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Healthy Parrot Foods – New Study Compares Pellets, Seed and Produce

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.

Yellow Shouldered Amazon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Bäckstrand

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.

Feeding Trials

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.

Festive Amazon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Christopher G

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.

Behavioral Enrichment

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.

mediaParrots 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.



Further Reading

Preparing Food for the Bronx Zoo’s Bird Collection

Parrot Pellets Revisited

Enrichment: Adding Zest to Your Parrot’s Life



  1. avatar

    Good article. Avi-Cakes are nutritionally similar to Nutri-Berries and have added benefits of being less expensive (easy to purchase in bulk) and chewy, which birds love. I use them as my birds’ base diet since they are 50% pellets and 50% seed. I also supplements with lots of fresh produce.

  2. avatar

    Great idea, thanks, Amy.

  3. avatar

    This suspiciously looks like an advertisement for Nutriberries to me. Who funded the research? Some birds hate nutriberries and throw them onto the floor of the cage. Just sayin!

  4. avatar

    Thank you for your interest. As mentioned in the article, the study was published in Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery; the citation is there as well if needed. The journal’s editorial policy and reputation should negate any concerns re research funding, etc. However, that really is not a question here – please re-check my article when time permits…Nutriberries are not mentioned in connection with the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery study, but rather as a means of introducing pellets into the diet. Parrots are notoriously individualistic in their responses to new foods, of course..just about any food, including Nutriberries may be rejected or accepted. Over time and with a bit of manipulation and experimentation on the keeper’s part, Nutriberries have proven to be useful in many cases. best regards, Frank

  5. avatar

    Informative article…

    Out of all the parrots species that I have kept over the years the only parrot species that I could get to regularly eat pellets was African Lovebirds.

  6. avatar


    Thanks very much; I’ve found most lovebirds to be a bit more likely to try new foods than other parrots as well – maybe it’s in keeping with their often bold personalities! Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    When my African Grey eats avicakes or nutriberries she enjoys all of the seeds and wastes the pellets.

  8. avatar

    Frank do you have a link to the study itself? I’ve been trying to find it to flesh out this article a bit but am not finding it by scanning the journal.

  9. avatar

    Hello Linda,

    That’s common, they are very good at selecting fav’s. Takes a great deal of time and effort, and a bit of hunger, to change them, as I’m sure you’ve seen. Best, Frank

  10. avatar

    Hello Megan,

    It’s only available as an abstract online (authors may send a copy if you contact, and your library can likely obtain the actual article); this related article may be of interest: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Nutritional+levels+of+diets+fed+to+captive+Amazon+parrots%3A+does…-a0327586315 Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Thank you Frank! You are so quick. I appreciate it.

  12. avatar

    oh. That’s looking like a broken link…

  13. avatar

    My pleasure…try the link below, I just worked for me: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Nutritional+levels+of+diets+fed+to+captive+Amazon+parrots%3A+does…-a0327586315 Let me know if you need anything, frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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