pellets like the crumble even if you are going to try and mix in the pellet berries for their "pellet" diet.

Kaylor Mixed Vegetables and Dried Peas: You can try out different dried veggies with your birds, but I've found that BeBe and Evee LOVE dried carrots and peas. The best mix I've found that they eat are these two. Not only are they a great value but they make some serious "soup" with them. You can find nice dried veggie mixes at local small organic stores as well, but the pricing can be high since it would be "technically" made for humans.

Sprouts: This is as close to a natural diet as you are going to get. This is the main diet of one of the best breeding facilities in the world: Aves International. Sprouts look like seed, but have more nutrition than fruits or vegetables. I do feed my birds fruits and vegetables, but only as treats, not as a staple part of their diet. Some vegetables can cause the body to not be able to absorb calcium. Also, Dr. Burkett has gave a talk about nutrition stating, "You can feed a bird broccoli all day long, and it will still have a vitamin A deficiency.” Although fruit does contain vitamin C, fruit also contains a lot of natural sugar; once again, my lovebirds are hyper enough. Bird Talk and other publications now talk about limiting fruit in the diet, although some birds may benefit from fruit more like Lories, Hanging Parrots, or Fig Parrots.

Wheatgrass: Looking for greens in your diet, this is all you need: natural wheat grass that you can grow easily in your own home. Just add warm water. According to www.birdieboutique.com, "Wheatgrass contains many elements that keep your bird healthy and happy. Along with 16 Vitamins and 13 Minerals, wheatgrass also contains Chlorophyll, Essential Amino Acids, Enzymes and other fundamental nutrients which can cure anemia, improve blood circulation, regenerate the liver, as well as keep your bird's feathers healthy and lustrous. Chlorophyll is prevalent in wheatgrass. It benefits the entire body by improving the supply of oxygen to the circulatory system. It also helps detoxify the liver, and prevents Fatty Liver Syndrome, caused by seed only diets. Besides chlorophyll, wheatgrass also contains essential Enzymes. Enzymes aid in the digestion of food, and are essential in the chemical processes that turn food into energy. Enzymes are only available from live foods. Wheatgrass is also high in choline, magnesium, and potassium, which work together to revitalize your bird's liver from damage caused by diets high in fat." Enough said. I typically sprout wheatgrass myself or buy it from an organic grocery store already sprouted. I don't recommend getting it from the major chain pet stores as you don't know what they spray on it.

Nutri-Berries Popcorn is one of BeBe and Evee's FAVORITE treats. I like to add that in the evening as a treat. I usually break up the big pieces for them and throw in about 3 small bits.

Crazy Corn with added frozen vegetables: Warm, good food that parrots love. They are easy to cook, add great variety, and simply taste good. I supplement it with frozen veggies that are high in vitamin A as claim on the package. It is funny that my lovebirds will eat the cooked veggies first, especially the corn, instead of the Crazy Corn.

Seed: only as a treat, but it is great for weaning babies. Since babies need extra fat, seed is great during the weaning process; especially when they are begging but really don't need the baby food. Simply give them some seed; it satisfies their need for high fat content.

Water: Filtered or bottled; I do not trust disgusting, city water. Especially, since the rust partials and chemicals turn my shower curtain red. I have to bleach my curtain every three months.

One thing that I learned is that most people over feed their pets. Dr. Burkett states on his website, "If a cockatiel eats a whole grape, it is the same relativity as a human eating nearly 500 grapes." In the morning, I feed my birds 1 crumbled Nutri-Berry, 1 crumbled Avicake, and just a pinch of Roudybush (varying the flavors at times or adding in an extra nutri-berry if it's going to be a particularly long day until I get home) and then sprinkling the dried veggies on top. I divide the food up and hide their food all over their cages, toys, and playgrounds (this keeps them busy while I am working) or I'll hide an extra pellet berry in a foraging bowl covered in toys. In the evenings, I feed them the cooked food with veggies, sprouts, or other treats like a pitch of seed or wheatgrass. At night when I put them to bed, I just place another pinch of Roudybush in there and sometimes a piece of popcorn. At each feeding, I will clean the bowl. We change their water at least 3 times a day even if it's not dirty; I just feel that they might need their beverage refreshed.

Once again, I am not saying that this is the best diet for the majority of parrots, but it has worked for me for more almost 20 years with a number of birds including: budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds, conures, quakers, parrotlets, pionus, amazons, cockatoos, and greys. With these diets, a bird does not need any other supplements. In fact, a bird that is over supplemented with vitamins can also endanger its health. I feel that these are the foods that have lasted the test of time, and they deserve a second look from the most discerning of bird owners.

© TLA 2013