Avian Diets: The good, The bad, and The Ugly

With the variety of avian diets on the market, and the copious amounts of information (and misinformation) provided by pet stores, aviculturists, and veterinarians, it's difficult to make an educated decision about your bird's nutrition. The purpose of this article is to provide you with the pros and cons of the most common avian dietary choices.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If you are worried that your pet may be at risk of malnutrition or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified hospital.

Seeds and Nuts

Seeds are unfortunately the mainstay of most pet birds. Typically single bird owners or owners of small bird species are the culprits when it comes to feeding seeds as the main dietary staple. In the past, seeds and nuts were thought to be a satisfactory diet for most psittacines, but years of research have proven this to be a myth. In actuality, seed diets lack 21 essential nutrients from four food groups. These included vitamins (A, B12, D, E, K, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, biotin, and choline), minerals (calcium, sodium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, iodine, and selenium), amino acids (lysine and methionine) and fiber. Seeds are, however, high in protein and a good source of fat. Fortified seed diets have been treated topically with a vitamin/mineral solution. This is a good idea in theory, but most birds will crack the seeds and eat the meat, leaving the hulls and all the vitamins behind. The hulls also contain the majority of the fiber in a seed diet, so while seeds are actually high in fiber, the ingested portion is deficient.

Seed Mixes

Manufacturers of commercial seed mixes boast that their diets are more nutritionally complete than seed diets, because in addition to seeds and nuts, they contain grains, dried fruits, and pellets. Even though these diets may be nutritionally complete as a whole, one needs to consider that birds are selective eaters. The typical bird will start by selecting its favorite morsels first, which tend to be the seeds, and when all is said and done, the pellets and dried fruit usually make up the bulk of the wasted portion. So seed mixes are better than all-seed diets, but not much better.

Fruits and Vegetables

It is possible to construct a complete vegetarian bird diet, but this requires research into what foods contain which essential nutrients. It also requires that the bird eat an appropriate amount of each food and not eat selectively, which is not the nature of a psittacine. The only way to guarantee that your bird is getting all the nutrition in the diet is to pulverize it and feed it as a mash. As troublesome as this may be (because it has to be done daily), I know of people who do it. It seems to me that pellets are basically a mash that has been extruded and dried, and are a lot easier to deal with. Remember that all fruits and vegetables fed raw should be cleaned thoroughly.

"Table" Food

Many birds have lived long healthy lives eating nothing but "people food." This doesn't just mean fruits and vegetables, but also breads, meats, eggs, etc. There is one major rule of thumb: if it's good for you to eat, it's good for your bird to eat, and vice versa. The exceptions to this rule are chocolate, avocado, rhubarb, onions, and garlic, all of which are toxic to birds. Of course, common sense prevailing, you should avoid foods high in fat, sugar, or salt, along with alcohol or other intoxicants, and never feed a bird any meat or poultry product that has not been thoroughly cooked. Frankly, if you eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet, so can your bird. Variety is important, so that the bird won't get into a rut eating just one or two favorite foods each day and ignoring the rest. If your bird does have favorite foods, such as apples, bananas, or corn, you should reserve these foods for treats or rewards.