Cockatiels
Corner is located in
 La Paz, Indiana.

Updated 04/12/14


 

 Parrots tend to eat twice daily -- at sunrise and before sunset (with a bit of grazing here and there during the day). They are also social flock eaters, and are happiest when their "flock" (that's you and the members of your household -- human and avian) eats together. Use these two facts to your advantage when trying to get the bird to eat something besides dry bird seed.
 
 

 

 


 


 

 Avian Health Care Tips: DIET
Barton C. Huber, D.V.M.

Food Sources of Calcium, Phosphorus , Vitamin D3
Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital

Good Calcium Sources Avian Medicine: The Principles and Application

Sprouting or Germinating Seeds
From Pet Bird Web

 

Avian Health Care Tips: DIET
Barton C. Huber, D.V.M. (Dr. Bart)
Corona, California


Birds get sick for many reasons but there are two main categories where most of the problems lie. These two categories are the bird's environment and diet. After these comes trauma as a source of problems, but it runs a weak third. If bird owners can optimize their bird's environment and diet, many problems that we avian veterinarians see could be avoided. This means that your bird can live a longer, healthier life and your wallet will also be spared much trauma!

When you do need the services of a veterinarian, make sure that the veterinarian is an avian veterinarian who sees birds on a regular basis. It is not a bad idea to call around and talk to some of the local veterinarians who claim to be "bird experts" and ask them some questions. Don't be afraid to ask for references either.
Poor or inadequate diet is the number one reason for illness in birds. Whether the illness is due primarily to the deficiency or the birds get a secondary infection, diet is the key. Dietary deficiencies cause a wide range of disease, ranging from poor feather color and feather picking to severe upper respiratory infections to egg binding in laying hens (a situation where an egg is stuck in the reproductive tract of the female bird).

We will break diet into categories then offer some ideas of optimal or healthy diets for your bird: The five categories are: 1. vitamin and mineral, 2. protein, 3.carbohydrates, 4. vegetables and fruits, 5. fats.

Vitamin and Mineral: Vitamin A deficiency is the most common single dietary deficiency or problem seen in cage birds. Vitamin A may be provided as actual vitamin A or as beta carotene. The advantage of beta carotene is that you cannot give too much to your birds whereas vitamin A, if over- supplemented could cause liver and bone disease. Many foods are high in vitamin A and this list, along with other healthy fruits and vegetables will be provided in the vegetable and fruit section.

Vitamin D3 is the next most common problem. Vitamin D3 is essential for healthy bones, feathers, and egg laying. Without this vitamin, calcium cannot be properly used by the body. Natural sunlight will allow the body to produce normal amounts of this vitamin so will using vita lights or other full spectrum lighting if indoors. Windows absorb too much of the UV light necessary for vitamin D3 so placing your bird by a window will not work. Vitamin supplementation is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure your bird receives proper amounts of all vitamins. It is important to use vitamins made for birds as they will contain vitamin D3. Other forms of vitamin D will not be properly utilized by your bird; they need to have D3. Although the rest of the vitamins are also necessary, I just wanted to review the two most important ones.

In the case of minerals, calcium is the most important. The only birds that require extra calcium in their diet are African Gray parrots, Blue Fronted Amazons, and any bird laying eggs. All other birds will receive enough calcium from a good vitamin/mineral supplement. Cuttle bone, mineral blocks, manu blocks, oyster shell grit, and D-CA-PHOS (Fort Dodge) are all excellent and natural sources of calcium. Do not overdose your birds with the food additive type of calcium supplements as it may cause calcification of their internal organs.

The best type of supplements to give your bird are the powder forms that go on the food. Water soluble types are not as good as they are low in the fat soluble (A and D3) and vitamins break down fast in water losing potency and increase the growth of bacteria.

A few brands I would recommend are Prime, Avia, Superpreen, and Necton. Only buy enough vitamins to last six months or less as they slowly lose their potency when exposed to air. Vitamins/mineral supplements are utilized best when mixed with wet foods not seeds or pellets.

Protein: Birds do need protein in their diet; the amount and type vary on the bird's activity and age. More active birds (show birds and birds in large flights that fly around a lot) and breeding birds (egg laying hens, parents feeding their young) and growing birds need more protein than the average caged pet bird. Older birds or birds with certain metabolic diseases such as liver and kidney disease or gout need less protein. The quality of the protein is also important. While many seeds have decent amounts of protein, the quality is not that great unless the bird eats all the seed types in the mix in proper proportions. Since this is not realistic, I prefer to give the birds pellets. Seeds are also very high in fat and most birds prefer the taste of seeds over other foods, this may lead to obesity as well as deficiencies.

