When I first began work as a Bird Keeper at the Bronx Zoo, much of my time was spent cooking eggs and horsemeat, rearing and capturing insects, chopping produce and otherwise preparing the diets for thousands of birds (please see the article linked below for more information on feeding zoo birds). The introduction of nutritionally-sound pellets and chows for birds ranging from parrots to cassowaries forever changed how birds in both zoos and private homes are fed. A recent study of Parrot foods and nutrition has shed some new light on caring for these exotic pets.
But while it may be convenient to know exactly what nutrients our pets are consuming, many parrots look upon commercial pellets with disdain. And because pellets can be consumed far more quickly that seeds, parrots that do accept them are left with extra “free time” to fill; boredom becomes a problem unless additional enrichment opportunities are provided. Much of the research concerning standardized bird diets has focused on species typically kept in zoos. However, one recent study examined diets commonly fed to Amazon Parrots. Its results, I believe, have important implications for owners of all types of parrots.
Pellets vs. Seeds and Produce
A parrot nutrition study published in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery (V. 26, N. 3) examined diets containing different proportions of commercial pellets, seeds and produce (fruits and vegetables). Amazon Parrots consuming the various diets were then evaluated as to their nutritional status. Levels of fat, calcium, sodium, iron and other nutrients, and calcium: phosphorus ratios, were analyzed.
The first diet contained less seed – 25% by weight – than most parrot owners use, along with 50% produce and 25% pellets. Yet even with this limited amount of seed, parrots consuming this diet were deficient in calcium, sodium and iron, and their fat intake was at an unhealthy level. The researchers also noted that the birds chose foods that exacerbated their nutritional deficiencies.
When seeds were reduced to 18% of the diet (60% pellets, 22% produce), the parrots still consumed too much fat, but levels of other nutrients, and their calcium: phosphorus ratios, were satisfactory.
A diet comprised of 75% pellets and 25% produce provided parrots with recommended levels of all nutrients. Based on these findings, it was recommended that produce, rather than seeds, be used to provide variety and foraging opportunities (shredding food, etc.).
Convincing Parrots to Accept Pellets
LaFeber Nutri-Berries combine pellets with molasses, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and are well- accepted by many parrots. Their consistency prevents most pets from picking out favorite items. Over time, additional pellets can be introduced, until they form the bulk of the diet. Please see this article for further information.
Providing parrots with opportunities to explore, search for food, manipulate objects, interact with others and otherwise remain active and interested in their environments is critical to good health; indeed, one study has even established that enrichment opportunities can speed wound healing . Major zoos now require behavioral enrichment for nearly all animals, including reptiles and amphibians.
Parrots fed largely upon pellets engage in less foraging behavior and food manipulation than do those on seed-based diets, increasing the likelihood that they will become bored. Providing commercial and homemade parrot toys is perhaps the simplest way to improve your pets’ quality of life. In recent years, a number of parrot toys have been specifically designed to foster exploratory and other beneficial behaviors. Often sold as “foraging toys” , they are well-worth considering. Please see the article linked below for further information, and be sure to post your own ideas as well.