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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. Read More »

Pygmy Parrots – Thumb-Sized Lichen-Eaters that move like Woodpeckers

Micropsitta PusioI recently attended a fascinating lecture on Island Bird Diversity at the American Museum of Natural HistoryTwo Pygmy Parrot species – the Red-Breasted (Micropsitta bruijni) and the Finsch’s (M. finschii) – drew the speaker to the Solomon Islands. In reflecting back on the talk afterwards, I realized that, despite my interest, I had yet to observe a live Pygmy Parrot. They’ve never been in the collection of the Bronx Zoo, where I worked for over 20 years, and only rarely appear in museums.  Further research turned up one interesting field report, but it seems that we still know very little about these smallest and, arguably, most unusual of all parrots.

The World’s Smallest Parrots

Six species of Pygmy Parrots inhabit New Guinea, the Solomons and neighboring islands. They look, in most respects, like other parrots – but barely exceed a human thumb in size!  At 3.5 inches in length, the Buff-Faced Pygmy parrot (M. pusio) is the smallest Psittacine; its relatives are not much bigger. Please see the video below…it is hard to believe they are real! Read More »

Using Flowers as Food for Parrots, Finches and other Birds

Plain-throated SunbirdSending flowers is a time-honored way of showing affection and concern, but did you know that your parrots and other feathered pets might appreciate a bouquet as well?  I’m not suggesting actually having flowers delivered to your parrot (although I know several who have done that!), but rather that you consider edible flowers as a source of bird food and behavioral enrichment.

The Role of Flowers in Bird Diets

Flowers, buds and nectar figure heavily in the natural diets of many parrots, finches and softbills.  In fact, lories and lorikeets are actually “floral specialists” (please see drawing of lorikeet tongue, adapted for nectar feeding).  However, with the exception of nectar-mixes, flowers have largely been ignored by most pet keepers.

Flowers are also a major food item of several less commonly-kept softbills, including hummingbirds, sunbirds and the aptly-named flower-peckers. Ornithologists speculate that the brilliant colors of some species may have evolved to provide camouflage during feeding sessions in flowering trees.

Behavioral Stimulation

In addition to their nutritional value, flowers can provide important behavioral stimulation for parrots and other birds.  Most parrots delight in tearing them to bits, and bud-covered fruit tree branches (apple, pear, plum etc.) will provide hours of entertainment for both pet and pet-owner.  Finches, White-Eyes, Pekin Robins and other small birds will also poke about in flowers for insect treats, real or “imagined”, and may consume petals and nectar as well.

Purchasing Flowers

Lorikeet tongueFortunately, it’s quite simple to incorporate flowers into your birds’ diets.  Many bird-safe flowers are relished by people, and are available in food stores.  In NYC markets, I’ve come across squash, zucchini, rose and daylily flowers (note: not all daylilies are safe for people or birds, so do not pick your own), as well as a number that I did not recognize.  Korean, Chinese and Indian neighborhoods have proven especially rich flower-hunting grounds.

Do not buy edible flowers from garden supply outlets or florists, as these will not have been slated for human consumption and would likely have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

Dried flowers specifically marketed as bird food are also a useful option.  Goldenfeast’s Hibiscus and Chamomile

may be offered to a variety of parrots, finches and softbills.

Growing and Collecting Flowers for Your Birds

If the option is available to you, growing your own edible flowers is a great alternative to shopping.

Harvesting wild flowers is also possible, but you must be confident in your ability to identify the various species and have access to a pesticide-free collecting site.  A field guide will be useful in this regard.

Common, Easy-to-Grow Edible Flowers

The following common flowers are readily accepted by many birds and can easily be grown or, in some cases, purchased at food markets.  Do not buy flowers intended as food anywhere other than at a food market; please see above.


Daisy                                                   Marigold

LorikeetsDandelion                                           Rose

Carnation                                            Sunflower

Violet                                                  Zucchini Blossoms

Tulip                                                    Squash Blossoms

Elderberry                                           Hibiscus

Impatiens                                            Apple,Plum and Pear Blossoms




Further Reading

Further information on edible and poisonous flowers; written with people in mind but applicable to birds.

Gardening for Pet Birds

Eat Your Roses: a guide to 50+ edible flowers



Lorikeets image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tatiana Gerus

Plain-Throated Sunbird image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ltshears



Parrot Health – Obesity and Related Nutritional Problems

Avian veterinarians report that obesity, and related health concerns such as atherosclerosis, fatty liver and hernias, are now among the most common maladies exhibited by the parrots under their care.  The problem is approaching epidemic proportions.

Obesity in Parrots

Much of what we know concerning obesity in parrots parallels what we have learned about the same condition in people, and leads to similar health concerns.  When lab tests are run on overweight parrots, a condition known as Hyperlipidemia – high levels of fat in the blood – is usually diagnosed.  Read More »

Avian Nutritional Considerations: African Gray Parrots and Indian Hill Mynas

Although much we know about feeding pet birds applies to a wide range of species, a great deal is specific to certain species, families or other groupings. Often, it is important to think in terms of specific bird – i.e. “Peter’s twinspot” as opposed to “finch” – if we are to provide proper nutrition to our collections.A wide range of species-specific bird diets are now available to assist us in this task. As always, research concerning individual species is vital…please check out our extensive line of bird books  for advice.

Today and in future articles I’d like to cover some nutritional concerns that commonly arise among various types of birds.

African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

The ever popular African gray is prone to calcium deficiencies, which most commonly appear at age 2-5. Most birds afflicted with hypocalcaemia metabolize bone calcium in an effort to maintain adequate blood levels of this important mineral. African grays, however, seem unable to do this and instead become racked by seizures (tetany) when calcium is lacking; veterinary intervention is necessary.

Hypovitaminosis A
Vitamin A deficiency is not uncommon in African grays. The excess keratin production that is associated with this condition causes the eyes to dry and the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) to thicken. Birds so afflicted also sneeze, apparently in an effort to clear keratin from the nasal passages.

Mucus ceases to move normally between the nasal passages, resulting in blockages and breathing difficulties. As described above, this is sometimes related to a Vitamin A deficiency.

The role of Vitamin C in reducing sinusitis symptoms and of zinc in transporting Vitamin A is also being investigated.

Feather Plucking
Like other highly intelligent birds, African grays become bored easily. Feather plucking is often associated with boredom, but there is some evidence that low levels of the amino acid arginine may play a role as well. To rule out a nutritional problem, be sure to provide your parrot with a sound diet and a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Food can also serve as an important factor in reducing boredom…consider different ways of making your bird work for its meals, and offer sticks of tough vegetables that the parrot can manipulate and shred. Our many foraging toys  are invaluable in providing stimulating feeding opportunities.

Indian Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa)
Hemochromatosis (Iron Storage Disease)
For some reasons, these wonderfully talented mimics seem especially prone iron build-up in the liver and other organs. Although nutritional links have been identified, there is much we still need to learn. Please see my article Iron Storage Disease and Citrus Fruit  for more information.

Although primarily frugivorous, mynas relish animal foods as well. Beef and other meats are often high in iron and best avoided until all the evidence is in. Stay with hard boiled eggs and insects instead…canned invertebrates are a great option.

Cleaning Considerations
Like most fruit-eating birds, mynas have big appetites and process food rapidly….defecation may occur within 20 minutes of eating. This, combined with high activity levels and the production of moist droppings, renders cage sanitation a vital issue. Be sure to clean all cage surfaces daily with a bird-safe sanitizer to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria.

Further Reading
Please see my articles on the Natural History and Care of Hill Mynas and African Gray Parrots for more information.


Images referenced from Morguefile.

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