There are many brands of pellets available, stick to the brand names, avoid newcomers to the market that are not from a regular bird food manufacturer. Many of the pellet companies have a variety of pellets for your birds needs, Consult your avian veterinarian if you are unsure of which type to feed your bird.

Many birds who have been on seed will not readily accept the pellets. You may need to "cold turkey" them on to the pellets by withholding their seeds, make sure they have plenty of water and "wet" foods. If you are uncomfortable doing this type of change over, you can offer your bird a mix of pellets and seeds or place an additional bowl of pellets next to the seeds. You may want to offer a limited amount of seed so that your bird is hungry enough to try the pellets (this holds true when offering any new food to your bird that they do not seem to want).

Birds are like young children, they will not make wise nutritional choices on their own, and are usually afraid to try new things. Be patient whenever you are attempting diet changes or offering new foods to your birds. If your bird will not eat pellets or you want to offer seeds, their diet should be no more than 20-50% seed (depending on their activity levels and whether they are outside or inside and the environmental temperature). Avoid sunflower seeds unless using the new low fat sunflower seeds available, the birds really enjoy the taste of sunflower seeds and will preferentially eat them over other foods. They are high in fat and not very nutritious. If you want to give your birds sunflower seeds, use them as treats or rewards.

Other good sources of protein for your bird are non-fat cottage cheese, regular cheese (high in fat), lean cooked meats (beef and poultry) and well- cooked chicken bones. Give these protein sources once or twice a week in addition to a balanced diet offered daily.

Carbohydrates: There are two forms of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple ones are the sugars. They are rapidly digested and absorbed and are not very good for your bird. Avoid giving treats that are high in sugar, never give your bird chocolate as there is a substance in there which can kill your bird. Fruits are high in sugar and therefore need to be given in moderation.

Complex carbohydrates are the starches. These are great energy sources for you bird and serve as building blocks for non-essential amino acid (the building blocks of protein) and fats. Your bird should have starches in its diet in the form of cooked rice, beans (good for protein as well), cooked potatoes, pizza crust, pasta, corn, and tortillas.

Vegetables and Fruit: There are only a few things your bird should not have in this group of foods. One is avocado. There is a substance avocado that is fatal to birds and there is no treatment once they have eaten it and get sick. Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and has little nutritional value, birds seem to like it and will eat it over other good vegetables.

The following list is not complete but contains many of the vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamin A or beta carotene: broccoli, dried red chili peppers (birds do not salivate so they do not detect the hotness of these peppers like you or I would but if your bird kisses you after eating some of these, watch out!), Sweet potatoes and yams -- cooked or raw, carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, red cabbage, mustard greens, brussel sprouts, spinach, kale asparagus, parsley (give sparingly), dark leafy lettuce -- not iceberg lettuce, papaya, apricots, peaches, mango, cantaloupe, cherries (may turn stool or droppings a dark red color that looks like blood but is harmless), and watermelon. Many of the other vegetables not listed are okay to eat. You can use fresh or frozen vegetables, but avoid canned vegetables as they are processed and have had most of the good nutritional value destroyed. You can give these raw or in the case of frozen, thawed out. Cooking is not necessary (you may find that your bird prefers cooked yams and sweet potatoes over raw, just make sure they have cooled down).

Your bird can eat as many vegetables as it wants, that's okay, but avoid too much fruit as it is mostly sugar and water and therefore, not all that nutritious. Always wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding. If you use fruit cocktail, buy the type with no sugar or syrup added. Your bird's droppings will get more watery when you feed them fruits and vegetables, especially with fruits. Do not mistake this for diarrhea. It is usually an increase in urine production due to the high water content of these types of food, or in other words, water in, water out!

The fecal portion of the dropping should remain formed but you will see less of the white stuff (urates) and more "water" (urine). This is okay. If the fecal portion is also unformed or has an odor, then you need to have the bird checked. Remember, your vet needs to see the droppings so do not clean the cage before your visit.

Fats: Fat deficiency is rare to non-existent in birds, especially in the pet bird. There are cases where birds require a certain type of oil in their diet, but fat is usually quite plentiful. Most cage or pet birds tend to have diets that are too high in fat. This is usually due to a high seed intake. Most seeds are high in fat. A good rule of thumb is the larger the seed, the greater the fat content (by percentage of makeup). Sunflower seeds are the largest contributor to obesity in birds. Peanuts are another high fat food that birds love to eat, so offer them as treats only (or not at all). Large nuts are also high in fat. Seed treats like honey sticks are very high calorie, high fat foods and should only be given to your birds once a month or less. Many people think that since these birds eat high fat foods in the wild that they need them in captivity, however, your bird is not getting the exercise that a wild bird gets when flying around looking for food. Besides, if a wild bird gets an obesity problem, it falls easy prey for a predator or gets sick and dies. Not a good outcome.

The best way to minimize your bird's fat intake is to minimize fatty foods. Seeds should constitute only 20-50% of the diet if you want to feed seeds. Pellets are good, since they are low in fat. Your bird can eat all it wants and will not get fat. If you bird likes regular cheeses, give them sparingly. The yolk of hard boiled eggs is high in fat and should be given judiciously, egg whites are a good protein source and have no appreciable fat content. Chicken and turkey skin and meat trimmings are very high in fat and should be avoided. Do not supplement your birds diet with any fats or oils unless you consult your avian veterinarian first.

The Optimal Diet


What should your bird eat? Here are some suggestions. They are offered only as a guide line; some variation is okay. A good rule of thumb is that anything that is good for a human with a heart condition (remember, no avocado or chocolates).

Diet 1. Maintenance pellets (Pretty Bird, Zupreme), offered on an as eat basis. If your birds are breeding/laying you may need to go to a pellet designed for production. Offer vegetables and fruits -- 75-90% vegetables, the rest fruit daily. Mix your vitamins in with this. Change the bowl daily, clean and disinfect it on a regular basis. If you live in a humid climate, you may need to change this bowl two to three times a day to prevent spoilage. Offer daily table foods, part of your breakfast, lunch, or dinner if you want. Remember, moderation is the key. Treats such as honey sticks and nuts should be given once a month or less.

Diet 2. Use a safflower based seed mix in place of the pellets. Sunflower and peanut type diets, while they taste good, are too high in fat and not nutritious enough for your bird. If there is left-over seed at the end of the day you are probably offering your bird too much seed. Make sure your bird eats the other goodies. Some times it is best to offer seeds twice a day for 15-30 minutes then remove the seed bowl so the bird will eat the other foods. If your bird is overweight despite a low fat, healthy diet, consult your avian veterinarian.

Diet 3. This is not really a diet as much as a place to put table food! Offer your bird what you are eating. Do not offer your bird food off your fork or spoon, out of your mouth, or anything you have bitten off of as this is a great way to make your bird sick. The bacteria in our mouths are not good for your bird.

Another treat you can give your bird is Zu-preem Monkey Chow. This is a good brand since it is not oily and has a low bacterial count. Purina Monkey Chow is very oily and has a high E. coli count so it should not be used. Dog and cat food, while a good source of protein and a balanced meal is designed for dogs and cats. It is high in bacteria that will not hurt your dog or cat but could get your bird sick. With all the good commercial diets available for your bird, using foods formulated for other species is not really necessary.

Water: Birds need plenty of fresh water, not only for drinking but also for bathing. If your bird does not like to take baths, there is nothing wrong with him; he just does not like to take baths! The water bowl should be large enough for the bird to get its head into, not just his beak. You should change your bird's water daily, if your bird is a messy eater, or likes to dip his food in his water, you may need to change it more often. Depending on the number of birds and their location, the water bowl(s) should be disinfected on a regular basis. This will be covered in the section on disinfection. It is best to use bottled or filtered water since many municipal supplies are borderline at best and may be high in minerals and contaminants. Tap water sometimes has low levels of bacteria that may be harmful to your bird. Water that is safe for human consumption is not necessarily safe for your bird!

If your bird has a habit of defecating in its water then you need a covered or hooded bowl for water, this helps to keep the water clean. You should never add anything to your bird's water without consulting with your avian veterinarian. As mentioned earlier, vitamins should not be added to your bird's water. Your bird may like to be misted with a spray bottle on a regular basis. If this is to be done, make sure that the water is fresh and has no additives. Outdoor birds should be provided with misters or Sprinklers that can be turned on in the hot weather to help cool the aviary as well as allows your birds something to play in.
 
 

 

This is pearl NCS Grand Champion NCS 43D "DJ". 
She is Pippa' s mother, pictured at the bottom of this page.
 


 

Sprouting or Germinating Seeds

 From Pet Bird Web


Sprouted seeds are more nutrient-dense as they are high in vegetable proteins vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.

Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process - thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds. It is in invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds.

Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.

Sprouting: Sprouting is the practice of soaking seeds overnight (1 part seeds to 5 parts water), draining them, placing them into a sprouting jar (a sieve propped up in a bowl to allow the water to drain will do just fine); and then rinsing the seeds several times a day until they start to sprout (they usually start sprouting after about 24 hours) - at which time they are ready to feed. For the next days, the seeds will continue to grow. The different stages provide different nutrients to your bird. For a few birds, a few tablespoons of seeds are sufficient. If properly attended to, the sprouted seeds will last for up to 5 days. Discard if a foul smell can be detected. If early spoiling is an issue, adding a few drops of Hydrogen Peroxide, Cider Vinegar or GSE added to the rinsing water will prevent early spoiling. In most cases, this may not be necessary.

Sprouted or germinating seeds presents the simplest method of providing your birds with fresh greens. They are a healthy food addition for all birds, but are absolute necessity for the feeding hen and for the newly weaned young. Sprouted or germinated seeds are usually more easily accepted by "seed addicts" than fresh fruits and vegetables.

Don't want to go through the trouble of sprouting?

Germination offers an easy, clean and safe way to provide superior nutrition to your birds. Simply soak the seeds overnight to the point where the root tips show and feed to your birds .... I prefer to germinate and use human grade seeds, J.B.                                                                            

If you keep the seeds at room temperature (on the counter, for example), the seeds start germinating after 12 hours. If you keep the soaking seeds in the fridge, it will take around 24 hours to germinate). Germination is safer as the process is shorter and the seeds or grains donít have time to deteriorate - and yet, germinated seeds also offer superior "living" nutrition similar to sprouts.... Note: only germinate one portion at a time.

Soak a daily portion of seeds, grains and legumes (or "Simple Sprouts") in pure, clean water overnight. If you keep the seeds at room temperature (on the counter, for example), the seeds start germinating after 12 hours. If you keep the soaking seeds in the fridge, it will take around 24 hours to germinate). Germination is safer as the process is shorter and the seeds or grains donít have time to deteriorate - and yet, germinated seeds also offer superior "living" nutrition similar to sprouts.... Note: only germinate one portion at a time. Excellent Healthy Bird Treats & Food! I always provide sprouts, every day without fail -- even if I don't have time to wash and cut veggies and fruits some days -- providing a spoonful of sprouts is so easy and convenient, and I know it's good for my birds. Sprouts offer an inexpensive and convenient way to feed fresh greens to your birds daily. Little time, effort or space is needed to make sprouts.. In addition to the regular bird seeds, many seeds for sprouting are available in health food stores.

Basics of Sprouting:

You start with a good sprouting mix. Take a small portion of it and rinse it well. Then cover it with water (1 part of seeds to 5 parts of water) and put it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, rinse well and place in a common strainer (like the one to the right) and place the strainer in a plastic or glass container that allows any rinse water to drain into the container. Water the mix several times a day thoroughly to remove any mold / bacteria, etc. and also to keep the sprouting mix moist -- a requirement for sprouting. Your sprouts should have an agreeable / sweetish scent. If you can detect a foul smell -- an indicator of bacteria or mold growing on it -- toss it. Don't feed to your birds. There are ways to prevent your sprouts from going off prematurely, one of which is to rinse frequently and thoroughly to rinse off mold, etc. Other tips are discussed below.


What is Needed for Sprouting:

To sprout seeds, the seeds are moistened, then left at room temperature (between 15.4 degrees and 69.8  degrees Fahrenheit or 13 and 21 degrees Celsius) in a sprouting vessel. Moisture, warmth, and in most cases, indirect sunlight are necessary for sprouting.

Many different types of vessels can be used: Tieredí clear plastic sprouters are commercially available (one is featured to the right) I bought several and found the one to the right to be the easiest one to use. I also tried the "easy sprouter" but I found it cumbersome to use. The tiered sprouter is convenient because it allows me to sprout different crops at different stages. The instructions that come with the sprouter advise you not to wash it in the dishwasher, but I have been doing so without any problems. However, I place the sprouter in the top tray of the dishwasher. 
You can purchase a lid with S.S. screen on a sprouter's website that fits a quart canning jar.

Sprouts are rinsed as little as twice a day, but possibly three or four times a day in hotter climates, to prevent them from souring. I keep my sprouts right on the window sill above my sink -- that way they get plenty of light and I can't forget to rinse them throughout the day. If your house isn't air conditioned and you live in a hot and humid area, I would recommend keeping the sprouts in the fridge. They take longer to sprout, but you have less to worry about fungi, mildew or bacteria.

Birds like sprouts when they just started to open up, which usually happens after one day or so of sprouting.

Common causes for sprouts to turn out inedible:

  • Seeds are allowed to dry out

  • Seeds are left in standing water

  • Temperature is high or too low

  • Insufficient rinsing

  • Dirty equipment

  • Insufficient air flow

These problems are easily solved by an automatic sprouter that mists and drains the sprouts at regular intervals. To control temperature, in the winter a warming blanket can be placed under the sprouter, and in the summer small fans in the lid if it's very hot and humid.

How much do I need?

For a few birds only a quarter cup of seeds should be sprouted at a time. Seeds increase in volume tremendously when sprouted. Place the seeds in a clean glass jar. Fill with tap water and let stand at room temperature for twenty-four hours. Rinse and drain completely. I keep the seeds in a sieve propped up in a plastic container and repeat the rinsing and draining completely daily until the seed has sprouted.

Ways to Keep Sprouted Seeds fresh longer:

If a foul odor or mold develops, discard.

Ways to prevent spoilage (choose one or a variation of the below - whatever works best for you)

 

GSE: Alternatively, adding a few drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) in the soaking and rinsing water will also prevent pathogens from developing. As an additional benefit, GSE also has good anti-parasitic properties.

Buffered, Powdered Vitamin C (example Nutricology or other brand): A little powder added to the sprouting water should keep it fresh.

Organic Apple Cider Vinegar: ACD alters pH and so is effective in killing many pathogens.

Rinsing and draining well is very important.

After sprouting commenced - keep refrigerated. Any surplus sprouts may be refrigerated up to two weeks. 

KD Water Cleaner is what I use by Dr. Rob Marshall, Bird Veterinarian. J.B.
 

The lid has a screen in it for rinsing. Then I replace that lid with a Folger's Instant coffee lid. I found red winter wheat, mung beans, millet, lentils, and other that just begin to sprout at the same times. I never germinate more than I use and keep refrigerated in 3 days. I use to use some Apple Cider Vinegar in the water to prevent mold, now I use  KD Water Cleaner by Dr. Rob Marshall, Bird Veterinarian. J.B.


 

Food Sources of Calcium, Phosphorus and Vitamin D3

Seeds are usually calcium deficient as can be seen in their calcium/phosphorus ratios.
Millet 1 : 6, oats 1 : 8, sunflower seeds 1 : 7. Muscle meat is low in calcium and high in phosphorus 1 : 20.

Sources of Nutrients
Source: Avian Medicine: The Principles and Application. Based on
information from the National Research Council and a Kaytee Technical Bulletin

Vitamin/
Mineral

Excellent
(over 20 times requirement)

Good
(over 2 times requirement)

Adequate
(1/2-2 times requirement)

Calcium




Phosphorus








Vitamin D3

Calcium carbonate
(cuttlebone, eggshell)
Bone Meal
Dicalcium phosphate

Bone Meal
Dicalcium phosphate







Fish liver oil
Liver
Fish oil

 

Fish & meat meals
Kelp
Alfalfa meal
Whey

Fish & meat meals
Brewer's yeast
Dried whey
Wheat Germ Meal
Peanuts
Pumpkin Seeds
Most oil seeds
Nuts

Eggs (especially yolk)

 

Dried milk
Cheese
Oil type seeds
Most nuts

Corn Gluten
Cereal grains
Egg






Dried milk

 


 

The Midwest Bird & Exotic Animal Hospital
 in Westchester, IL
has compiled information on a number of foods.  The Calcium and Phosphorus contents are for 1 cup of food.

Good Calcium Sources

Food

CA (mg)

 

P (mg)

 

Ca:P Ratio

 

Beet Greens
Broccoli Leaves
Broccoli Stem
Cabbage (outside green leaves)
Celery
Chard
Chinese Cabbage
Collards (cooked)
Dandelion Greens
Endive
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lettuce Dark Green Leaf
Mustard Greens
Orange or Tangerine
Parsley
Spinach
Turnip Greens
Watercress
Watermelon
Yellow Wax Beans

 

188
349
111
429
44
300
400
14
168
104
390
390
25
582
48
46
156
694
53
33
63

 

 

80
89
47
72
32
100
72
150
70
39
134
120
14
168
18
30
92
98
15
9
46

 

 

1:0.4
1:0.26
1:0.4
1:0.17
1:0.7
1:0.33
1:0.2
1:0.4
1:0.4
1:0.4
1:0.4
1:0.3
1:0.56
1:0.29
1:0.4
1:0.65
1:0.6
1:0.14
1:0.3
1:0.27
1:0.7 



 



 

This is "Pippa", at 1 year old became an NCS Champion Cinnamon hen. She is the daughter of "Cody" and NCS Grand Champion hen "DJ" pictured above.

Birdy Recipes


 

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